Cleaves: "They will be special"

Former Spartan point guard checks in on team and sees national championship potential.

It has been more than a decade since Michigan State cut down the nets as national champions.

The Spartans have come close again with four Final Four appearances, but the current group is one of the best shots coach Tom Izzo thinks he has had.

Joining the 2000-01 team, which Izzo said might have been his best team, this 2013-14 group rivals the best in the Michigan State coach's tenure.

"I said earlier in the year that there were three years where I thought we had a legitimate shot, 2000, 2001 and this year," Izzo said. "We had a couple of years where we had a shot, but those were the years where we had a legitimate shot."

Mateen Cleaves, the point guard on the last Michigan State national title team, said he can see it looking at this team.

Mateen Cleaves was the point guard on the last Spartans title team and he said he can see the real chance at hand – and why Izzo is working hard to get there.

"They will be special," he said. "That's what you want. We're rooting for them. It's all about national championships around here. We're not cool with just winning the Big Ten or going to the Final Four. Those days are over. We expect to win championships around here."

That was the talk as the team readied for the season, even as far back as when Gary Harris and Adreian Payne elected to return to school instead of turning professional. With all the expectations, Cleaves said it's apparent why Izzo gets after his players so much.

"I can see why he is constantly on these guys because he sees it," Cleaves said. "He knows how huge of an opportunity this is for his team. I know he continues to remind them of that.

"I think that's why he's on them so much because they do have a legitimate chance to win a national championship."

For his part, the former All-American said the roster and combination of players is a big reason to believe this team can accomplish something great.

"I see experience," he said. "When you look at Keith, Keith's game has come so far. I think that's a testament to his work and his preparation with going in there and watching film. A.P., if we can keep him healthy, he will be huge. Gary Harris, Denzel (Valentine), Branden Dawson – I'm always on him saying he is the ace of spades, I think he is that guy. When he brings that added energy and that tenacity that he can bring, that helps. Trice, Costello, Kaminski, every guy that has stepped on the floor is a contributor and that's a good sign for a good team."

But as a former point guard, Cleaves focuses on what Appling can bring and talks with him often. His message is a simple one as he works to lead the team: "It starts with you and ends with you."

"There's room at the table," he said. "It's a lot of room sitting at that table with some of the big guns that came through here and were able to accomplish things at that point guard position.

"I think he's doing everything you can ask of a senior point guard."

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