Michigan State's Tom Izzo enters Basketball's Hall of Fame
Tom Izzo already is an all-time great in the minds of many, but now it becomes official with his induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
The Michigan State coach moves into icon status at a ceremony Friday night in Springfield, Mass., joining a 10-person class that includes Shaquille O’Neal, Yao Ming and Allen Iverson, among others.
Izzo will be one of six active coaches enshrined in Springfield, joining Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, North Carolina’s Roy Williams, Kentucky’s John Calipari and Louisville’s Rick Pitino. That’s some pretty good company to keep for Izzo, who deserves to stand shoulder to shoulder with any coach in the annals of college basketball.
The 61-year-old Izzo is entering his 22nd season prowling the sidelines in East Lansing, Mich. And his list of accomplishments is impressive since taking over for mentor Jud Heathcote in 1995-96.
- The 2000 national title
- Seven Final Fours—1999, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015)
- Seven Big Ten regular-season championships
- Five Big Ten tourney titles
- Eighteen NBA draft picks
And on it goes in a resume that shimmers with accomplishment. Not bad for a guy who was born and raised in remote Iron Mountain, Mich., in the upper peninsula where he famously chummed with former NFL coach Steve Mariucci.
“I’ve always told my players that they need to dream something before they can achieve it,” Izzo said upon learning of his election to the Hall in the spring. “Growing up in Iron Mountain, I had plenty of dreams, many of them seemed like long shots. But I’d be lying if I said being in the Hall of Fame was one of those dreams — it seemed too big. Even today, it’s surreal.”
Izzo slid into the Heathcote’s chair beginning in 1995. And, Izzo’s early returns were modest in a conference that at the time had coaches like Indiana’s Bob Knight, Purdue’s Gene Keady, Illinois’ Lou Henson, Iowa’s Tom Davis, Michigan’s Steve Fisher, Ohio State’s Randy Ayers and Wisconsin’s Dick Bennett, among others.
Michigan State went 16-16 overall and 9-9 in the Big Ten in Izzo’s maiden voyage with an NIT appearance. The next season wasn’t much better, as Izzo went 17-12 overall and 9-9 in the Big Ten with another NIT bid. But in Year Three, Izzo and the Spartans broke through with a 22-8 mark and 13-3 conference record to win the first of his seven Big Ten regular-season championships en route to a Sweet 16 appearance. A Final Four trip followed the next season. And then, in just his fifth season, Izzo won a national title by downing Florida in the old RCA Dome in Indianapolis. The wins and titles have continued to pile up since.
Izzo had chances to leave for the riches of the NBA. But, he eschewed chances to coach the Cavaliers, Hawks and others. Yes, coaching in the pros would have been a challenge. But, the chance to impact and shape lives is more profound at the college level. Izzo knew that. And, he remained among the ivy and red bricks of Michigan State to continue to mold teams famous for their toughness, grit and rebounding prowess. A game with Michigan State typically means lots of bumping and grinding … with a heavy dose of good guard play. And, most opponents couldn’t take it.
Ask Izzo-bred players like Jason Richardson, Charlie Bell, Jason Richardson, Kalin Lucas, Zach Randolph, Draymond Green and Denzel Valentine, among others. And they’ll all profess their love and admiration for a mentor who not only taught them how to set a body-shaking pick … but also how to negotiate life.
The three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year (1998, 2009, 2012) began his journey to the summit of basketball at Iron Mountain High before matriculating to Northern Michigan, where he became a Division II All-American as a senior. Izzo’s first coaching gig was cloaked in the anonymity of Ishpeming High. In less than 10 years, Izzo was sitting to the right of Heathcote, arriving in East Lansing in 1983 as an assistant and where he has gone 524-205 as head coach and created a legacy that figures never to be duplicated.
This enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame is a figurative cherry on top of a glorious career, a career that really didn’t need any more validation. Nonetheless, it’s much-deserved validation. So, take a bow, Tom Izzo. Enjoy the moment. Smile. Laugh. Cry. Most of all: give thanks. And know you have made a lasting impact on a town, school, state, conference and nation.
Congratulations, Coach Izzo!