EAST LANSING As the final seconds of Michigan State”s 78-57 win ticked away, the fans rushed the floor and the band played the fight song but senior Charlie Bell had more important people to celebrate with. Bell grabbed two Big Ten champion hats to match the one he was wearing and spotted his two “brothers” former teammates and Flintstones Antonio Smith and Mateen Cleaves.
“We”re a family,” said Cleaves, a former Michigan State star. “This is so great. I”m so happy for him and to be here to see this. He doesn”t know what it is to lose and that says a lot about him and the program.”
The Flintstones gained notoriety almost three years ago when Bell, Cleaves, Smith and Morris Peterson all Flint natives led Michigan State into the Final Four. They then won the national title last year without Smith.
The four grew up playing against each other throughout high school and in Flint”s YMCA, so when they arrived in East Lansing, a bond that normally takes years to develop was already formed.
“Building chemistry is a key thing,” Bell”s former high school coach Jeff Whiteley said. “Those guys played against each other growing up and that bond was formed before they came to State.”
The bonds were developed through some of Flint”s best basketball. Bell”s Flint Southwestern, Cleaves and Smith”s Flint Northern and Peterson”s Flint Northwestern all were ranked No. 1 in the state at one point during their high-school careers and Smith and Cleaves each won a Class A State title.
“I hear from them at least once a week,” Bell said. “You could yell “Flint” and you had other guys who yell “Flint” with you. I”m just going out there and living off the tradition.”
Cleaves” and Smith”s high school state title alluded Bell, but now he has something that no other Flintstone has four Big Ten titles.
“Nobody can ever top that,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
While Bell”s individual success was expected he was a consensus top-25 prospect and strongly considered Michigan and Connecticut before deciding to play with his “family” nobody expected Bell and the Spartans to be this good, winning four Big Ten titles and a national title.
Before Bell, the Spartans were coming off of back-to-back NIT appearances and weren”t showing the ability to play with Michigan, Indiana or Purdue then the cream of the conference.
But the Flintstones learned something in Flint that few others had how to win.
“He”s been winning since day one,” Smith said while celebrating with Bell. “It”s great to see him go out with a bang.”
Bell wants that bang to be what his legacy is known for.
“I hope we taught them how to win,” Bell said. “Hopefully the guy (Kelvin Torbert, a consensus top-five prospect) from Flint they”ve got coming in will keep on winning.”