Michigan State’s Tom Izzo Builds his Dream Player

McLain Moberg

Tuesday, Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo joined Andy Katz on his podcast, March Madness 365.

Throughout his coaching career, he has had the privilege of working with great players such as Draymond Green, Cassius Winston, Denzel Valentine, Miles Bridges, Jason Richardson, among many others.

The list is endless for the Hall of Fame coach.

So, what would his dream player look like?

Izzo listed ten former players that would make up the ideal dream player of guys he coached at Michigan State.

Mr. Clutch

He initially said Mateen Cleaves was fit to be the person representing the "clutch gene," but changed his mind and went with Denzel Valentine instead.

Once he heard all the categories, Izzo said he could see Valentine being the most clutch player he's coached.

In 2016, Valentine won the AP Player of the Year award alongside his 2016 Big Ten Player of the Year honor.

During his senior season, he averaged 19.2 points, 7.8 assists, and 7.5 rebounds per game and was a significant factor in the Spartans Final Four run, losing to Duke 81-61.

The Athlete

Jason Richardson played two seasons at Michigan State (1999-2001) at one point averaging 14.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game; however, Izzo remembers him as the most athletic player he's ever had.

It was Richardson or Shannon Brown.

"Because of his size, I go with Jason Richardson. Shannon had the strength, but JR had the length," Izzo told Andy Katz. "You know, 6'6", long, [could] jump out of the gym."

The Shooter

Morris Peterson played four seasons for the Spartans, taking part in the magical national title in 2000.

As a senior, he won Big Ten Player of the Year and averaged 16.8 points, six rebounds, and 1.2 steals – while shooting 42.5% from the three-point line (46.5% from the field).

"Since I've been here as a head coach … Denzel became one, but I'd say Morris Peterson was probably one of the best shooters I had," Izzo said.


Tom Izzo picked Miles Bridges as the player he feels could go out and get a bucket whenever needed.

"He's going to get me buckets," Izzo said. "I'd say Miles Bridges was one of those guys."

The Flint native earned First-Team All-Big Ten in 2018 and was certainly a player who could pull up for a quick jumper or put the ball on the floor and drive the lane.

In his final year at Michigan State, he shot 47% from the field (52.7% from 2P) and averaged 17.1 points per game.

Top Defender

Charlie Bell is another player who helped bring a championship to East Lansing in 2000, and according to his former head coach, he is the best defender he ever had.

Izzo had a hard time picking between Mateen Cleaves, Travis Walton, Jaren Jackson, and Gary Harris, but ultimately went with Bell.

"I'll have to go with Charlie since he was here all four years instead of two. So, on a consistent basis, I'd say Charlie Bell was an unbelievable defender," said Izzo.

Best Rebounder

Tom Izzo has had multiple great defenders and rebounders pass through his program since taking over as head coach in 1995, but says the best one only played a singles season in East Lansing.

"My top rebounder was only a one-year guy, but I could count on him every day was Zach Randolph," said Izzo.

In his one year at Michigan State, Randolph averaged 6.7 rebounds per game.

Glue and Guts

The ultimate "glue guy" dates back to the beginning of Izzo's career in Antonio Smith. He points out that at MSU, they have a 'glue and guts' award named after the former Spartan.

"Since he started my career out and really kind of set the tempo was Antonio Smith," said Izzo.

Over his four-year career, Smith averaged 6.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.

Team Captain

The captain of Izzo’s ultimate dream player shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

It’s none other than the previous leader of the 2000 national championship squad, Mateen Cleaves.

“Well, my best team captain had to be Mateen,” Izzo said.

Earlier in the show, Izzo said Cleaves wasn’t the best scorer but was always a guy looking to make people around him better.

During the 1999-00 season, Cleaves shot 42.1% from the floor – averaging 12.1 points and 6.7 assists per game.


For the last four years, Spartan fans have fallen entirely in love with this point guard, including Tom Izzo.

There’s no getting around it, and even after the two-decades worth of coaching guard after guard, he still picked Cassius Winston to quarterback Michigan State.

Winston is a two-time All-American and the 2018-19 Big Ten Player of the Year. He was recently selected to become a member of the All-Decade second team by the Big Ten Network.

Following the network's decision to elect him to the second team, Izzo said, “he was special. I said it when I recruited him that he’s the closest thing since Magic Johnson as a passer that I saw. But when it was winning time, and that ball was in his hands, I felt comfortable.”

Now, he says, “my most solid quarterback who could run a team, score for you, shoot it,” was Winston referring to him as a “playmaking quarterback.”

Smartest Guy in the Room

Draymond Green was one of the smartest players Tom Izzo ever coached on both ends of the court.

"His overall IQ, offensively and defensively. I mean, he used his basketball IQ on the defensive end," Izzo said. "He positioned himself; he found rebounds. He used his basketball IQ and has done an incredible job in the NBA doing the same thing."

The MSU forward was recently voted to the first-team All-Decade squad by the Big Ten Network, where Izzo said, “he's a perfect example of a four-year guy who got better each year and two qualities that you hope to have in every human being. Tough as nails both mentally and physically and a desire to win. Some players have that quality that winning is the most important. Everybody preaches it, but only a few lived it. He was a guy who lived it."

Michigan State retired Green’s No. 23 in East Lansing on December 3, 2019.

NCAA.com wrote a terrific article similar to this earlier. You can read it when you click here.

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