How Izzo lured former MSU star Steve Smith from Jim Larrañaga
TULSA, Okla. — Miami (Fla.) men’s basketball head coach Jim Larrañaga has a history with MSU men’s basketball head coach Tom Izzo, dating back to 1986.
At the time, Izzo was an assistant coach at MSU and Larrañaga was in his first year as the head coach of Bowling Green University in Ohio.
Larrañaga was on the verge of signing his first all-star high school recruit, but Izzo was able to shake it from him.
That recruit was Steve Smith.
In his press conference just one day before the Hurricanes and the Spartans square off, Larrañaga relived the turn of events.
“We started recruiting him (Smith) very, very hard,” Larrañaga said. “And we went to Steve's home in September of that senior year of his. And at that point in time we offered Steve a scholarship and he told me he was going to visit, that he was very seriously considering Bowling Green, unless — I said, ‘What do you mean, Steve? Unless what?’ He said, ‘Unless Michigan State offers me a scholarship because they're my favorite. Magic Johnson is my hero and if they offer me that's where I'm going.’”
Larrañaga said Izzo paid a visit to one of Smith’s high school games a week later. During Pershing’s game, where Smith played high school ball, Larrañaga recalled Smith scoring 47 points.
Izzo would pass the word onto former MSU men’s basketball head coach Jud Heathcote.
“And I believe, if I heard the story correctly, Steve Smith committed to him (Heathcote) on the spot,” Larrañaga said. “But that was our first encounter. And then our teams played.”
Smith finished his MSU career fourth in scoring with 2,263 points, fourth in assists with 453 and fifth in rebounds with 704. Smith was named an All-American his junior and senior year and was selected No. 5 overall in the 1991 NBA Draft by the Miami Heat.
He won four gold medals with Team USA before his basketball career ended. His contributions to the game landed him a spot in the Michigan State’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001.
Izzo was successful with taking one more guy from Larrañaga, former Bowling Green assistant coach Stan Heath.
In 1995, Izzo was named the head coach of MSU men’s basketball, but just one year later, he was able to lure Heath away from Bowling Green to MSU.
“And then five years later, they won the National Championship together,” Larrañaga said. “And that got Stan's head coaching career started and jumped from Michigan State to Kent State. So I’ve known Tom (Izzo) an awfully long time and have the utmost respect for him.”
After Larrañaga moved on to coach George Mason in 1997, he started to be able to gain the upper hand on Izzo.
In 2006, the Patriots faced the Spartans in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Former MSU guard Drew Neitzel scored 14 points and Maurice Ager scored 27 points, but George Mason shot 59.2 percent from the field as a team with four players in double figures.
The Patriots would pull off the upset and their first ever NCAA Tournament win, 75-65.
Larrañaga moved from George Mason to Miami (Fla.) in 2011. Since his move to Coral Gables, he has gone to the Sweet Sixteen twice. In 2012, the two coaches faced off one more time, Larrañaga’s Hurricanes defeated MSU, 67-59.
“Well, Tom (Izzo) and I have never discussed it, but the media tends to bring it up a lot,” Larrañaga said about the 2006 George Mason victory. “So but that's in the past. Has nothing to do with tomorrow night's game. It's Michigan State against the University of Miami, and both of us, I think, recognize we have young clubs.”
On Friday night, the two coaches will duel again in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Miami is the No. 8 seed, MSU the No. 9 seed.
“Jim (Larrañaga) is a good coach, he's a guy that I've known for a long time, a friend of mine, a good guy,” Izzo said at his press conference following MSU's No. 9 seed selection. “He's done a good job there but it's OK not to like him for a weekend.”