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Affection only, not acrimony

Despite choosing UF over MSU, Anthony Roberson is still ''our kid from Saginaw'' to coach Tom Izzo.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2003


TAMPA -- He spent four years and countless hours recruiting a young man he came to love, only to have him change his mind at the last minute and decide to attend college thousands of miles away.

But Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has no hard feelings for Florida freshman guard Anthony Roberson.

Izzo began recruiting him as a freshman, but in the end, Roberson fell in love with the Gators and turned his back on the Spartans.

It happens. And that's okay with Izzo.

Still, sometimes ... he can't help but think.

"Could he have been doing for us the same things he's doing (for Florida)? You always wonder," Izzo said. "Some people try to make it like there's animosity, but believe it or not, there's none. I really have a lot of respect for the kid. He's done all the things I thought he could do when I recruited him. ... I've enjoyed watching him play and I'm proud of what he's done. I sure wish it was for us. I'll be pulling for him every game, but one."

That one is when Florida (25-7) and Michigan State (20-12) meet in the second round of the NCAA Tournament tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum. The game will be a rematch of the 2000 NCAA championship game.

But it also will be a reunion of the coach and his lost prized recruit. Both insist they will leave the emotional baggage behind at tipoff, but during Saturday's media session, the mutual affection was obvious.

The coach still refers to Roberson as "our kid from Saginaw." Roberson says telling Izzo he had chosen to attend Florida and play for Billy Donovan was "one of the hardest things I've ever had to do."

Ultimately, both said, Roberson did what was in his heart.

"I felt like this system here was the best for me," Roberson said. "I thought I was an SEC-type of player."

He was right. Roberson has started 12 games, averages 12.7 points and was named SEC freshman of the year by coaches and the Associated Press.

Roberson faces Izzo and a team that includes his best friend, sophomore guard Kelvin Torbert. The Gators need Roberson to play well, as Florida's perimeter game will take pressure off its frontcourt, but Roberson said he refuses to make the game personal.

"If I go 0-for-14 and the Gators come out on top, I'll be the happiest man on earth," he said. "This is way bigger than me. It is all about winning."

Roberson has had a large part in Florida's winning, hitting big shots, including the winning basket against Georgia in midseason. But this time last year, he was a high school player watching the tournament on TV. Will the pressure of the tournament and playing against people he is so close to be too much?

"Not at all," Florida sophomore center David Lee said. "He's handled everything well this season, and I don't think (tonight) will be any different. He'll come out and be ready to play."

The decision to attend Florida wasn't popular with many MSU fans. There were some hateful phone calls to Roberson's mom and dad. And the slight he believes was directly related to his decision: He lost the Mr. Basketball award to MSU center Paul Davis.

"I feel I deserved it more, but, hey, they wanted a Michigan State guy," he said.

Izzo will have bigger things than Roberson to think about tonight, but after it's over, he'll still be "our kid from Saginaw."

"Sure, I have special feelings for him, as I still do for Shane Battier, another recruit we lost," Izzo said. "That's the way things are at Michigan State. When we didn't get him, it wasn't, 'I hope you fall into the ocean here and never come back, get eaten by a shark.' It was, 'I wish you luck. See you some day.' I didn't think it would be this soon. I'll tell you after the game whether I'm happy to see him or not."

When his name is called and he runs to center court to shake hands with his opponent, Roberson knows there will be a little extra emotion, a little more adrenaline. There will be no doubts. He said he knows his decision was the right one.

"The biggest thing for me was I picked Florida," he said. "Nobody picked it for me. My mom didn't tell me to go. My dad didn't tell me to go. When it was all over, done and finished, I chose to go to Florida. I am here because I want to be here."

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