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Beating out Magic Johnson on any list is pretty rare, but Mateen Cleaves’ career as a Spartan finishes second to none.
Cleaves brought the program its second national championship. After a painful Final Four loss the year prior, he and Tom Izzo returned with a vengeance in the point guard's senior season.
While Cleaves racked up plenty of accomplishments—he ranks first in school history in career assists and steals—it was his willingness to lead a talented team that separated him from the rest. As the primary leader of the “Flintstones,” Cleaves headlined a backcourt that featured future pros Jason Richardson and Morris Peterson.
Cleaves led the Spartans to a Big Ten title and a No. 2 seed in the Big Dance as the third-year captain. Similarly to the 1979 national champions, the 2000 team won every game in the tournament by at least 11 points.
It was a dominant run led by a truly sensational player. Cleaves holds the all-time mark in career assists in Big Ten history and won the Big Ten Player of the Year award in back-to-back seasons.
He was supremely talented, but he wouldn’t have earned his reputation without a fierce will will to win and an unquestioned ability to lead. Cleaves is the consummate Spartan point guard, not because of his accomplishments, but because of how he reached those accomplishments.
He was the ultimate team player, while also standing out as a star. As Izzo’s favorite player he has ever coached, Cleaves tops the list of all-time greatest leaders in Michigan State history.