What do you get when you combine Mark Hollis' scheduling ingenuity and Tom Izzo's willingness to challenge his team in non-league play?
Another really creative early-season idea.
Michigan State is trying to honor legendary ex-Spartans coach Jud Heathcote by organizing a Dec. 7 doubleheader in his hometown of Spokane, Hollis told the Detroit Free Press on Thursday. The doubleheader would feature four teams with ties to Heathcote, with Michigan State facing Gonzaga in one game and Montana and Washington State squaring off in the other.
Heathcote, 85, served as the head coach at Montana from 1971-76 and was an assistant at Washington State prior to that. Since returning to Spokane after retiring at Michigan State in 1995, Heathcote has become close with Gonzaga coach Mark Few.
The event would hold special significance to Izzo and Hollis because both view Heathcote as a mentor. Heathcote, 85, hired Izzo as an assistant and Hollis as a student manager during his 19-year tenure as Michigan State coach. Hollis told the Free-Press he intends to invite every Michigan State player and student manager from Heathcote's era to fly out to the game at the university's expense and participate in a tribute event for Heathcote on the eve of the game.
First of all, how cool will that be for Heathcote if it comes together?
I remember how touched John Wooden was when dozens of his former players showed up to a ceremony in his honor in 2003 when UCLA named the floor at Pauley Pavilion after him and his late wife. I can only assume Heathcote will have a similarly special experience if dozens of his former players arrive in Spokane in his honor.
Of secondary importance, the concept of the double-header is good for college basketball and for the teams involved as well.
Michigan State gets to honor a former coaching great, Gonzaga gets to face an elite team mere minutes from its campus, Washington State gets a pseudo-home game against a quality mid-major and Montana will surely collect a nice guarantee fee for participating.