This was supposed to be about Georgetown. About Allen Iverson and Victor Page and Joey Brown and the rest of John Thompson‘s finest pupils. But since my Hoyas dropped a doggie-sized deuce in the first round of this year’s Tournament, I had to find new teams to root for as we hit the Sweet Sixteen.
The hometown Huskies were an easy choice, and over the weekend I found myself gravitating toward Michigan State. Not that it was a stretch: I’ve always liked Tom Izzo‘s system and the kind of players he brings in, and any coach who shows his team scenes from 300 on a regular basis is solid in my book. (“SPARTANS! What is your profession?!?”) With that, here are my Top 10 favorite Spartans of the past 25 Years:
1. Shawn Respert — Even before I fully appreciated his game in real life, I used to release the Kraken with Respert on Coach K College Basketball for the Sega Genesis. Real Respert and Digi-Respert had range out to the parking lot. He could’ve been a Ben Gordon-type scorer in the NBA if he hadn’t contracted abdominal cancer in his rookie year.
2. Mateen Cleaves — More than his leadership, more than his toughness (he played on a busted ankle in the 2000 NCAA championship game), more than his broken jumper or his playmaking ability … I will always remember Mateen Cleaves’ teeth. The prequel to Greg Oden looked like he was 30 years old in college.
3. Zach Randolph — While Z-Bo is probably my favorite player in the NBA, the man-crush didn’t really form until he was a couple of years into his pro career. But I do remember Z-Bo eating up boards and dropping buckets at Michigan State for the one year he was there; I couldn’t in good conscience have him outside my top three.
4. Charlie Bell — The youngest of the Flintstones stuck around for another year after Mateen, Mo Pete and Antonio Smith were all gone and led the Spartans to another Final Four, the third of his career. Bell was a deity when he played ball overseas — seriously, his nickname in Spain was “Santo Dios,” which loosely translates to “Saint God” — but he accepted a significant pay cut and backup status to come to the NBA in 2005.
5. Jason Richardson — The best dunker and probably the best pure athlete to wear the green and white.
6. Eric Snow — The other half of the backcourt with Respert. I remember when the Sonics picked up E-Snow in a draft night trade (for some kid named Aurelijius Zukauskas), I entertained the thought that between Gary Payton starting and Snow backing him up, no point guard would ever score on us again.
7. Steve Smith — Because he was a tall point guard who chose to play in East Lansing, Smitty was unfortunately saddled with the hefty “next Magic Johnson” tag by some. Even when he averaged 25 points a night his senior year he couldn’t live up to that standard, but Smitty was a beast nonetheless.
8. Kalin Lucas — The current leader and top player on the Spartans has already played in one national title game and has another year to go. It sucks that his season had to end with the Achilles injury against Maryland last week. Lucas might be the best returning PG in the country next year.
9. Morris Peterson — The best overall player of the Flintstones crew.
10. Mo Ager — Calling him “Baby Respert” would be kind of like calling Harold Miner “Baby Jordan” (oh wait…) but Ager was tough and could get buckets from the two. He scored 19 points a night his senior year.
Honorable mention: Marcus Taylor, Kelvin Torbert, Drew Neitzel, Durrell Summers, Shannon Brown
… And just because my sister might read this, and she’d be mad if I showed love to Michigan State and ignored her Buckeyes, here are my Top 5 favorite Ohio State players:
1. Jimmy Jackson
2. Evan Turner
3. Greg Oden
4. Michael Redd
5. Jon Diebler
More NCAA Tournament stories:
– My Top 10 Favorite Syracuse Orange Players of the Last 25 Years