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Peterson's No. 42 headed to Breslin rafters

January 12, 2009

Former Spartan Morris Peterson cheers after sinking back-to-back 3-pointers in a 2000 win against Connecticut. Peterson’s jersey will be retired prior to Saturday’s game against Illinois.

Photo by State News file photo | The State News

Former Spartans and fellow Flint natives Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson took a chance on MSU head coach Tom Izzo when no one else would, helping turn a struggling basketball program into one of the nation’s elite.

Now, Peterson will join Cleaves in MSU immortality.

MSU Athletic Communications announced Monday that the MSU men’s basketball program will retire Peterson’s No. 42 jersey prior to MSU’s game against Illinois at 4 p.m. Saturday at Breslin Center.

“He’s been worthy of doing it for a couple years but we haven’t yet because we’ve tried to work it out,” Izzo said following Monday’s practice.

“He was not a highly, highly recruited kid out of high school, (but) he’ll be one of my favorites because he was one of the first guys, him and (former Spartan Antonio Smith), to take a chance on us.”

The ceremony will take place prior to tip-off.

Peterson — who was selected with the 21st pick in the first round of the 2000 NBA Draft by the Toronto Raptors and currently plays for the New Orleans Hornets — was part of the 2000 National Championship team along with Cleaves and fellow “Flintstone” Charlie Bell. MSU went 32-7 that season and defeated Florida 89-76 to win the title.

After struggling with injuries his first three seasons and having to take a medical redshirt in 1995-96 due to a broken finger, Peterson exploded onto the Big Ten scene as a junior during the 1998-99 season. He started just four of MSU’s 38 games, but led the Spartans with 13.6 points per game, becoming the first nonstarter in league history to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors. He also was named the Outstanding Player of the NCAA Midwest Regional as MSU advanced to its first Final Four since 1979.

The next year, both Peterson and Cleaves returned for their senior seasons and led the Spartans to the National Championship. Peterson averaged 16.8 points and six rebounds a game as he earned first-team All-America honors from various media outlets. He also was voted Most Outstanding Player of the 2000 Big Ten Tournament and named Outstanding Player of the NCAA Midwest Regional for the second straight year.

During his time in East Lansing, Peterson helped Izzo and the Spartans win three straight Big Ten Championships, two Big Ten Tournament titles and two Final Four appearances, along with the 2000 National Championship.

“If you look at where he came academically, athletically, socially — the whole thing — he’s a kid who’s grown in leaps and bounds and done an incredible job, made a lot of money and hopefully has a championship left at the NBA level,” Izzo said.

In his ninth NBA season, Peterson has averaged 11.3 points and 3.6 rebounds a game in his career.

“He’s one of them who had an impact on my career, why I’m still here getting interviewed,” Izzo said. “When (Cleaves) went down that year, he played his best basketball. I love Morris to death. I can’t wait to get him back.”

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