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Mat Ishbia's $32 million 'tear-jerking' donation and Tom Izzo's impact on him

February 6, 2021
<p>Photograph of Mat Ishbia.</p>

Photograph of Mat Ishbia.

Photo by Courtesy of MSU Athletic Communications | The State News

MSU men's basketball alumnus Mat Ishbia remembers walking into practice as a walk-on to Head Coach Tom Izzo standing with football helmets and pads beside him.

That day Izzo's team played football on the basketball court.

"He's all about football," Ishbia said on Friday.

On Thursday, MSU athletics announced a $32 million donation from Ishbia that would be allocated to renovating MSU football facilities, creating a Men's Basketball Excellence Fund, a Spartan for Life Fund and renaming the football facility and basketball court after Tom Izzo. The renaming pends approval from the MSU Board of Trustees.

“His (Izzo's) name should be all over this university, in my opinion, wherever it is,” Ishbia said. “This university is really tied to Tom Izzo and his success and my success is really tied to coach Izzo as well.”

As the donor of the money, Ishbia held the power over where he wanted his gift to go. Ishbia said he wants his contribution to "touch every student-athlete at Michigan State, current, past and future."

Ishbia said that to his understanding, by creating the new Tom Izzo football building, the previous football facilities would become of use to other teams and MSU athletes.

"It will be an honor to have Tom Izzo's name associated with a building that will have such an impact on our program," MSU football Head Coach Mel Tucker said. "It will be a living testament to his values of grit, toughness and passion."

Athletic Director Bill Beekman said the final plan for the football building renovations will come in several segments, with planning for phase one starting now.

Ishbia and Izzo's back-and-forth gratitude, emotion, express power of building name change

When Ishbia was a part of the MSU men's basketball squad, his teammates voted him the most inspirational player.

"It’s almost like our players knew ahead of time what was coming," Izzo said nearly 20 years after that vote. "I sure didn’t at that time."

Izzo stood with tears in his eyes Friday afternoon, gazing at Ishbia who had donated the largest single donation in school history.

“So Mat, from all of us, thank you," Izzo said. "I love you. I don’t deserve the praise you’ve given me."

Ishbia rebutted when it was his time at the podium.

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"He says I give him too much credit," Ishbia said. "I don’t know if I give him enough credit. Where I’ve been able to grow as a person, as a father, as an adult, as a leader is all tied to coach Izzo and what I learned from him.”

And the connection goes beyond how Ishbia has grown as a person. It has impacted how he runs and operates as president and CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage.

With dreams of playing in the NBA out of reach, Ishbia became interested in coaching basketball during his time at MSU. As a fifth-year student, Ishbia served in a player-coach role to the men's basketball team, learning from Izzo the in's and out's of coaching a team.

Then Izzo told him this: to apply what he learned in sports to business.

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From then on, Ishbia has run his business "Michigan State basketball style."

"We hold people accountable," Ishbia said. "We care about each other. ... We call people team members. We’ve got captains."

Ishbia said he now works with seven former Spartans as well, including 2020 Spartan graduate Conner George.

It's a mindset he learned during his years in East Lansing, and one he heavily attributes to Izzo.

“This gift and donation is not about Mat Ishbia, it’s about Michigan State University, it’s about Tom Izzo, Mateen Cleaves, these are the people that impacted my life," Ishbia said. "What you realize in life is that there's certain things in your life that happen that change the direction of your life forever, and that happened to me at Michigan State.”

And for Izzo, he was skeptical of having his name up on places but knows one day it'll mean so much more.

“I’m honored to have my name on a court," Izzo said. "I’m honored to have my name on a building. ... I felt his sincere wanting to do this and it made me feel so good. … Someday it will be an honor, and it will be an honor for my kids. Someday I won’t be here, and it will be an honor for my kids.”

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