SPOKANE, Wash. — It all started with Chris Webber.
Tom Izzo got to know Tommy Amaker while on the recruiting trail for the hot prospect out of Detroit, Izzo an assistant at MSU and Amaker an assistant at Duke.
Nearly 25 years later, their paths are set to cross again.
Amaker’s 12th-seeded Harvard will face off against Izzo’s Spartans at 8:40 p.m. tomorrow with trip to the Sweet Sixteen on the line.
“A couple years after he graduated, we were recruiting Chris Webber, we spent an enormous amount of time on the road together in Florida at AAU things,” Izzo said. “We were right across the hall mates and just spent a lot of time (together).”
Webber would eventually go to Michigan, and in 2001, so did Amaker.
His first year as the head coach in Ann Arbor was the first year of the sanctions imposed on U-M for the paying of the “Fab Five,” a group that included Webber.
Following his sixth year, he was fired despite raking up over 100 wins and making it to the NIT Tournament three times, winning once.
Izzo was one of the coaches that was outwardly supportive of his friend, and said it was a matter of days after he got the job that he was already at a disadvantage.
“He was just in a tough situation,” he said. “That team was getting better every year, and he had some great recruits coming in the year he left. But knowing Tommy like I do, and his wife, Harvard’s been just kind of a great situation for him. Where he’s taken that place is unbelievable to me.”
Izzo has an 8-3 record against Amaker, with one of those wins coming while Amaker was the head man at Seaton Hall in 2000.
Following Amaker’s firing, Izzo was the first outside his close basketball circle to call him.
He called Izzo an “ambassador” for the game, and said he wasn’t surprised Izzo was the first to pick up the phone, but it was nice to hear his voice and get some support.
“He likes to look at different situations, especially people that maybe he respects or sometimes obviously he has a relationship with,” Amaker said. “He’s at a position and a status and a level where his voice sometimes can carry a lot of weight. He recognizes that and wants to stand up for what he believes is right in the game of basketball.”
Blue and maize versus green and white don’t matter to these two — it’s all about playing the game the way it’s meant to be played.
Harvard is on a historical run in the NCAA Tournament, and for Amaker, he wouldn’t want it to include anybody else.
“As anybody gets a chance to spend time with Tom... you don’t get a better guy and just a class guy,” Amaker said. “He’s a terrific basketball coach, (but) he’s an even better person.”