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Izzo can relate to his players

By BRIAN LANDMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 2, 2000


INDIANAPOLIS -- Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett, who has hinted this might be his final season, dropped perhaps another clue about his future immediately after Saturday's loss to Michigan State.

"My wife and I are going to get away for a while and think about some things," said Bennett, 56. "My original commitment was a five-year commitment to turn the program around. I believe that has happened."

In his fifth year, his Badgers, who finished sixth in the Big Ten and received a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, advanced to the Final Four for the first time since 1941.

"There's a good nucleus returning," Bennett said, referring to a roster than includes just two seniors. "There's a good chance to recruit. Those are all very positive. As far as my stance on it, I have learned that and I think anyone would say the same, you don't want to make a decision when you're really elated or really depressed over a situation. You just want to keep things where they belong and at the appropriate time."

IZZO'S TRUST: Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, a two-time national coach of the year in his five-year career, attributes some of his success to his coaching partners --- his players.

"I try to treat people like I'd want to be treated myself," he said.

So unlike some of his peers, Izzo empowers his players. He has allowed Mateen Cleaves to chew out his teammates of halftime of games and has let Morris Peterson call a play or two.

"I think a lot of coaches don't really let their players get involved with some of their plays," Peterson said. "I think that's what kind of separates Coach Izzo. He can really relate to his players. He's always willing to listen to them and get some of their input."

"We have a great player-coach relationship," Cleaves said. "He lets his players have input on what we need to do. He's not one of those coaches that thinks it's just going to be his way or the highway. If you see something out there or if you think you see something different, you can tell him. That's on the court or off the court."

TOUGH GOING: In the first three meetings against Wisconsin, Cleaves struggled mightly on offense. He averaged 10.7 points on just 29.4 percent shooting. Part of that credit goes to Badgers star defender Mike Kelley, who has been known to rattle many opposing point guards.

"I certainly don't think that I've ever gotten under his skin," Kelley said. "When you're an All-America point guard, you just stay focused on what your team needs and you're not broken down easily."

FACES IN THE CROWD: Midway through the first half, MSU fans spotted Magic Johnson and began to chat, "We want Magic."

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