Jud Heathcote is well renowned in Spartans circles for his leadership and ability to get Michigan State over the hump and onto the list of national basketball champions.
The championship is an accomplishment, which can never be lessened or taken away, no doubt. But Heathcote is more than just a great basketball mind; his life journey has made him appreciate the subtleties and hard work which gets a person from point A to the rest of their lives.
It's what made him a winner on the court as the driving force behind one of the most celebrated teams in college basketball history, instructing the likes of talents such as Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Gregory Kelser. While Heathcote could be relentless to his players, whether it was in practice or during a Big Ten battle, he came away from his coaching career learning a lot about himself as well -- life lessons beyond the hardwood.
â€œI think what you are [as a coach] is a disciplinarian on the floor, but youâ€™re friend off the floor,â€ Heathcote told Spartan Nation Radio. â€œI always tried to have that philosophy, and then I had a saying that everything starts anew the next day. I donâ€™t live and die on the sidelines like I used to.â€
Heathcote is older and wiser these days, looking at basketball â€“ and life â€“ in a different perspective. In relation to the current college basketball climate and its culture of swaying away from the fundamentals which made teams great decades ago, such as the art of the mid-range jump shot, the MSU legend realizes the game now favors dynamic guards who can drive to the hoop and get easy baskets.
â€œI think the college game and the pro game has turned into too much athleticism,â€ he said. â€œIf youâ€™re not a good athlete and they donâ€™t draft you and you donâ€™t get to play, itâ€™s a trickle-down effect.â€
But some things havenâ€™t changed all that much, especially when it comes to certain programs not playing by the rules and regulations in which they are intended to adhere. Numerous colleges and universities in both basketball and football are implicated just about every year in regards to doing things the wrong way, and according to Heathcote, not much has changed since he was manning the sidelines years ago.
â€œWe used to say that it pays to cheat because the cheaters were never caught,â€ Heathcote said with a chuckle. â€œThe easiest sour grapes there is in college basketball is when you lose a kid, you say another university bought him or did some things hanky-panky. I know for a fact we lost some kids that wouldâ€™ve come if we did some things like other schools.â€
â€œI never turned anyone in. I just said, â€˜Hey, thatâ€™s not my jobâ€™ and hoped that somebody sometime would clean the mess,â€ he said.
College basketball has become a very lucrative sport. Itâ€™s not college football, although the NCAA tournament has become one of sportsâ€™ most endearing aspects. Brackets and â€œbubble teamsâ€ continue to be hot topics in college hoops, and with that widespread attention comes more money. The NCAA tournament was broadcast on a myriad of networks this past March so nobody would miss a game they were looking to watch. And if youâ€™re not by your television, you can watch games on the go using a laptop or touch pad.
All the while, these college athletes themselves walk away with no financial gain as they simultaneously make millions for their universities. The â€œHeathcote Plan,â€ as I call it, gives the players some financial wiggle room and lets them live off their means for a little while. They donâ€™t become rich; they just become well off enough to live.
â€œIf you had a small stipend, maybe $100 a month or something, it would take care of a pizza here, a date there, a movie here for some of the kids who have no money at all and no money from home,â€ Heathcote said. â€œIt would really solve a lot of our problems.â€
Heathcote, who lives in the Pacific Northwest, tells young coaches to stay consistent and adhere to their strengths. Those qualities are what made Jud a Big Ten basketball icon and a national champion, and they continue to make him a great member of the Spartan family.