Tom Izzo has been at Michigan State since 1995 and there is no shortage to the amount of talented players he’s coached.
Izzo has guided college greats like Jason Richardson, Denzel Valentine, Draymond Green and Cassius Winston. These are just a few of the names Izzo mentions on the latest episode of March Madness 365 to build his ultimate Michigan State dream player.
This episode also features audio from Andy Katz’s interview with all six DI men’s basketball coaches in the state of Mississippi. That discussion covers the meaning and importance of Mississippi’s decision to remove the Confederate symbol from the state’s flag. You can watch that discussion here:
Below are the 10 players that make up Tom Izzo’s ultimate Michigan State dream player:
The Clutch Gene — Denzel Valentine (Guard, 2012-2016)
Tom Izzo originally went with Mateen Cleaves for this characteristic but changed his mind, bumping Cleaves to another category and tapping Denzel Valentine as his “Mr. Clutch.”
Valentine came into his own during his four-year stint in East Lansing as his leadership and scoring ability blossomed in the mid-2010s. Valentine went from averaging 6.5 points per game his freshman and sophomore year to putting up an average of 16.9 points per game in his junior and senior seasons.
Valentine was one of MSU’s go-to scorers late in games during his final years as a Spartan, including his famous, and oh-so-appropriate game-winner on Feb. 14, 2015 (that’s right, Valentine’s Day) against rival Ohio State to knock off the Buckeyes 59-56.
The Athletic Wonder — Jason Richardson (Guard, 1999-2001)
Jason Richardson played for Tom Izzo for two seasons before departing for the NBA. The athletic guard posted 14.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game during his last season as a Spartan. Although he was a stat-sheet stuffer in his sophomore year, Izzo remembers Richardson for his length and leaping ability.
“Because of his size I go with Jason Richardson,” Izzo said when deciding between Richardson and Shannon Brown for this category. “Shannon had the strength but JR had the length. You know, 6’6″, long, [could]jump out of the gym.”
The Shooter — Morris Peterson (Forward, 1995-2000)
Morris Peterson was one of the first players Tom Izzo coached at Michigan State. Peterson stuck around for four more seasons after breaking his finger as a true freshman and obtaining a medical redshirt.
Peterson took advantage of the extra year has he helped lead the Spartans to the 2000 national title and won Big Ten Player of the Year on the back of his 16.8 points per game and 43% shooting from three-point land.
The Bucket Getter — Miles Bridges (Forward, 2016-2018)
Tom Izzo taps Miles Bridges as his player who could go get buckets whenever the Spartans needed one. Bridges played two seasons for Izzo before declaring for the NBA.
A local out of Flint, Michigan, Bridges put up 17 points per game during his time in East Lansing. He also shot 54% from the floor and was named first-team All-Big Ten in 2018.
The Lockdown Defender — Charlie Bell (Guard, 1997-2001)
Charlie Bell was another player on that 2000 national championship squad that lands on this list. Izzo bounced around between multiple players like Jaren Jackson and Gary Harris before landing on Bell as his top defender.
“I’ll have to go with Charlie since he was here all four years,” Izzo said. “Charlie Bell was an unbelievable defender.”
Bell averaged about a steal per game for the Spartans his last two seasons there. He also averaged 10.5 points per game and 4.5 boards per game during his four-year stint.
The Dirty Worker — Zach Randolph (Center, 2000-2001)
Izzo went with a player that only played for him for one year — Zach Randolph — when it came to getting the job down under the basket and gobbling up rebounds.
“I could count on him every day,” Izzo said.
Randolph averaged 6.7 rebounds during his single year with the Spartans.
The Glue Guy — Antonio Smith (Forward, 1995-1999)
Antonio Smith was there at the beginning of Tom Izzo’s career at Michigan State and has left a legacy as MSU’s ultimate glue guy.
“(He) started my career out and really kind of set the tempo … In fact, we have a ‘glue and guts’ award and it’s named after him,” Izzo said.
Smith helped build a culture, along with Izzo and others at Michigan State that would propel them to a national title the year after his senior season in 2000. The MSU forward averaged 6.7 points and 7.9 boards per game during his four-year career as a Spartan.
The Captain — Mateen Cleaves (Guard, 1996-2000)
Izzo thought about putting Mateen Cleaves in several other categories but it makes sense for the captain of Michigan State’s 2000 national championship team to land as Izzo’s ultimate captain.
“Well my best team captain had to be Mateen, so if I have to move him I have to move him,” Izzo said of Cleaves, originally Izzo’s pick for the clutch player.
Cleaves racked up 12.5 points and 6.6 assists per game for the Spartans during his four years.
The Quarterback — Cassius Winston (Guard, 2016-2020)
Izzo’s most recent point guard finds himself as the quarterback on this team. Cassius Winston, a candidate to take home the Naismith Player of the Year award at the start of this past season, averaged 14.2 points and 6.4 assists per game during his career.
“My most solid quarterback who could run a team, score for you, shoot it, make plays,” Izzo said of his point guard. “He was a playmaking quarterback.”
The Coach — Draymond Green (Forward, 2008-2012)
Izzo taps Draymond Green as his coach on the floor or basketball IQ guru.
“His overall IQ, offensively and defensively. I mean he used his basketball IQ on the defensive end,” Izzo said of Green. “He positioned himself, he found rebounds. He used his basketball IQ and has done an incredible job in the NBA doing the same thing.”
Green was not only one of the smartest players but he was also a stat stuffer, especially his senior year. The MSU forward averaged a double-double his senior year scoring 16.2 points and grabbing 10.6 rebounds per game as well as averaging 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals a game during his final year as a Spartan.