Former MSU basketball coach Heathcote dies at age 90

Associated Press • Aug 29, 2017 at 1:00 AM

Former Michigan State basketball coach Jud Heathcote, who led the Spartans to the program's first national championship in 1979, died on Monday at the age of 90 in Spokane, Wash.

The university made the announcement late Monday night.

"Michigan State has lost one of its icons today," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "And yet, nothing can erase the impact on the program, the players he coached and the coaches he mentored. Spartan basketball is what it is today because of Jud Heathcote."

Heathcote coached the Spartans for 19 seasons from 1976 through 1995. Before that, he was the head coach at Montana from 1971-1976. Heathcote, an alum of Washington State, finished his career with a 419-274 record, including a 339-221 mark at Michigan State.

He was named NABC Coach of the Year in 1990 and was twice named Big Ten Coach of the Year (1978, 1986). He led the Spartans to the NCAA Tournament nine times, getting to at least the Sweet 16 four times while winning three Big Ten titles (1978, '79, '90) and coaching seven All-Americans.

Heathcote hand-picked Izzo to be his successor upon his retirement following the 1994-95 season. It wasn't the most popular decision at the time.

"Without a doubt, he was one of the most influential people in my life, giving a chance when no one else would," Izzo said. "Any coaching success I've had is because of him. Long after he left Michigan State, he was still one of the first people I would call when I had a tough decision in coaching or life."

Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis served as a student manager under Heathcote in the early 1980s.

"Coach Heathcote had an impact on so many people," Hollis said in a statement. "For me, he was among the best teachers I had the opportunity to be around. Reflecting on my career and life, Jud was among the most influential people in regards to my preparation for both. He will be missed, yet his memory will be seen through the many different people he impacted. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Bev and the entire Heathcote family."

A native of Harvey, North Dakota, Heathcote replaced Gus Ganakas in 1976. A season later, Magic Johnson arrived and by the 1978-79 season, the Spartans had won their first national title.

"The basketball world is a sadder place today with the passing of Jud Heathcote," Izzo said. "No one cared more about the welfare of the game than Jud. He was a coach's coach and a mentor to many. Our hearts are filled with sadness and deepest sympathy for his wife Beverly and the Heathcote family.

"He was bigger than life. A man's man and a player's coach. He was honest and if it was on his mind, he'd say it," Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins told The News. "I'll never forget, 2003-04 was my first year as head coach here at WMU. The first game we played was against USC here in Kalamazoo. We won. The next day Coach Izzo called to congratulate me and we chatted for a bit. It meant the world to me. I idolized Coach Izzo and still do. A little later that afternoon Coach Heathcote called to congratulate me. I couldn't believe he'd take the time to even notice the score, let alone call. I was in awe.

"He told me stories of some of his first games as a coach and how he remembered them. He told me to cherish that game because the business gets more complicated from that day on."

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