College sports is one of the most notable features of campus culture: it cultivates a crowd of 18-23-year-olds for nearly two hours with one goal – to see their team win. Michigan State University has experienced that under the leadership of men’s basketball head coach Tom Izzo, who on March 12 broke the record for most consecutive appearances in NCAA men’s basketball championships.
Under his leadership, MSU has gone to eight Final Four competitions and won one national title.
The former Upper Peninsula native came to Lansing as an assistant coach in 1983 and worked his way to head coach in 1995. His first two years as a predecessor to Jud Heathcote were a struggle for Izzo, who didn’t make the tournament. In 1997, the Spartans gained notice when they became Big Ten regular season co-champions for the first time since 1990.
MSU would then embark on a 25-year run that features some of the most notable professional athletes in the country. Players like Mateen Cleaves, Zach Randolph, Draymond Green, Jaren Jackson Jr., and more have had a lasting impact on campus. Under the leadership of Izzo, MSU men’s basketball has played a critical role in their athletics graduation rate, which is 92%.
MSU student Collin Blanchard believes the streak means “we are seen, and we are heard. The Spartans are to stay, and we come to play.”
Fellow student Hailey Taylor took the milestone as a life lesson to MSU students. Taylor felt Izzo’s 25 years meant “hard work and dedication to your craft can get you incredibly far, even if we don’t win, we still strive to be the best we can be.”
Blanchard also believes Izzo’s impact is on and off the court, and described Izzo as “an inspiration to thousands of students, both athletic and otherwise.” In an anonymous survey, 89.5% of the students interviewed expressed they preferred Izzo speaking about the university in comparison to a university president. While Izzo holds numerous accolades on the court, his iconic persona has built trust between him and the community.
In the same survey, students were asked about their favorite memory of Izzo. Multiple students referenced the representation of the university in times of crisis. For example, they reflected upon his response to the recent tragedy on the Michigan State campus, or other university scandals. In these instances, the cameras turned to the long-tenured coach to speak on the matters at hand.
“Compassionate, low-key, and loyal” are the three words MSU senior Jack Ebert used to describe Izzo.
The 25-year streak “means everything. Michigan State is a basketball school. Once the calendar changes to March and winter starts to leave, there is a different energy on campus. We expect to be there and every time march comes around, it feels fresh again. Campus is alive and having the team represent this university in the month of March, it means everything to the university and its students,” Ebert said.