Despite having as impressive a resumé as there is in college athletics, Tom Izzo never has been one to grandstand his personal accomplishments. When asked earlier in the week, Izzo without a hint of humility said winning his 400th career game meant “nothing” to him.
But humility was the flavor of the week as Izzo walked off the court to a standing ovation by 14,797 fans after his No. 10 MSU basketball team beat Minnesota 68-52 on Wednesday. Humbled and holding back tears, Izzo waved to a fanbase that’s followed along as he elevated the Spartan basketball program to an elite level in his 17 years at the helm.
For the time being, this meant something.
“Coach don’t get teary-eyed and emotional about a lot of stuff so just to be a part of something like that,” said senior forward Draymond Green, who had 22 points and 14 rebounds in route to Izzo’s milestone win. “It’s great to see him get emotional about something he accomplished. He’ll care about it tonight, and tomorrow he won’t care about it anymore. I care about it, and I’m going to keep it in my heart.”
Much has changed for MSU since Izzo picked up his first career victory on Nov. 20, 1995 against Chaminade after taking over for longtime head coach and mentor Jud Heathcote.
Through winning in-state recruiting battles and assembling talented teams to best fit his style of play that emphasizes toughness, Izzo has found success unlike few others in college basketball. In the past 13 seasons alone, Izzo has taken the Spartans to six Final Four appearances, including the 2000 NCAA National Championship. Izzo’s teams also have made 14 consecutive NCAA Tournaments, which is third among active coaches behind Texas’ Rick Barnes and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski.
Izzo becomes the fourth head coach to win 400 games at a Big Ten institution, joining Bob Knight (661 wins at Indiana), Gene Keady (512 at Purdue) and Lou Henson (423 at Illinois).
Between Izzo and Minnesota’s Tubby Smith, the two have combined for 882 career victories, and Izzo said his milestone win couldn’t have come against a better team.
“If I had to pick a program to set a milestone against, it would be the guy I respect as much as anybody in the country and that’s (Minnesota coach Tubby Smith),” Izzo said. “That was a game that I thought we played pretty good and yet we couldn’t get over the hump and I think that was them. They just keep grinding at you.”
In his postgame press conference, the players — led by Green — presented Izzo with a commemorative game ball to celebrate the milestone win. Again choking back tears, Izzo said he appreciated his staff, his players and everybody that helped him get to the milestone.
Although Izzo won’t dwell too long on a crowning accomplishment, at least for now, this one matters.
“When he came in (the locker room), he was a little bit emotional, you know,” sophomore center Adreian Payne said. “It feels a lot different when you win with a group of guys that get along, great chemistry and hang out a lot. He felt good about that, and it feels so comforting. It felt like a family win.”
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