Throughout the day, we'll take a look back at iconic figures — one per school — from Big Ten's basketball past. The fifth installment:
Whatever happened to ... Michigan State’s Mateen Cleaves
Then: A star high school player in Flint, Mich., the guard picked Michigan State after being injured in a car accident during his recruiting trip to Michigan. Tom Izzo’s team was coming off a .500 season, but Cleaves helped turn it around immediately, During his freshman season, the Spartans advanced to the NIT second round. The fun was only starting. Cleaves pushed the team into the NCAA Sweet 16 his sophomore year. His final two teams reached the Final Four, winning the national title in 2000. He was a three-time All-American and two-time Big Ten Player of the Year. He was the Most Outstanding Player of the 2000 Final Four. In his final regular season game, Cleaves set a Big Ten record with 20 assists. Considered among the top players in Michigan State history.
Now: The No. 14 pick of the 2000 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons, Cleaves spent six seasons in the league. Michigan State retired his number in 2007. Cleaves remains highly visible on the Michigan State campus, talking to players. Cleaves has moved into broadcasting in the Detroit area, calling pro and college games.
What they’re saying: “He was good enough that Tom Izzo named his kid after him. In high school, he was beyond awesome. He was Isiah Thomas-esque. He had a serious back injury in the rollover car accident and was never quite the same athlete after that. A great basketball player. Very heady. Probably one of the 10 most significant players in Big Ten history. He wasn’t a great shooter but hit every clutch shot. He was a very good defensive player. A superior passer. The thing he did best wasn’t on the basketball court, it was the leadership. He was another coach.” — Jack Ebling, longtime media personality in East Lansing