|Izzo makes stars align over Detroit for one night|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 04 April 2009 16:51|
People in this hardscrabble town, and all across the state of Michigan believe there's absolutely nothing Tom Izzo can't do. For a few shining moments Saturday night, he proved them right.
Michigan State 82, Connecticut 73 was the result of one evening of supreme effort by a team full of underdogs. But it was a lifetime in the making.
Izzo set the goal of reaching this Final Four before the first ball of the season hit the hardwood. On a dry-erase board in the Spartans locker room, he simply wrote, ``Ford Field.''
Kentucky might have been the only surprise.
Nine years after he won his first national title, Izzo gets the shot at a second Monday night. He's at his fifth Final Four in the past 11 seasons. No one ever got a longer, louder embrace than the one a city and state wrapped him up in almost from the moment the Spartans returned after beating Louisville last weekend to book their ticket to Detroit.
``I felt that the day we came here. I felt it at the hotel. I felt it driving to the practices. I felt it at practice. We had a pep rally yesterday, I felt it with all the people there,'' Izzo said. ``But my favorite time today was driving to the game. You go by some tough homes, some tough places.
``I did make that the important part of this game. I always said, as a player, you've got a chance to be a difference-maker, a role model, a chance to make other people smile and fell good about you. We are the blue-collar team,'' he said finally. ``This is the blue-collar city.''
m he has plays the same way for a very good reason.
``He gets kids that are tough, hard-nosed and hardworking,'' said former Spartan Magic Johnson, who was parked in the middle of a huge Michigan State contingent just behind Izzo's bench. ``Just like himself.''
Two rows ahead sat Heathcote, whose Michigan State team climbed on Johnson's back 30 years ago and won its only pre-Izzo title. When the buzzer sounded, Heathcote barely moved, instead adjusting the glasses that had slipped down his nose so he could see the scoreboard for himself. A row ahead of him, Lupe Izzo grabbed son Steven, whose middle name is Mateen - for Izzo's first big-time recruit, Mateen Cleaves - and made a beeline for the locker room.
The family she and her husband hold almost as close as their own was already gathering there, and growing by the moment.
``You want to play for yourself and your team,'' said Detroit-area native Kalin Lucas. ``But you also want to play for Detroit, you know, and your state.''
Back inside the Spartans' locker room, before he let his kids join the celebration, Izzo had one final message.
``Don't not be happy,'' he said, ``because you've accomplished something. But I don't want to read you feel like you accomplished the world.
``Because,'' he added, ``we're going to do that Monday night.''
allway, Magic Johnson was posing for pictures with a handful of Detroit cops, telling them ``It looks like everybody in Michigan is represented here tonight.''
Izzo might need their energy and more to complete the mission he began as an undersized point guard at Iron Mountain High in the Upper Peninsula almost 40 years ago. Even more than his players, he looks like he's running on fumes.
When Connecticut closed to within 66-58 with 4:48 left on two free throws by A.J. Price, he stomped his foot down hard, twice, to get his players' attention. Then he shoved both fists away from his chest to call a play for the next possession. When Lucas ended it by missing a layup, Izzo spun around so hard in disappointment, you half-expected to see him go flying off the floor.
No problem there. There were 72,456 people looking on, more than a few of whom were prepared to catch him, set him on his feet, and point Izzo back in the right direction. They were every bit as determined as he was to see this job get finished.
Now, the coach he wound up beating feels the same way.
``Tommy Izzo is one of my best friends. He's a future Hall of Fame coach,'' UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. ``He's probably going to win his second national championship on Monday. ...
ncluded, ``it's a great, great thing to rally people around.''
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org