300 Something Special

"It wasn't a special day when it started. But I have to admit, being out there and having all those players back and the fans hanging around . . . that hit a little nerve for me for awhile," Tom Izzo said after reaching win number 300. "I was tickled to death that all those guys came back."

EAST LANSING – Back in 1995, an untested assistant from the Upper Peninsula took over the coaching duties from a legend at Michigan State.

He went 16-16 that season and finished seventh in the Big Ten. In an instant gratification world, grumblings about a mistake-hire could be heard.

But Tom Izzo had other plans. His inaugural year was his worst and he quickly led the Spartans to a first-place finish in the Big Ten in four of the next five seasons with three Final Fours and an NCAA Championship to boot.

And now he can say he's won 300 games.

The 66-52 win over Iowa at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center Saturday afternoon became a milestone victory in Tom Izzo's career. But it wasn't the accomplishment that made Izzo's day; it was the familiar faces of former players and the postgame-gratitude of the fans and MSU community that really pleased him.

"It wasn't a special day when it started. But I have to admit, being out there and having all those players back and the fans hanging around . . . that hit a little nerve for me for awhile," he said. "I was tickled to death that all those guys came back."

Great players from the past decade such as Mateen Cleaves, Antonio Smith and A.J. Granger were on-hand to celebrate with Coach, along with former walk-ons (players who could be easily overlooked) such as Matt Ishbia, Jason Aerts and Tim Bograkas.

"They're all going to come over to the house, and all the parents from those last 10 years are coming over, and it'll be a great, great night," Izzo said.

The fact that the Spartans have refused to duck competition — that Izzo has consistently challenged his teams early in seasons — is what the ball coach sees as most inspiring.

"I'm proudest of the fact that, I don't care where you look, we never backed down on our schedule," he said. "It's been 12 years, 13 years of one of the best schedules, non-conference schedules in the country. And so, to do that in 13 years probably means more to me than the 300 wins."

Senior guard Drew Neitzel was happy his squad could get Izzo to 300 in style by thumping the Hawkeyes.

"It's pretty cool, the whole day worked out well," Neitzel said after the game. "Special game, special day. . . . He's a great coach, a Hall of Fame coach and I'm honored to be a part of this program. I've learned so much through the years from him. Everything this program stands for, it's pretty special to be a part of it."

Being part of a program that treats its members like family was a recurring theme when players were asked about the significance of Izzo's accomplishment.

"It's amazing to be part of that," junior guard Travis Walton said, "and be part of this program and see all these former players come back and share the love."

Izzo will likely pass his mentor, former Spartan coach Jud Heathcote, within the next two seasons, but says he'll cross that bridge when he comes to it. And as for any milestones beyond that?

"If I could live to 100, I only have 600 more to catch Bobby (Knight)," Izzo said. "He's safe from Tom Izzo, I can promise you that."

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