Michigan State vs. Gonzaga to headline potential Jud Heathcote tribute in Spokane

USA TODAY Sports

WSU would play Montana in the undercard of the doubleheader at Spokane Arena.

Jud Heathcote devoted 19 years of his life to coaching college basketball at Michigan State, and now a pair of people he mentored -- current coach Tom Izzo and athletic director Mark Hollis -- are trying to pay tribute to the Spokane resident with a unique event.

Jud Heathcote as a coach at WSU. (Photo: WSU Athletics Communications)

If Izzo and Hollis are successful, Spokane Arena will host a nonconference doubleheader in early December featuring four teams with which Heathcote has deep ties: Michigan State vs. Gonzaga and WSU vs. Montana.

"Like the events we've had before, this is something that's being put together for the good of the game of basketball," Hollis told the Detroit Free Press, "and to recognize a true legend of the game."

Heathcote spent more than a decade in Pullman, first as a basketball player under Jack Friel -- he scored 230 points in 77 games over three seasons -- then as an assistant to Marv Harshman, coaching the freshman team for seven years after a successful 14-year stint at West Valley H.S. in Spokane.

From WSU, Heathcote went on to Montana for five years before landing in East Lansing, where he won a national title with Magic Johnson and appeared in nine NCAA tournaments. He has retired in Spokane and is a Gonzaga season ticket holder who is close with Mark Few and his staff.

In the proposed event, WSU would take on the Grizz in the first game, with MSU and the Zags capping off the night as the marquee game. It seems like a win-win-win-win:

  • WSU gets to play a solid mid-major at a semi-home site (where Bill Moos wants WSU to play once a year),
  • Montana gets a game against a high major without going to a road venue, and
  • Michigan State and Gonzaga get the heavyweight nonconference matchup that both team's coaches thirst for on an annual basis.

Of course, no good thing can come together easily. The story first surfaced a week ago, but Izzo said yesterday there are still some potential hangups:

"There are some snags in that one,'' Izzo said during an appearance on "The Drive with Jack Ebling" radio show on Lansing's 730 AM TheGame.

[snip]

Izzo indicated Washington State could have an issue with the date of the scheduling, too.

"There's some questions about the facility, the wrong dates, there are still some question marks there,'' Izzo said.

I would assume it's because WSU already has another date close to that they'd need to rework in order to fit in a game on the proposed date of Dec. 7, although I'm not familiar enough with WSU's schedule to figure out what that conflict might be. Let's hope they can work it out, because this is the sort of event I'd make it a point to drive over the mountains for.

WSU's sports communications department put together a cool story on Heathcote seven years ago before he was honored by the school. If you're unfamiliar with his accomplishments, it's an excellent primer. Included:

Harshman often commented that his relationship with Heathcote was not a "head to assistant," but rather a co-coach relationship. During the seven years the two spent together they created some of the best teams in Cougar history.

"We relied on each other," Heathcote said. "Marv might have been the best offensive mind in college basketball and I was more defensive oriented."

The two had a great relationship and worked very well together. During the Pan American games the two were paired up again, five years after Heathcote left to take the head coaching job at Montana. During the practices, both coaches would blow the whistle simultaneously and each would say the same thing.

During his coaching career at WSU, Heathcote took the freshman Coubabes and turned them into the team to watch. His freshman teams accumulated 99 wins before Heathcote left to become a head coach at Montana.

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