Former Michigan State men’s basketball and NBA point guard Mateen Cleaves gazed down at his son, and suddenly it all hit him.
It was the nights spent in his teammates' dorms, the $5 they would borrow from each other for pizza, the 6 a.m. wakeups that took them straight to the track and not to mention the 2000 National Championship that brought tears to the 42-year-old’s eyes Saturday night at the Breslin Center.
“I just think back my last game here, I cried at the team breakfast, I cried during shoot around, I mean I’m just a big cry baby,” Cleaves said. “But to be around family that’s stuff that you can't pay for. That's genuine love being around these guys.”
The family Cleaves mentioned was the one he found in his teammates on MSU’s 2000 National Championship team. The historic squad was recognized during halftime of MSU’s 67-60 loss to Maryland and for Cleaves, taking the floor with his "family" by his side brought back all the memories from his days in the green and white.
“When I chose to go to Michigan State it wasn’t the most popular thing to do," Cleaves said. "A lot of people thought I was crazy to come here, but Coach Izzo (and I) had a vision that nobody else saw. When he recruited me, we talked about winning National Championships when it wasn’t even popular talking about that and nobody could see that. Just to see it all come together, it gets better and better as it gets older.”
During the halftime ceremony, Cleaves said that what set the 2000 team apart from others was that they were a family, with relationships so raw and real that even 20 years later he could speak with the same amount of emotion regarding those 13 men.
“We’ve all been through a lot of stuff, ups and downs in life, so just being around people that you know their love is genuine and it’s pure and just having one common goal and that was to win a National Championship,” Cleaves said. “What everybody gave on a daily basis to accomplish that goal is something I’ll never forget. I get shook up every time I see different videos and think about the glory days and then just sitting there being able to share that moment with my baby.”
Cleaves' son stood beside him, proudly wearing the throwback jersey that his dad wore during his days at MSU. Others from the 2000 squad brought their children as well, and Cleaves said he went up introducing himself as "Uncle Mateen," all night.
For Cleaves' son, he said coming back to MSU with his dad made all the stories that much more real.
“He’s a great person and a great motivator and a great coach,” Cleaves' son said. “I love him.”
Earlier this season, Cleaves came back to MSU to recognize senior guard Cassius Winston when he passed Cleaves' all-time assist record. Cleaves said with Winston's talent, a championship isn't too far out for his alma mater.
"Good is an understatement," Cleaves said. "We've got a great point guard (and) whenever you have a great point guard you always got a chance to win. I'm Cassius' number one fan and we definitely got a chance for the National Championship. There are ups and downs ... Nothing is going to surprise (Izzo). He's been through a lot. He's seen it all, and I still believe we are going to win a National Championship."
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