Tom Izzo made first collegiate start vs. MSU

IRON MOUNTAIN — Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo, in pursuit this week of his second national title in eight trips to the Final Four, launched his playing career against the Spartans.

The Iron Mountain High School graduate was a walk-on at Northern Michigan University, getting a chance when Mountaineers football coach Dick Allen put in a good word.

“… the 25th man on a 25-man team,” Izzo said in the book “Green Glory” by Jack Ebling and John Lewandowski.

For the 1974-75 season, a preseason story listed Izzo among five point guard candidates — 6-foot-4 William Eddie (out for the first semester); 6-5 Bill Uelman; Ed Megli; and Mike Garland (an assistant under Izzo today).

NMU head coach Glenn Brown described the diminutive Izzo as a “ball-handler, always gives 110 percent and very tenacious.”

On Dec. 16, 1974, at NMU’s CB Hedgcock Fieldhouse in Marquette, Izzo made his first career start against Michigan State. It was all Sparty as the Wildcats missed their first 13 shots in a 91-59 loss.

The Spartans rolled to an 18-4 lead while the Wildcats finished the night with a 28 percent field goal mark. Dino Conley’s 22 points led NMU. Lindsay Hairston, nephew of NBA star Happy Hairston, and Terry Furlow paced MSU.

“My first start, if you can believe this, was my sophomore year against Michigan State at home,” Izzo recalled recently on the Dan Patrick Show. “(Coach) Gus Ganakas and that group came up to Northern Michigan in the UP. That was something big.”

In NMU’s first loss of the season, Izzo collected five rebounds and a team-high six assists in the Michigan State game. The Wildcats wound up with a 17-9 record that season.

Iron Mountain News sports editor John Wahlstrom described the 5-9 Izzo as a “defensive demon and scrappy playmaker.”

Izzo, who left NMU as a Division 2 All-American, stands tied for third in the NMU record book with 14 assists against Hillsdale in 1976.

“I was a passer, I was a pleaser,” Izzo said of his point guard role. “I kept other guys in touch. I did the same thing in high school. I tried to feed (Steve) Mariucci the ball but he missed a lot of shots, so I didn’t get any assists in high school.”

Mariucci, an NMU football star and former National Football League coach, is Izzo’s best friend.

NMU’s gym was jammed to the rafters for Michigan State’s third and final visit to Marquette in 1974-75. MSU prevailed 42-13 in 1919-20 but NMU pulled a 79-71 shocker in 1960-61 before another full house. Niagara’s Ray Neveau was a member of that NMU team.

MSU owns an 8-1 career mark against NMU. The Wildcats visited East Lansing in 1975-76, suffering an 81-65 loss.

Izzo, a three-year NMU letterwinner, capped his collegiate playing career with team MVP and All-GLIAC honors in 1977.

Izzo later became Ishpeming High School head coach for one season and an NMU assistant before joining the MSU staff as a grad assistant.

Named MSU’s head coach in 1995, the Spartans won the 2000 national title in Indianapolis.