"One thing I don't think people realize is that Jud is a great, great shooting coach," says Respert, a great, great shooter. "He changed a lot of things I did, made my release quicker, got me shooting more with one hand, got me using my legs." (Heathcote, who was a forward at Washington State, says that the only one of his players who could consistently beat him at H-O-R-S-E was Skiles.) And because Heathcote looks and acts a bit, well, retro, observers believe that his theories are retro. "It drives me crazy when people call Jud old-fashioned," says Tom Izzo, who was named Michigan State's head coach-elect two years ago. "We run more than any team in the Big Ten. There's nothing conservative about him except his insistence that things be done right."
It is a fact, though, that Heathcote's relentless search for perfection has alienated some players. "Like Bobby [Knight], I'm a negative coach," says Heathcote. "I'm always harping on what's bad rather than praising what's good. Yes, I've hurt some kids, and I've been bad for some kids. But one thing I'm always proud of is that our players get coached. And I think most of them get better every year."
Respert, living proof of that, agrees. "Coach can make you or break you," he says. "He almost broke me, I admit it." When Respert was redshirting in 1990, rehabbing a knee injured in high school, Heathcote's badgering almost drove him away. "How close was I to leaving?" Respert asks. "Well, my mother talked me out of it. Otherwise, I don't know. But I came to realize the only thing Jud wanted was for me to be a better player. I am where I am today because of him."
Of course, a lot of players never even made it to State because of Heathcote's manner. His inability to accentuate the positive kept away many big-time recruits, some of whom later modeled the maize and blue of archrival Michigan. "I never promised anyone, not even Magic, that he would come in and start," says Heathcote. "What I did was paint a picture of how a player could start. But it was up to him."
A man can't be what he can't be, and Heathcote could never be a sweet-talker. What he is is what Hall of Fame coach Chuck Daly calls a lifer, a simple man who turned off the lights in the high school gym, learned the game from the bottom up, lived it, breathed it, let it tear up his insides and coached the living hell out of it during every practice session and every game. And when he's gone, whether it's after the first round or the final round of the NCAA tournament, college basketball will be a little less disciplined, the postgame press conferences will be a little less fun, the coaching fraternity will be a little less interesting.
He delivers his own epitaph. "The one thing about this game," says Heathcote, "is that it makes fools of us all. I'm living proof of that."