By Paul M. Banks
With six Final Fours and two national title game appearances in the last 12 years, the 2000s have been without a doubt the most fruitful period in Michigan State basketball history. The decade kicked off with the 2000 National title, and every player to stay all four years at State has been to at least one Final Four since Tom Izzo took over the program in 1995.
How many coaches can sell a fact like that to recruits? Not to mention the whole pipeline to the NBA selling point. During the first decade of the new millennium, State became not just the best program in the Big Ten, or the Midwest region overall, they emerged to grab a place among the most powerful programs in the nation. This spring’s Final Four run only further cemented their place in the college hoops pantheon, and locked up Izzo’s legacy as “Mr. March.” There’s no one else you’d rather have coaching your team come tournament time.
Like King Leonidas said in “300”: “Spartans, prepare for GLORY!”
All-decade first team
Tom “H to the” Izzo named his child after Mateen Cleaves, but Coach will also be the first to tell you he has another special point guard in Lucas. Kalin was ’09 Big Ten player of the year as a sophomore in 08-09, so perhaps the best is yet to come from this lightning quick guard. If he returns for his senior year. His surgery went well this week so that’s a good sign. More on that later.
Among scorers, finished 11th in program history, and the last to score more than 35 in a game (2005 Maui Invitational loss to Gonzaga) Also finished 5th in school history in 3 pt field goals made.
He’s the Spartan most likely to yell the infamous 300 movie quote “Spartans!! Tonight we dine in hell!” on the court, as he constantly wore his emotions on his sleeve during his collegiate career. The consensus 2nd team All-American Was the only scoring option on the 2006 team, yet still consistently found and drained open looks. Neitzel finished third in school history in 3 pt field goals made, and he has a really HOT older sister to boot.
Davis finished his college career 7th in school history in points, and 4th in rebounding, before playing three uneventful years with the LA Clippers (but is any season eventful when you’re a Clipper?). Also the Spartans all time leader in free throws.
Had a better NBA career than you would expect, given he flew under the radar in during his time in E.L. But Bell was the program’s best defender since Eric Snow, and an All-American in 2001. He’s also a pretty good interview subject (click here to read an exclusive with him).
All-decade 2nd team
Was just a small role player with unimpressive stats on the national championship team, but JR led the Spartans to the Final Four the following year; and made All-American before leaving school early. Currently with Phoenix, He’s had the best NBA career of any Spartan since Magic Johnson, and the best of any member of the 2000 team. Here’s a video of him for your viewing pleasure.
Sure, he only stayed one year, but they went to the Final Four that year (’01) and if I didn’t pick him he’d probably choke me. He’s like the program’s answer to Lindsey Lohan: physically gifted, talented, but also a severe head case. To his credit though, this year he’s been acting pretty normal.
Prolific athlete and pure scorer might have been first team had he stayed all four years, but with that NBA money in hand- you can’t blame him for jumping. $4.2 million is some nice cheddah for a backup point guard.
Click here to read an exclusive with Shannon Brown
editor’s note: These last two players, the Flintstones, deserve spots on this list due to the national title they won, but we can’t rank them on the first team because nearly their entire careers occurred during the ‘90s.
When the coach takes your name and gives it to his son…that pretty much says it all. Mateen was not just the poster child of the program, but March Madness ITSELF in 2000. A campus fast food joint even named a meal combo after him.
At this point I’d like to mention that, yes I’m aware that the 2nd team would utterly destroy the first team if the two squads played each other. But remember, this is a list of the greatest player in Michigan State history during the 2000s. Not who dominated the 1990s or who went on to have the better NBA careers.
And here’s the third team:
Was a NBA draft pick last year, yet failed to qualify for first or second team. That’s how good this program has been this decade.
Chris Hill, Kelvin Torbert, Alan Anderson
All came in together as a very highly regarded recruiting class. And until their senior year Final Four run, they pretty much disappointed the Spartan faithful. All were very solid players, although far from stellar in MSU standards.
One of the highest regarded recruits in program history, but he left school way too early, and didn’t quite live up to expectations.
Raymar Morgan would be an honorable mention, but injuried, walking pneumonia, mononucleosis, the guy just can’t catch a break.