Izzo goes against his nephew, who works for Georgia

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Charlotte, N.C. — The Tom Izzo coaching tree has many branches, but until today, the Michigan State coach never has had to worry about the family tree.

When No. 7 Michigan State plays No. 10 Georgia in a second-round NCAA Tournament game today, his nephew, Matt Bucklin, will be on the other end with the Bulldogs.

Bucklin is the operations coordinator for Georgia, a position he was promoted to this season after serving the previous two as a graduate assistant. That came after a playing career as a reserve guard from 2009-12, highlighted by an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2011.

"The hell with him right now, I mean he's not a part of the family right now," Izzo joked Thursday. "He'll be a part of the family after the game.

"But it is a little strange. I've played against some good friends before but never a nephew or a brother or a cousin. So this will be something different."

Bucklin's mother, Mary, is Izzo's sister. And while Izzo understands it will be difficult for her, Matt Bucklin said there is no doubt where his mom's allegiances lie.

"She'll be wearing red and black," Bucklin said.

Bucklin said it took a few minutes for the idea of playing Michigan State to sink in for him.

He was with the team and excited just to see Georgia's name appear on the screen on Selection Sunday, ending a four-year absence from the Tournament. It was only a few minutes later when the opponent sunk in.

"After thinking about it and seeing it, your heart gets racing," Bucklin said. "I always imagined playing them and now it's finally a reality. The immediate reaction was celebrating and then I thought about it and said, 'Man, this is really happening.' "

Bucklin's boss had some fun with the situation Thursday.

"Matt obviously has been a Michigan State fan most of his life but he bleeds red and black … I think," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "I'm not worried about him. I'm more worried about his mom and the rest of his family."

Bucklin said he still talks to his uncle when he can, mostly to tell him to stop recruiting in Georgia.

"I'll mess around and tell him to get out of my state," Bucklin said.

Right decision

Georgia freshman Yante Maten had a chance to go to Michigan State, but he never really wavered after he was offered by Georgia during his senior year at Bloomfield Hills.

Izzo said it was clear the Spartans were a bit late to the party, offering after the Bulldogs did.

"He was a late bloomer," Izzo said. "It looked like we were going to lose a kid and we tried to get in late. Georgia had already done a great job and he made the right decision."

"We didn't recruit him like a guy you would recruit or like he deserved to be recruited, but it wasn't out of disrespect for him, it was more out of what our needs were."

Maten, who has had a solid first season, averaging 5.1 points and 4.3 rebounds and 43 blocks, said he wasn't a huge fan of any school growing up and that made it easier to pick Georgia.

"I was a fair-weather fan," Maten said. "I liked any Michigan team that was good. I wouldn't say I was the biggest fan but I definitely did watch because my mom graduated from Michigan State."

One final trip

Alex Gauna, the Eaton Rapids native who walked away from the game after last season, is with Michigan State this weekend.

Izzo wanted to give Gauna, who spent four years with the program, a chance to experience the Tournament with the seniors he would have gone out with.

"It's been a little bit of a tough time for him adjusting to the real world, and I just out of the clear blue called him two days ago and asked if he wanted to come on and enjoy some of his classmates," Izzo said. "He was tickled to death to do it.

"I think that's what makes staying in the same place and having a family atmosphere, that's what makes it so special. So he can't play, he can't practice. He can help coach from the back seat in the film room."