DETROIT – Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is in the NCAA Tournament for a 21st consecutive year, and his first without Jud Heathcote.
Heathcote died last summer at the age of 90, leaving Izzo, one of his former assistant coaches, with many memories, including a light-hearted one during an NCAA Tournament run about two decades ago.
It was about the time Heathcote pulled an adult beverage out of his pants, one of several stories Izzo told The Associated Press while taking time from his busy pre-tournament schedule for an interview with The AP Sports Special Events daily podcast.
“He said, ‘Where’s the damn beer?’” Izzo recalled Heathcote asking the staff while they were watching film at the team’s hotel.
“I said, ‘We can’t have beer in here.“’
Heathcote, though, was convinced otherwise.
“He came in with a couple of bottles of beers in his pockets,” Izzo said with an ear-to-ear grin.
Heathcote guided the Magic Johnson-led Spartans to the 1979 NCAA championship. He lobbied for his top assistant, Izzo, to take over the program in 1995.
“I miss Jud,” Izzo said, sitting on the couch in his office with floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of a snow-covered campus. “He was such a sounding board, such an intelligent guy, such a guy that knew me well. But knew the pressures of the job and understood Michigan State.”
Izzo won the 2000 national championship during one of seven trips to the Final Four.
If Izzo can help third-seeded Michigan State beat Bucknell on Friday, he will have 48 NCAA Tournament wins and will break a seventh-place tie with UCLA’s John Wooden.
When the season ends and the summer starts, Izzo will go to his cottage overlooking Lake Michigan to spend time with his wife and two children.
“The thing I like most is I got a little outdoor kitchen and patio and I love cooking out,” he said. “It’s nothing fancy. It could be burgers or brats, maybe a little chicken. It’s just fun to just eat and watch the sunset and spend time around there with your kids. Those are the downtimes. I don’t get enough of them. Those things are priceless.”
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