By Adam Biggers
Shawn Respert nearly didn't have the chance to become one of the greatest Michigan State Spartans basketball players. He could have easily went to play for a handful of other programs, but then-coach Jud Heathcote wasn't about to let him get away.
However, current Spartans coach Tom Izzo (who was then an assistant) and former assistant Stan Joplin weren't immediately sold.
Initially, says Respert, now 39, Heathcote and his staff were interested in Parish Hickman, a teammate of his at Redford Bishop Borgess High. Hickman was recruited a year earlier as one of the top players in Michigan, but he urged Heathcote to take a look at Respert in 1989-90.
"Coach Heathcote was a little more keen about looking at me and bringing me as a possible addition to the team," Respert said.
Michigan State. One could argue that such is true regarding the Big Ten.
However, Snow's status was being considered, too. The coaches met, finally making a decision that greatly impacted the history of Spartans basketball.
"They funny thing is, when they brought us in, they would lobby with each other, and then they just figured to take the both of us," Respert said, laughing.
Not to say that Izzo wasn't immediately struck by Respert's talent, but he probably couldn't have imagined that Respert, a 6-foot-1 shooting guard, would go on to become the school's career scoring leader (2,531 points), national and Big Ten player of the year, as well as a first-round NBA draft pick in 1995.
Eventually, Izzo warmed up to Respert, and the two formed a great relationship.
"I knew that he was excited to have me up there," Respert said. "He spent a lot of time getting to know me; he didn't owe me anything. He didn't have to sit there; he could have stuck with the guy he recruited (Snow) and been loyal to his player.
"Tom was selfless and able to say 'Hey, whatever it takes for us to win.' He was just like 'Whomever needs to play; who can help us win - get him out there. "
Izzo made Respert's transition from high school all the more comfortable. Izzo told Respert that he'd get a fair shot, and Respert respected Izzo's honesty.
"That's a tough transition for student-athletes to make," Respert said. "He had that charisma."
Heathcote's "blueprint was already there," says Respert. When Izzo took over in 1995, he already had 12 years experience working under Heathcote. He expanded on what Heathcote established in East Lansing, winning a national title in 2000 (MSU's second; 1979) and making six trips to the Final Four.
In the middle-late 1990s and early 2000s, Izzo landed some of his best classes of talent, which included Mateen Cleaves, Jason Richardson, Morris Peterson and Charlie Bell. Whether it was a five-star recruit, or a virtual unknown, Izzo always got the most out of his players.
"(Izzo) injected the ability to have these great athletes come in and play in a successful system that was built on quality shooting," Respert said. "We were always one of those teams that was going to be near the top in field goal percentage and rebounding."
Respert said Izzo "got athletes plugged in" positions they could properly showcase their abilities and "understood what need to be done to get that program to the next level.
"And he did it."
This is one of a series of upcoming pieces on Spartans legend Shawn Respert, who today, works with the Minnesota Timberwolves' player development department.
Adam Biggers can be reached by e-mail at Adam.Biggers@Yahoo.com, or, by Twitter @AdamBiggers81.
Note: Respert and I interviewed for over an hour-and-a-half Wednesday, Dec. 7. We talked about much more than Spartans basketball, delving deep into his personal story. Respert has been at the highest of summits and, at times, the lowest of valleys. His determination and never-say-die attitude are truly remarkable and admirable.
The below video highlights Respert's spirited performance during a 73-71 win over the Michigan Wolverines in 1995.