Continued from page 1

“March has been good to me,” he said. “I love March.”

And with good reason. His 35-13 record in the NCAAs gives him a .729 winning percentage. That rate of success trails just Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (.775), North Carolina’s Roy Williams (.753) and Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun (.731) among active coaches with at least 40 tournament games.

Michigan State’s streak of consecutive NCAA tournaments trails just two active streaks, by Kanas and Duke, and matches Bob Knight’s run from 1986-2000 at Indiana for the longest in Big Ten history.

“I think he belongs in the Hall of Fame,” said former Purdue coach Gene Keady, whose six career Big Ten titles were surpassed by Izzo’s seventh this season. “If you lost a player to him in recruiting, you felt like you got outworked. If you lost a game to him, you felt like you got outcoached. He’s fantastic.”

Izzo is totally focused on the tournament now, but he has to keep an eye on the future to find the next star, which brings us back to his recent quick recruiting trip to Chicago.

The day after a victory over Wisconsin and about an hour following practice the next day, Izzo, his 11-year-old son Steven Mateen, and assistant coach Dwayne Stephens boarded a King Air 200 turboprop with nine leather seats _ including those for the pilot and co-pilot _ on a slick tarmac under a foggy sky at dusk.

“He doesn’t get a lot of sleep during the season and doesn’t look good toward the end of the year,” said former Michigan State coach Jud Heathcote, who hired Izzo as a part-time assistant in 1983. “My wife will say, `Tom doesn’t look good.’ And I’ll say, `Yeah, because he’s worn out.’ But Tom has never been able to rest. I used to tell him to get away and take some time off, but after a couple days at his house on Lake Michigan, he’ll be back in the office working because he has a restless nature.”

Nonetheless, Izzo was sleeping seconds after taking his seat in the back right section of the cabin and didn’t wake up until the charter plane hit a pocket of turbulence toward the end of the 41-minute flight.

“Wow, I needed that power nap,” Izzo said.

During the descent to Gary, Ind., into a setting sun over Lake Michigan, Izzo said recruiting is the hardest part of his job and the most essential.

Izzo doesn’t think recruits are given cars or bags of money dropped off at their houses, like he used to hear about, but laments the belief that some schools use unregistered phones to circumvent NCAA rules to connect with prospects or find ways to get them to campus for unofficial visits that are supposed to be paid for by their families.

“It doesn’t seem as bad as it was 10 years ago, even though in some ways I think there is more going on because we’re making more money and it makes it even more critical to get recruits,” Izzo said. “There’s risk and reward. Yeah, you can get caught, but there’s the reward of making more money and getting better jobs.”

Once on the ground in Gary, a rental car was waiting at the terminal for Stephens to drive to a Chicago arena. Izzo decided to head to northwest Indiana, instead of Chicago, to avoid dealing with rush-hour traffic. That plan hit a snag when it took 13 minutes to creep a half-mile to a toll booth. Along the way, people in a car with a Michigan State “S” on the plate honked and waved when they saw Izzo on the Chicago Skyway.

That was the first of a slew of times Izzo was recognized over the next two hours.

As he walked through the arena’s parking lot and into the building, some shouted, “Hey coach!” while others stared, smiled and pointed.

Story Continues →