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Michigan State Basketball: The 5 Biggest Fan Favorites in Spartans History

Adam BiggersSenior Analyst IIJuly 3, 2013

Michigan State Basketball: The 5 Biggest Fan Favorites in Spartans History

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    In athletics, players become fan favorites for a multitude of reasons. 

    Some of them are logical, some aren't. 

    Michigan State Spartans followers have certainly had their favorites, and those athletes were vaulted to campus fame because of who they were, not necessarily what they did on the basketball court. 

    Some were stars who cut down nets and captured the university with their personalities, while others were simply role-playing underdogs who fans couldn't wait to see take the floor in the waning minutes of a decisive victory. 

    From big men who hardly played to passing dynamos who lit up the floor, the Spartans have suited up several memorable faces that earned a place in the hearts of fans. 

    In this slideshow, we'll cover them all. 

The 'Zog: Tom Herzog Embodied the Underdog

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    As a towering force in the paint for Flint Powers Catholic, Tom Herzog set MHSAA records for blocked shots. 

    The nearly 7-footer was an aggressive scorer who thoroughly dominated the high school ranks. 

    However, once Herzog joined Michigan State, his game changed. He became timid, nervous and just couldn't crack Tom Izzo's rotation. 

    But that didn't stop fans from cheering him on at every turn. 

    Nicknamed "The 'Zog," Herzog was one of the most celebrated underdogs in Spartans history. He was lucky to see four minutes a game, but fans treated him like a superstar, waving homemade signs in the stands wishing their tall favorite well. 

    Herzog transferred to the University of Central Florida after graduating from Michigan State in 2010. With the Knights, he developed into the player most thought he'd be. During the 2010-11 season, he scored in double-digits seven times. The same year in a 74-69 loss to UAB, Herzog posted 20 points and eight rebounds, one of the best games of his career. 

    His work ethic was second to none. He'll remain close to fans for that very reason. 

From Walk-on to Superstar, Jumpin' Johnny Green Became a Legend

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    With a name like Jumpin' Johnny Green, Spartans fans knew they were in for a treat. 

    However, Green wasn't heavily recruited. As a matter of fact, hardly anyone saw him outside of courts at the YMCA. 

    Experiencing a growth spurt after his senior year of high school, Green shot up to 6'5" once he joined Michigan State in 1955.

    For one of the game's greatest walk-ons, the rest was history. 

    Green was a rebounding extraordinaire, averaging 17 boards as a junior. He played just 18 games that season. He's one of three Spartans with 1,000 rebounds. 

    A veteran of the Korean Conflict and former construction worker, Green was no stranger to hard work. He was a diamond in the rough, and the Spartans were overjoyed to have him become a staple of Michigan State hoops. 

Day-Day...Enough Said

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    Go to Michigan State's campus and ask an average fan if they're familiar with Draymond Green.

    They may freeze up for a second, trying to remember. 

    However, say "Day-Day"—that'll jog their memory. 

    Draymond Green earned his place as a fan favorite because of his never-say-quit attitude. In 2009 as a freshman, Green was one of the more vocal Spartans during their national championship loss to North Carolina. 

    The next year, Green helped Michigan State reach the Final Four. 

    At 6'7" and 230 pounds, Green was in-betweener. Not a true power forward, but not quite a legit small forward. That didn't matter, though. He was named the Big Ten's player of the year as a senior and went on to help the Golden State Warriors make the 2013 NBA playoffs as a rookie.

    Green, a former Saginaw High superstar, was one those of guys Spartans fans hated to see leave. 

Mateen Cleaves Will Always Be a Spartan

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    He led Michigan State to its first national title since 1979. And in doing so, Mateen Cleaves became an instant legend in 2000. 

    The former Flint Northern standout is considered the second-greatest Spartans hoopster, right behind our eventual No. 1 (you know who it is). 

    The grin. The grit. The pride. 

    Cleaves had it all. 

    To this day, his heroics against Florida in the 2000 national title game are romanticized. He never panned out in the NBA, but Cleaves will always be a star in East Lansing. 

Magic

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    These all-time lists of Michigan State basketball always include Magic Johnson in some shape or form. 

    That's because he's the program's greatest. 

    Johnson, a former Lansing Everett star, was already known in the greater-Lansing community. He was a local celebrity, and staying close to home was the best thing for Michigan State. 

    Johnson is credited for helping to change the college and pro game with his electric passing. He went on to have a Hall-of-Fame career in the NBA, but in Lansing, he's best known for his incredible performance during the 1979 NCAA tournament. 

    Close Calls

    Scott Skiles: He was a mix of Magic and Pistol Pete, tearing up Big Ten courts with laser-like precision. In mid-1980s, Skiles was a huge personality on campus. The people loved him. 

    Steve Smith: The Clara Bell Smith Center is named after Smith's mother. It's a an academic institute designed to aid athletes. In 1997, Smith donated $2.5 million to make his family's dream happen. Smith is one of the greats in Spartans hoops history because of his play, but he reached another level of fame with his generous gift to the university. 

    Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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