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Michigan sportsman of the decade

George Foster - January 11th, 2010
Michigan Sportsman of the Decade
Back in the early days of Northern
Express, I used to write a regular sports column for the paper.
That was the era of the Bad Boy Pistons, the seemingly eternally inept
“Dead” Wings, and football star Mark Ingram, the father (MSU receiver and
Super Bowl hero), not the Heisman Trophy-winning son, Mark Ingram.
With the explosion of cable sports coverage and the Internet, it seems to
me that the public’s interest in sports and athletes has increased
dramatically in the last decade. Also, we’ve heard more and more readers
of the Express comment that the regular sports content of the past is
missed.
Okay, people, you asked for it, now
you have it. The Score, our weekly sports column, is back.
Though I like to follow the local college and professional teams, my
intention is to write about anything that interests me. I rarely analyze
individual events and games; we have the daily papers and ESPN for that
task. The hope here is to foresee the coming sporting trends, look beneath
the surface for what makes an athlete tick, connect sports to society as a
whole – attempt to see the big picture.
Since I haven’t done a sports column for at least 10 years, let’s catch up
quickly by electing the Michigan Sportsman of the
Decade.
The results are in: second runner-up would have to be Chauncey Billups,
formerly of the Detroit Pistons. It is no coincidence that the Pistons
stormed to six consecutive conference finals after Detroit signed him to a
contract before the 2002-2003 season. The Pistons’ upset win over the
Lakers in the 2004 NBA championship series was largely orchestrated by
Billups, MVP of the series.
My runner-up is Nicklas Lidstrom of the Red Wings. Lidstrom has been the
defensive glue on several Stanley Cup-winning teams that have been known
for their offensive fireworks. Underrated, understated, quietly
efficient, Lidstrom has none of the egotistic qualities that make up a
typical hall-of-fame hockey player. He rarely makes mistakes, however,
and is the ultimate team player.
The winner and Michigan Sportsman of the Decade can be none other than Tom
Izzo, basketball coach of Michigan State University. Izzo has
single-handedly raised MSU’s basketball program to the elite status of
Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, and
Kentucky.
With a personality larger than life, Izzo has few detractors. He is
magnanimous with his opponents and remains close to his former players.
His high school recruits are second tier, mostly from Michigan and Ohio.
Yet his teams have been to the Final Four playoffs in five of the last 11
years (a primary measure of college coaching success that is unmatched).
His 1999-2000 team won the NCAA championship with only one contributing
player who would become a starter in the NBA.
How does he do it? In a nutshell, Coach Izzo expects his players to be as
physically and mentally tough as he is. If you don’t work on defense and
rebounding, you won’t play on an Izzo team. A telling statistic is that
over the last 10 years MSU has out-rebounded teams consistently by the
biggest margin in the country, though Izzo’s players are never tall
overall. Best of all, his basketball program has never had even a hint of
scandal.
There will never be another Tom Izzo. All things considered, he may be the
best college coach of our lifetime.

 
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