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Spartans turn to their legends

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2000


INDIANAPOLIS -- Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is a believer in looking back to get ahead.

That's why he encourages former Spartan standouts such as Magic Johnson and Steve Smith to visit as often as they can, passing on advice to current players.

"We've tried to bring the past and the present together," Izzo said. "When we're asked how do you build a good program, if you look at the Kentuckys and Dukes and North Carolinas and Kansas and Indianas, it's the players from the past that are so important because they're the ones that really started everything."

photo
[AP photo]
Florida's Mike Miller sits alone with his thoughts in the locker room.

Both Johnson, the hero of the school's 1979 championship, and Smith were at the RCA Dome on Monday, cheering on their alma mater. Late in the first half, the Michigan State fans chanted for each to stand, which each did.

SPREADING THE WEALTH: With the Gators using 10 players, minutes aren't the only thing divided. So is pressure.

"With our basketball team, we have a lot of guys that can step up and do something special," forward Mike Miller said. "If I had all the weight on my shoulder, would it be a lot more pressure? Of course it would. But right now, we have, I have, the pressure evened out."

And unlike some teams that have one main scorer, the Gators have 10 capable scorers.

"If you look at a real good basketball team, sometimes a defense will come in there and say, we'll let him get his 20 points if we can stop their second scorer and their third scorer ... we can still win this basketball game," Miller said. "With us, you shut me down, but then you've got to shut down another nine players."

TAKING TIME FOR A FRIEND: In the midst of preparing his team for its biggest game, Florida coach Billy Donovan called UF football coach Steve Spurrier Monday to express his condolences on the death of Spurrier's father, J. Graham Spurrier. He was 85.

GALA SCHEDULED: The Gators will be honored at 7 p.m. Thursday at the O'Connell Center. Gates open at 5:30 and admission is free.

The team is expected to arrive in Gainesville between noon and 12:30 today.

RARE OCCURRENCE: With three seniors (point guard Mateen Cleaves, forward Morris Peterson and forward A.J. Granger) in its starting lineup Monday, Michigan State bucked the recent trend of underclassmen dominating the lineups for a team that reached the title game. The last time a team had as many senior starters was in 1995, when both UCLA and Arkansas had three -- Ed O'Bannon, Tyus Edney and George Zidek, and Corey Beck, Clint McDaniel and Elmer Martin, respectively.

FIRST TIME: After making his first two free throws, Peterson missed his third, ending his NCAA Tournament perfection at the line. He had been 18-for-18.

SIGN OF THE TIMES: A Michigan State fan had a sign that read: "Tonight We Party Like 1979."

ANOTHER FLINTSTONE: UF sophomore guard Teddy Dupay doesn't know why folks make such a big deal about Michigan State's Flint connection of Cleaves, Peterson and Charlie Bell.

"I lived in Flint for six years, up until the third grade; Welsh Boulevard," he said. "Ask them. They'll know where that is. My point is, it doesn't matter where you come from or how old you are. The game is played between the lines."

NO SECOND THOUGHTS: Even when he broke his foot, Cleaves said he didn't regret not bolting for the NBA last year.

"I just love hanging out with the family," he said. "If we wouldn't have won the Big Ten championship, the Big Ten tournament championship or had gotten to the Final Four, I still would have had a great time coming back."

NUMBERS GAME: Florida, long thought of as a football school, is one of only seven schools to reach the Final Four multiple times in the past seven years. The others are Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Arkansas, Arizona and Michigan State.

GODDESS OF THE FINAL FOUR: Here's what Kristin Helgeson gets for four lucky guesses: high-fives from women for one-upping the guys and marriage proposals from men who love basketball.

The 29-year-old Atlanta graphics designer was the only person out of 590,000 to predict each of the Final Four teams in a contest by ESPN.com. She says she's not a huge sports fan and prefers football and hockey.

When the Web site reported her feat -- and posted a link to her e-mail address -- Helgeson received hundreds of messages. Some wanted help picking stocks or lottery numbers. One said, "You're a goddess."

"There were a few where the subject says, "Will you marry me?' Some ask for a picture. ... A few women have written: "Who says women don't know anything about basketball? You show 'em! Way to go, girl!' " Helgeson said.

It was not immediately clear if Helgeson will get any prize for correctly picking the four teams since she did not accurately predict the championship matchup. She picked Florida because she's an alumna. Wisconsin was where her father went to school. She has a friend who went to North Carolina. She picked Michigan State out of sympathy, after watching it play football against UF in the Citrus Bowl. The Spartans won 37-34.

QUOTABLE: "We have 11 months of winter and one month of poor sledding ... It's a miner's town. We put our hats on, flick the little light in the front. It's a unique place ... You're kind of raised by the community. You have obligations to a lot of people. I honestly believe that (Monday) night every TV set in Iron Mountain will be watching the game." -- Izzo on his hometown in Michigan.

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