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Crème de la Big Ten
Michigan State coach begins year atop the heap
Posted: Wednesday October 14, 1998 08:50 PM
EAST LANSING, Michigan (AP) -- What a difference a year makes. This time last year, Michigan State was predicted to finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten basketball race.
This year, the Spartans are widely put in the preseason spot where they finished last season -- atop the conference. All of which leaves coach Tom Izzo proud, upbeat and a little nervous.
"It was a great year last year," Izzo said Monday as he unveiled the 1998-99 version of the Spartans.
"What we did last year was a one-year thing and it was important in the building of this program but it was one year," Izzo added. "Maybe at times it was built up as bigger than it really was.
"Until we start developing where that year becomes the norm," he said, "we really haven't done what we want to do with this program.
"I'm not sure we're worthy of that rating yet."
Worthy or not, the Spartans begin the new season considered by many as the cream of the Big Ten. With virtually the entire squad back from last year, even Izzo admits the Spartans have high hopes.
"We have raised our bar," he said. "Expectations are high ... I do like our chances; I'm excited about the year."
It figures. Last season, Michigan State tied for the conference championship, advanced to the NCAA regional semifinals, finished 22-8 and had the Big Ten player and coach of the year award winners.
The player of the year, guard Mateen Cleaves, is just a junior. But he knows he's looked to for leadership, and says his top goals this season are "keeping this team together and being a leader on this team."
"I expect our guys to come out and give 110 percent every game, game in an game out, like we did last year," he said.
Last season, Cleaves led the Spartans with 16.1 points a game and added 217 assists, by far tops on the team.
Also returning is guard/forward Jason Klein, who notched 11.2 points a game; guard Charlie Bell, who scored 9.2 points a game; and several players who saw heavy duty last season: forwards Morris Peterson, Antonio Smith and Andre Hutson.
"We have a little more veteran group this year," Izzo said. "I think we have good leadership. I think we have players who are willing to do more than talk the talk; they'll walk the walk."
The Spartans tip off their season Friday night with "Midnight Mania" at the Jack Breslin Center. The doors open at 10 p.m. in preparation for the first official day of practice -- October 17. Both the men's and women's teams will be introduced as midnight approaches and then both clubs will scrimmage.Michigan State opens with two exhibition games, then begins the regular season November 13 by hosting Northeast Louisiana.
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