Tom Izzo to be enshrined into Naismith Basketball HOF on Friday

This weekend marks a special one for those associated with the game of baseball. On Thursday, the ten-person class for the 2016 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame got together in Springfield, Massachusetts to receive their honorary orange blazers and took part in a press conference. Among the class is long-time Michigan State Spartans head basketball coach Tom Izzo.

Izzo and the rest of the inductees, headlined by former NBA standouts Allen IversonYao Ming and Shaquille O’Neal, were officially announced back in April they would be a part of the 2016 class. The numbers and accolades speak for themselves. His 524 wins are fifth-most by any coach in college basketball history through their first 21 seasons. MSU’s winningest coach all-time and head honcho of the 2000 national championship Spartans has reached seven Final Fours, won nearly 72 percent of his games in the NCAA Tournament, captured seven Big Ten regular season crowns and another five conference tournament titles.

What he has done with the program turning into the Spartans into a perennial power is simply remarkable and has received nothing but praise and positive feedback from his peers as well as current and former players.

The Spartans head coach, now entering his 22nd season as the head man in East Lansing, spent a few good minutes talking about what it means to be a part of such a group.

Izzo and the former 20-year NBA big man Shaquille O’Neal go back more than 25 years when Izzo was still just an assistant on the bench for then MSU head coach Jud Heathcote and O’Neal was a freshman at LSU. The two schools were in the same regional during the 1990 Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament and Izzo had the task, or privilege in his eyes, of scouting the match and witnessing ‘The Diesel’ himself.

O’Neal has long praised the head coach for his style of play and the way he carries himself day in and day out:

“He’s a great guy, I know his passion for the game, and I know that his players, they have the opportunity to make it, they graduate,” O’Neal said of Izzo.

“I like coaches that have been around. Even though we’re in the new era, I can tell he’s an old school coach. I think a lot of kids need that discipline these days.”

Izzo and Dantonio4Talking about O’Neal the soon-to-be HOF head coach views Shaq as an icon for the NBA and easily one of the greatest figures in the game of all-time:

“I’m not sure there’s a better ambassador,” Izzo said. “He’s about everything, when you look at his police work, when you look at his basketball work, when you look at how he handles people. I just love being around him. He’s a lot of fun to be around.”

The other interesting little wrinkle between both Izzo and O’Neal is that Shaq’s son, Shareef, is a junior in high school and currently rated a 5-star power forward. We learned earlier in the summer that the younger O’Neal is very much interested in Izzo and the Spartans, and the older O’Neal would like to see his kid go and play for one of three schools, MSU being one of them. The other two? LSU, where Shaquille went to school, and Kentucky, a hot bed for hot-shot 5-star talent under the leadership of head coach John Calipari.

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Even Allen Iverson says he’s always had the “utmost respect” for Coach Izzo and sees a level of greatness and passion that Iverson sees in himself. It is remarkable to see such superstar personalities in a sport at different levels being able to recognize and praise one another.

Each inductee on Friday will be formally escorted and presented by a person of their choosing. Izzo selected former Maryland basketball head coach and long-time friend and rival Gary Williams. The two faced each other on the hardwood less than a handful of times, the most recent coming in the 2010 NCAA Tournament when Izzo’s Spartans downed Williams’ Terps on a game-winning buzzer-beater from former Spartan Korie Lucious to oust Maryland from the dance en route to Izzo’s sixth Final Four at the time.

But the two have always had immense respect for one another in terms of the way they coached their teams, developed their players and raised their respective programs to prominence. Williams himself acknowledged that when asked about what he and Izzo have in common:

“I’d like to think if he looked at our teams, he’d see kind of a mirror image: teams that played hard, that even if you didn’t play well, you could hang in the game by your effort,” Williams said. “And I always respected his players. Whatever talent they had, his players get better, is the best way I can put it.”

If you’d like to see the rest of the class for the 2016 Naismith Hall of Fame and who will be presenting them, click here. The official induction ceremony will be held on Friday September 9 at 6:30 p.m. ET and can be see on NBA TV.

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