Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo is at the top of his profession, which is easy to see when you look at his resume. What's behind the resume is a blue-collar work ethic, and a commitment to maintaining the Spartans' standard among college basketball's elite.
USA Today's Marlen Garcia wrote a great piece on Izzo prior to the National Championship game earlier this week.
Izzo has five Final Four appearances in the last 11 seasons, more than any other coach in that span. The coach is a sure thing as a hoops Hall of Famer, yet his most notable attribute is being an everyday man who turned this state into his recruiting mecca. Nine of his players are from Michigan.
"I don't want to say he's a plain old shoe, but that might be the best description of him," said former Michigan State coach Jud Heathcote, Izzo's mentor who turned over the program to him in 1995.
That's fitting since Izzo spent a chunk of his adolescence working in his family's shoe repair shop.
Everything about his work ethic is blue collar, from playing for Northern Michigan as a walk-on and becoming a Division II All-American, to the War Drill he introduced at MSU that leaves players fighting for the ball in a crazed free-for-all.
He rebuilt Michigan State into a national power in the shadows of Michigan's Fab Five that reached the national title game in 1992 and '93. The Wolverines were on top of the world but Izzo soon moved in. In 2000, he led MSU to a national title, the school's second.
About that time, the NBA's Atlanta Hawks wanted to hire him, Heathcote said. Izzo thought it over and resisted the overture.
"What keeps me at Michigan State?" Izzo asked. "They gave me my chance. I feel like I have so much more to build. I love the Dukes, Carolinas, Kentucky, Kansas. I'm not going to see that (kind of success) in my lifetime because they've done it for so many years, but I love aspiring to (that).
"We're not there yet."
Only six schools have three or more NCAA championships. A third for MSU would tie the Spartans with perennial powers Duke and Kansas. Only UCLA (11), Kentucky (seven), Indiana (five) and North Carolina (four) have more.
What separates Izzo from his peers are his preparation and his drive, which seem to be well-documented.
Izzo is famous for his meticulous preparation. He found big holes in Louisville's 2-3 zone last week in MSU's regional final upset.
After the first round of this tournament, Izzo said he made a deal with his players.
"I said, 'You get me through the first game, and I feel good that I can help get you through the second (of the weekend),' " Izzo said. "And they've kind of had that mentality."
There are legendary basketball stories about Izzo that circulate through the state. The most famous speaks volumes of his drive.
As a player for Iron Mountain High, he missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw in the closing seconds of a game, and his team missed the state quarterfinals. He had to be peeled off the floor by his best friend and teammate, Steve Mariucci, who became an NFL coach.
Izzo has been hung up on free throws since. Every day before practice, he shoots at least 100.
"He never makes anything less than 95," Izzo's assistant, Mark Montgomery, said. "He tells the players if he can do over 100 in six minutes, they can do it, too. He challenges the players to do it.
"No one's going to take him up on it."