Old Michigan State NCAA memories
College Basketball Share

Old Michigan State NCAA memories

State News sports editor days with football/basketball writer Mike Klocke at 1978 NCAA tournament.

Photo: Jud Heathcote with Magic Johnson (right) and Greg Kelser following the 1978 NCAA tournament win over Providence. Below, myself and Mike Klocke (right).

Thanks to Mike Klocke, an old friend from our State News days, for this nostalgic photo he posted on Twitter looking back when we covered Michigan State in the first round of the 1978 NCAA basketball tournament at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. Mike is on the right; in the row behind us are Michigan State head coach Jud Heathcote and his top assistant at the time, Don Monson.

With my website, I couldn't resist adding a few more comments and memories.

This season is Michigan State's 18th straight year in the NCAA tournament under Heathcote's successor, Tom Izzo. But in 1978 the Spartans returned to the post-season for the first time since 1957. As Izzo has been forced to remind fans at times, the Final Four wasn't on the schedule -- not to mention the NCAA tournament.

In the first game of the 1978 NCAA Mideast Regional, Miami of Ohio upset defending national champion Marquette. Miami had a point guard due to report to the Los Angeles Dodgers' minor league spring training camp.

In the second game, the Spartans, led by Magic Johnson in his freshman year and Greg Kelser in his junior season, toyed with Providence 77-63. Kelser posted a double-double of 23 points and 11 rebounds; he hit 9 of 10 field goals. Magic finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. (By the way, he was still Earvin "Magic" Johnson in those days. The Basketball Hall-of-Famer became simply Magic Johnson in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers.)

I remember one of the questions asked of Kelser during the NCAA post-game press conference was how he coped with Heathcote's in-your-face yelling style. Kelser said the players understood it was all about Heathcote trying to make them better players.

After the game, Providence coach Dave Gavitt cautioned future opponents: "Don't underestimate Michigan State." This was back in the days before ESPN and regular TV games; the Spartans were still relatively unknown to the nation despite winning the Big Ten title. Providence had a higher profile in those days, just five years removed from a Final Four trip.

There was only one game the first weekend in the days of the 32-team bracket. The Spartans thus advanced to play their second game against Western Kentucky in the regional semifinal, winning 90-69. Michigan State lost to eventual national champion Kentucky in the regional final 52-49. Magic picked up his fourth foul, went to the bench and later Kentucky's Kyle Macy, a transfer from Purdue, hit free throws in the final seconds to secure the victory. But years later Heathcote also lamented the uncalled "illegal screens" 6-foot-11, 230-pound Rick Robey threw to spring open Macy for jumpers.

Kentucky went on to beat Duke -- the Blue Devils' last Final Four team before Mike Krzyzewski became ensconced at Duke -- in the national title game.

Michigan State, of course, returned the the NCAA tournament and 1979 and defeated Indiana State in the final. The Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird final was the highest rated TV basketball game and launched a new era in the NCAA basketball tournament.

Magic was a special a talent, but Heathcote coached up the rest of the team. His first year at Michigan State was in 1976-77, and that season he once told me a difference between Kelser, then a sophomore, and Indiana's Mike Woodson was playing with athleticism and adding basketball skills. Kelser might take a bad 18-foot shot, but Woodson would turn the 18-footer into a higher-percentage 15-foot shot.

This, of course, was before the the three-point field goal was added to the game. Now, the modern game is all about dunks or three-pointers; today's AAU-schooled college players are unable to hit the mid-range jumper that Jud taught.

But Kelser improved his fundamentals with Heathcote's coaching in 1976-77 and then his career exploded with Johnson as his running mate the next two years beyond what Woodson accomplished in college.

Magic's 1977-78 arrival propelled Michigan State to its first NCAA tournament game since 1957 when Johnny Green led the Spartans to a trio of "firsts" in program history -- Big Ten title (co-championship with Indiana), Mideast Regional title (win over Kentucky) and the Final Four. Michigan State suffered a semifinal loss to North Carolina in triple-overtime. The Tar Heels went on to win the national title with another triple-overtime victory in the final against Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain.

After college, Klocke enjoyed a successful career as a sportswriter and sports editor in the Gannett Newspaper system and is now the editor of the Stockton Record.

Our old mentor, Lynn Henning, also a former State News sports editor, covered those 1978 NCAA games in his days with the Lansing State Journal before he launched his Michigan State Hall-of-Fame career with the Detroit News.

The 1978 photo was taken by State News photographer Rob Kozloff, a long-time photographer and photo editor of the Detroit Free Press, Associated Press and the Chicago Tribune. He now works as a photo editor at the University of Chicago.

Note in the photo of Mike and myself there are no ubiquitous laptops positioned in front of us. That's because in those days we wrote on typewriters and literally cut-and-pasted our stories together on sheets of paper. "Cut-and-paste" was more than link to click on.

The 1977-78 season was Heathcote's second in a 19-year career at Michigan State. In addition to Heathcoat's coaching success, I always admired him for treating State News "college kids" with the same respect as the Detroit newspaper reporters and media. It's something I watched for regarding college coaches the rest of my career; many of them were patronizing and sometimes looked down upon questions from an inexperienced college reporter with Bill Belichick-like disdain.

Jud was always helpful, even if you asked an unwittingly dumb question, and that helped you gain experience and maturity. I once criticized the "Spartan Spirits," a forerunner to the Izzo Zone, for their unsportsmanlike treatment of a Michigan basketball player when the Wolverines upset Michigan State during Magic's freshman year at Jension Fieldhouse (nine days later the Spartans routed Michigan at Crisler Arena).

Instead of chastising me, dismissing me or embarrassing me in front of other media members -- which I've seen college head coaches do to kids -- Jud called me and wanted to know what was wrong with the Spartan Spirits. I learned I had to explain criticism better instead of just taking a shot in print. Those were different times between the media and athletic programs everywhere. In those days you could call Jud in his office and his secretary would put you through. Now, everything has to be pre-arranged. I remember sitting in his office as he took a recruiting call and rattled off some jokes.

At the root of Heathcote's attitude toward college reporters was he remembered he was first and foremost a college educator as opposed to a highly paid coach hired to win games.

A few years later, when I was working for a now defunct San Diego suburban newspaper, Michigan State traveled to play in the Cabrillo Classic hosted by San Diego State. I was up for a job at one of the two San Diego major dailies that merged into the San Diego Union-Tribune, and during one of those group interviews huddled around Heathcote, including my future boss, Jud made sure to mention my name in a respectful way as part of his answer. You can't beat that for a job reference.

When I greeted Jud in the USD stands, I mentioned to him for the first time how I always respected him for treating college kids the same as major media members.

Typical of theq quick-witted and often acerbic Jud, he replied "Yeah, like s---t!"

Later in my career, Gonzaga played at the University of San Diego in the West Coast Conference tournament in Jud's retirement years while living in Spokane. Jud struck up a friendship and mentoring role with Gonzaga's then-young head coach, Mark Few. Jud traveled to the WCC tournament to see Gonzaga play. I wrote a story on Jud for the tournament on his retirement years and how he was supporting and following Michigan State as well as Gonzaga (Jud had previously traveled to the Sweet Sixteen game matching Gonzaga and Michigan State in 2001 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta; the defending national champion Spartans beat Gonzaga and then Temple in the regional final for their third straight Final Four).

Later, Jud added people at the hotel commented to him they enjoyed the story and welcomed him to San Diego. That was a rewarding moment for me to know it was my story that reminded the old coach he wasn't forgotten.

When Jud bought copies of my book, "Raye of Light," for others and I sent Jud his signed copy, I again mentioned how he always treated college kids with the same respect as major media members. It's rarer trait than you might expect.


* * *

Another note to remember from that year was the NCAA games played at Market Square Arena had to moved from Mackey Arena at Purdue. This was due to a lowpoint in the energy shortage of the 1970s when Purdue announced it was unable to host the regional games.

Editorial note: This was when President Jimmy Carter had solar energy panels installed at the White House as he pushed alternative energy efforts. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan removed the solar panels and canceled some of Carter's alternative energy research programs, including one my late Uncle Leonard Bachman was working on for a company in Pittsburgh. Imagine where this innovative country would be now on alternative energy without Reagan's short-sighted move.

-30-

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan is an award-winning sportswriter and the author of "Raye of Light". Tom has also written for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Voice of San Diego, Chargers.com, Rivals.com, and Gameday Central. He has won multiple first-place awards from the San Diego Press Club and first place from the Copley News Service Ring of Truth Awards. The National Football Foundation/San Diego Chapter presented him its Distinguished American Award in 2003 and USA Track and Field’s San Diego Chapter its President’s Award in 2000.

Raye of Light: Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the integration of college football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans

By Tom Shanahan; Foreword by Tony Dungy; August Publications

Purchase Raye of Light from Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com or from August Publishing.

Media interviews  | Amazon customer reviews