During Big Ten Basketball Media Day last October, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was fired up. The event just happened to be the same week as the in-state rivalry football game between Michigan and Michigan State, and the hype surrounding the two football teams made its way to Chicago, where the two schools’ basketball coaches addressed the media.
It was also the same day a statue of Magic Johnson in East Lansing was spray-painted maize and blue.
“First, I’ve gotta say that this is rivalry week, and you’re not supposed to like your opponent,” Izzo said in October. “There’s a lot of great Michigan kids, but there’s some idiots. There’s some idiots on our side, too, that do crazy things. Messing with Sparty is a bad thing, like messing with their ‘M’ is a bad thing. But messing with Magic, that’s the worst thing. I’ll make sure that, from now on, maybe the basketball team will sleep (out there).”
This week, football’s excitement has once again seeped into basketball. Saturday, the two basketball teams will meet at Crisler Center for their one scheduled contest this year, and it just happens to be the same week as football’s National Signing Day.
Forward Matt Costello wouldn’t want it any other way.
“The last couple of years, Michigan hasn’t really been competitive in football, just because they’ve had down years, but this year, I think it has everyone hype all year round for that rivalry,” Costello said in October. “I think that will definitely spill over (to basketball) because we’ll have Jim Harbaugh at our games and coaches like Coach Dantonio. It’s going to make the rivalry a lot of fun.”
Costello, a Linwood, Mich., native who grew up a Spartan fan, thinks his in-state status heightens his enthusiasm toward the rivalry. The starting center isn’t the only one from Michigan either. Fellow starters Denzel Valentine — whose father played at Michigan State — and Bryn Forbes both went to Sexton High School in Lansing, Mich.
All three grew up Spartan fans, and it gives the trio a lot of fodder for conversation.
“We talk about watching the games (growing up),” Costello said. “Denzel was obviously a State fan because of his dad, and Bryn (was a fan), so we just talk about the different fans and how they react to things. It’s good conversation, it’s kind of cool seeing the perspective of someone else.”
Michigan’s top talent didn’t just land in Izzo’s lap, though. He specifically recruited the kids from Michigan for a purpose.
“It’s the whole reason I recruit geographically,” Izzo said. “I’ve always believed in the state of Michigan, and I’ve always believed in recruiting in a Big Ten area because then those rivalries, Michigan (vs.) Michigan State, they should know about that. They should grow up not liking them. That’s kind of what you do. And that makes it more fun.”
In-state status may be fueling the Spartans on Saturday, but it certainly won’t be the Wolverines’ main source of energy. Michigan has just two players from the state of Michigan, junior guard Derrick Walton and freshman forward Brent Hibbitts.
Part of that reason is because Beilein picks up players to fit his system rather than making it personal. On his current roster, he has players from Portland, Ore., to Allentown, Penn., to Berlin. Next year, only one player from the Wolverines’ four-man recruiting class is from the state of Michigan.
“I think having kids from in state make it better,” Izzo said. “There’s more passion to it. They know their mother is going to be at work, their dad is going to sit around the drinking fountain, and that’s what you play for.”