Izzo, current players reflect on playing in front of 2000 national championship team this Saturday
Nearly every member of the 2000 national champion MSU basketball team will be honored at the current No. 1 MSU team's game against the Florida Gators on Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Breslin Center.
The 2000 team finished the season with a 32-7 overall record and defeated Florida in the title game, 89-76, to secure MSU head basketball coach Tom Izzo's first — and as of now — only national championship. Saturday will be an opportunity to do something the MSU program has been looking to do for a while — honor a group of guys Izzo has a great appreciation for.
"I have an incredible appreciation for how they sustained just a grinding out, athletic fast break, a tough defense," Izzo said. "They kind of stood for everything the program has been built on. It's gone up and down a little bit because you get different players but I think what it does for me, is it reminded me of how you gotta play just a little bit different style."
Izzo said he doesn't know which team — past or present — is more talented but he did say there are some ways his current team resembles his 2000 squad, most notably for the grind-it-out mentality, as well as the unselfish style of play both teams are known for. However, as good as both teams are, they aren't necessarily cut from the same cloth. Izzo said while his current team might be stocked with better shooters, they're not as tough on the glass or on defense.
"We're not as tenacious as that (2000) team was," Izzo said. "We're not as good a rebounding team as that team was, even though our stats look like we are ... I don't know. Hard to compare them. I don't know who would win the game. I don't care because it won't happen and I won't have to talk about it but I think this (current) team, with the skill level it has, has the grind of that team. This team will be very, very good."
And although some members of Izzo's current squad were as young as 3-years-old when guys like Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson were cutting down the nets in Indianapolis, Izzo said today's Spartans are most definitely aware of their predecessors.
"I've talked about them enough that they know who they are," Izzo said. "They come around enough so they knew who they are and I think they've looked at some film. We've taken different players and tried to show them what this guy does or that guy does. So they don't know them as much, as far as seen them play, but they know as much as how they worked and what they did."
MSU senior guard Bryn Forbes is a native of Lansing who grew up watching MSU basketball. And while he might not have been old enough to follow the 2000 team as closely as he would have liked, he said he still looks up to those guys, as they're a team Izzo always brings up to use as an example.
"I think we're all excited to play well in front of them," Forbes said. "That's something you always want to do is play well in front of Mo Pete, play well in front of Mateen, play well in front of those guys."
MSU senior guard Denzel Valentine, another native of Lansing whose dad actually played for MSU in the late 1980s, is also more than looking forward to the game.
"It's going to be huge because I looked up to those guys and they did special things here so I'm going to be pumped up and be ready to play in front of them," Valentine said.
And for many of the guys on the current team, getting the win against Florida on Saturday is the first priority.
"It's crazy, it being 15 years later and everyone coming back and we've had conversations with all the players," MSU senior forward Matt Costello said. "It just means a lot for all the support and love that they show us. We've gotta play well for them on Saturday."