Mateen Cleaves, 'Flintstones' gear up for alumni game at Jenison Field House
It’s been 12 years since Mateen Cleaves made his one shining moment for the MSU basketball program.
A highly-recruited diamond in the poverty-stricken rough of Flint, Mich., Cleaves etched his name in MSU lore with his scoring prowess and fierce leadership, which was showcased on the game’s biggest stage when he took the Spartans to the 2000 national championship victory over Florida. The only three-time All-American in program history, Cleaves set the standard in the MSU backcourt and, moreover, what’s eternally expected teams of coached by Tom Izzo.
Cleaves, along with fellow “Flintstones” Charlie Bell and Morris Peterson, will be among several members of the 2000 national championship team and 52 former Spartans expected to return on Friday to play in the MSU Alumni Game at historic Jenison Field House.
Although he maintains contact with many of his former teammates, getting back on the floor with them, along with Spartan greats of several different generations, is an experience Cleaves said he has been waiting for a long time.
“It’ll be cool if I pass the ball to (former Spartan) Steve Smith and get an assist — that’s somebody I admired growing up and enjoyed watching play and that’s somebody I always wanted to be like,” said Cleaves, who’s now an NBA analyst for Fox Sports Detroit and CBS Sports. “Other than that, it will be cool to be out there with all the guys I grew up watching, some of the younger guys that came after us and some of the guys I played with.”
As the first hoops action Jenison Field House has seen since Breslin Center opened in 1989, the alumni game is a prelude of a special weekend at the fieldhouse, which will feature a men’s basketball game against Tuskegee along with a concert by the Commodores on Saturday and a women’s basketball game Sunday against IPFW.
Cleaves will be paired on the White team coached by football head coach Mark Dantonio with Bell and Peterson along with Andre Hutson, David Thomas, Andre Rison and Kelvin Torbert, among others. The Green team, coached by former men’s basketball coach Gus Ganakas, features Smith and several members of the 1979 national championship team including Ron Charles, Terry Donnelly and Rick Kaye.
Earvin “Magic” Johnson was scheduled to attend the alumni affair, but had a previous commitment, according to MSU sports information director Matt Larson.
Members of the No. 19 men’s basketball team will be in attendance for the alumni action on Friday night. And for freshman guard Gary Harris, it’s a great opportunity to connect with a group of players who paved the way for success in the program.
“I’m starting to build a relationship with a lot of the older guys,” Harris said. “I’m looking forward to getting everybody back and just to experience the guys that helped build this program so I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Of the many legends, former NBA players and noted alumni in attendance for the reunion game, the person senior center Derrick Nix said the one he’s most excited to see play used to a be a teammate of his: Anthony Ianni. Despite the six-foot-nine center playing sparingly in his two seasons with the Spartans, Nix said he’s ready to see Ianni step back on the floor.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do,” Nix said with a smile. “He act like he’s been gone for years and he’s just trying to play in the game. I’m looking forward to that.”