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Published: Wednesday, 3/30/2005

Izzo earns a spot among elite coaches

It's time to praise Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo, who's more famous for being the childhood friend of Detroit Lions coach Steve Mariucci than he is for being one of the best college basketball coaches in the country.

Upon guiding Michigan State to a 94-88 double-overtime win over Kentucky in the Austin regional final, Izzo secured the Spartans' fourth trip to the Final Four in seven years. He also moved into first place among active coaches in NCAA tournament winning percentage (.793).

Izzo, who spurned the lure of big NBA dollars a few years ago to remain at Michigan State, sees the value of committing to the college game for the long haul.

In this era of parity, Izzo's one national championship, four Final Four appearances and five trips to the Elite Eight are impressive.

The Spartans mirror their coach. Izzo isn't thinking about going anywhere, and, for the most part, neither are his players.

You want to know why, other than for obvious monetary reasons, kids leave for the NBA?

Because kids aren't stupid. They know coaches tell their players to do as I say, rather than do as I do. They know most coaches will jump at the sight of the first dollar sign - Leonard Hamilton, Lon Kruger, Mike Montgomery and John Calipari, for instance.

Izzo refused to join the growing list of successful college coaches who for the love of money made the mistake of signing up for NBA failure.

Izzo doesn't want to do anything besides coach basketball at Michigan State. He's committed, and therefore so are his players.

When MSU guard Maurice Ager tells reporters "coach Izzo doesn't allow any egos" and to a man the Spartans listen, you know it's because they trust their coach.

A different player has led the Spartans in scoring in each of their four tournament wins. Five Spartans are averaging double figures in the tournament.

For the most part, the Spartans stay in college for four years - Jason Richardson and Zach Randolph being the rare exceptions - or at least until they're truly ready to compete in the pros. The Spartans stay because they take their lead from Izzo.

Michigan State will lose three valuable seniors from this year's team - Kelvin Torbert, Alan Anderson and Chris Hill. But that only means sophomore Shannon Brown and juniors Ager and Paul Davis will be ready to take over.

The Spartans have the components to make another run at a national championship next season. Brown scored a game-high 24 points against Kentucky, and Ager added 21. Davis enters Saturday's national semifinal against North Carolina with three straight double-doubles in the tournament.

Great coaches sustain their reputations by doing the unexpected sometimes. Michigan State was overshadowed in the Big Ten all season by Illinois, but with a trip to the Final Four on the line, Izzo's Spartans defeated Duke and Kentucky in back-to-back tournament games.

If Michigan State loses to North Carolina, it won't take away from everything Izzo has accomplished this season or over the last seven years. He's earned the right to be praised and respected as an elite coach.

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