Michigan State Basketball: 5 Biggest Hot Heads in Spartans History
Any program worth its salt has a background of fostering passionate players and coaches.
With two national championships and eight Final Fours, Michigan State is such a program.
From the days of Jud Heathcote fuming on the sidelines to Tom Izzo blowing his lid after a bad call, the Spartans have been afforded two of college basketball's most fiery coaches during the past four decades.
But the list of "hot heads" doesn't stop with old Jud and Izzo. Nope. There have been several players who've made their marks due to a feisty attitude, too.
This slideshow will examine such characters in Michigan State lore.
Mateen Cleaves, PG (1996-2000)
Flint Northern legend Mateen Cleaves didn't necessarily blow up on other people. Instead, he chose to take out frustrations on himself.
The consummate collegiate floor general, Cleaves carried the Flintstones—rather, the Spartans—to the 2000 Final Four and was cast as hero during an 89-76 national title victory over Florida.
Despite being one of the premier athletes in all of college hoops and one of the greats in Michigan State history, Cleaves was seldom satisfied. He always pushed himself to the limit.
That's all he knew.
“Just as when I was a player, I am 10 times harder on myself than anyone else,” said Cleaves, now a broadcaster who looks at his job as he once viewed playing (via Robert, via alumni.msu.edu). “I want to be one of the best, and I have a long way to go. You also want to have fun.”
Today, Cleaves, his own worst critic, spends a lot of his free time by spreading messages of leadership to young hopefuls across the Great Lakes State. He's fiery. He's passionate. He definitely gets excited.
But that's nothing compared to his legendary locker room speeches and pure, raw emotion on the court of the Breslin Center.
Derrick Nix, C/F (2009-12)
Due to changes in technology, spotting misbehavior is easier than ever. No longer is a great memory needed to remember emotion-fueled rants.
Surely, in years past, there have been Spartans who were known to blow their tops every now and then. But thanks to social media and 24/7 coverage of college basketball, Derrick Nix was cited more than once for his attitude.
Nix frequently checked teammates, and in 2011, he called out seniors Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers, who Nix felt weren't doing their jobs.
He probably had a point.
Lucas and Summers didn't end their careers at Michigan State in the way most envisioned, and the Spartans were eventually ousted in the first round of the NCAA tournament by UCLA.
Earlier that season, Nix had the following to say about Lucas and Summers, via former MSU beat writer David Mayo of MLive.com:
How can the seniors say anything to me if they're not doing what they're supposed to do?. I mean, I'm not trying to throw them under the bus, because they're close friends. But we're losing and it don't look good for us right now. But hopefully, the commitment that we made will get us back going, and we'll get our mojo back.
Nix had issues on Twitter. But the cake-taker was his choice not to join his team at the Maui Invitation. Then a sophomore, Nix decided to throw a tantrum in order to convey a point.
Izzo, of course, didn't play that game. Nix was either with the Spartans or against them. He shaped up instead of being shipped out, which was absolutely the correct path for Nix, a lovable doughboy in his own right—you just have to get past the attitude to see his softer side.
Coach Izzo (1995-Present)
Is there a coach who tops the exuberance of Tom Izzo?
Think about it.
OK. Time's up. The answer is no. Izzo is in a league of his own, like it or not.
At a moment's notice, Izzo can go from being as calm as a child with a bottle of warm milk to being as heated as an erupting volcano.
Easily; he does it very easily. One miff by the officiating crew is more than enough to send Izzo, who's been to six Final Fours, over the edge and into outer space. That's what he's known for, and that's why he's beloved by the Spartans faithful.
In 2010, rumors swirled about Izzo's potential departure to the Cleveland Cavaliers. That didn't happen, of course (LeBron James went to Miami), but that didn't stop Izzo from voicing his concern about the way the story was being reported.
Lynn Henning, a well-respected Detroit News columnist, had to defend his position—and the position of other writers—when rehashing the media's coverage of Izzo. He didn't back down, nor did Izzo.
The accompanying video has audio of the now famous "altercation" between two heavies—Izzo in coaching, Henning in writing.
Is that really it on Izzo? No way. There's much more, and he' not apologizing, according to a recent statement made during an interview with MLive.com's Mike Griffith.
I just decided after watching some games and listening to some coaches' interviews, if there's anybody that's gotten a little soft, it's been me, and I'm not going to tolerate anything but their best. You know what, if people don't like the way I do it or how I do it, I really don't care. I'm getting back a little old schoolish.
That guy sure is getting soft, isn't he?
Don't believe that for a second. He's as passionate and driven as he's ever been.
The Teacher (1976-95)
Where did Izzo learn such sideline behavior?
Well, look no further than his mentor, the one and only Jud Heathcote, who turned over the program to his understudy in 1995.
Heathcote's forehead was the stuff of legend. As his hair retreated, the sweat and wrinkles on the front of his dome became clearer and clearer each season. With a look of pure frustration—or perhaps even constipation—Heathcote's incredibly colorful expressions told the story of the game better than any writer or broadcaster ever could.
He was that intense. And it trickled down to Izzo, which is a good thing if you're a fan of Spartans basketball.
Heathcote was in common form in 1986 after his team's 96-86 tournament loss to Larry Brown's Kansas Jayhawks. He argued about the clock and several blown calls by the officials during one of the program's heartbreaking fails.
Love him or hate him, Heathcote deserves credit for his intense style and tempering of Izzo, who gave Michigan State its second national title in 2000. Heathcote coached the team to its first in 1979, led by Magic Johnson.
Scott Skiles, G (1982-86)
That was Scott Skiles' career at Michigan State in a nutshell.
The former star Spartans point man often found himself in the spotlight for one reason or another while under coach Jud Heathcote. Skiles, who went onto to dish out 30 assists in a game for the Orlando Magic in 1990, averaged 18.2 points and three assists per game over four years, earning All-American honors as a senior.
Legendary on the court, Skiles was just as prolific in social circles due to his hard-partying ways. He had the attitude of an arrogant star, but he had the skill set to back up his confidence. Students loved him. To this day, stories are told of his extravagant lifestyle and carefree sprees down Grand River in East Lansing.
The 6'1", 190-pound maestro gave opponents fits. But he also threw his coach for a loop.
Heathcote was often under scrutiny for the way he handled Skiles, who averaged 27.4 points per game as a senior. But the former Spartans coach felt that he did the best that he could with his troublesome leader.
"Scott's an inspirational player, the catalyst for our team," Heathcote told Bob Logan of The Chicago Tribune in 1986. "The criticism and harassment I took for letting him rejoin the team was a constant irritant, but we had to put it behind us and go out and play."
Without a doubt, Skiles' temper will go down as one of the greatest displays of emotion—good or bad—in Spartans sports history.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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