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Izzo at center of Michigan State’s two-sport party

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Anaheim, Calif. — Nearly 1,000 people, almost all of them wearing some shade of green and white, piled into a bar in nearby Anaheim to watch the Michigan State football team.

And yet, the basketball team, out here playing in a tournament, was front and center.

No worries. It’s all the same, this unparalleled success between the basketball team, ranked No. 3 in the nation, and the football team, ranked No. 5 and heading to the Big Ten championship following a 55-16 victory over Penn State on Saturday.

“Mark (Dantonio, football coach) and I talked about doing something special here, trying to win a championship, a national championship, in the same year, and uhhhh,” Izzo told a crowded bar here Saturday, where the walls were decorated in green and white and adorned with signs that read, “East Lansing West.” “It’s a lot of fun to try to work for something that nobody thinks can be achieved.”

On Saturday — the one-day break in the Wooden Legacy basketball tournament at Cal State Fullerton — Izzo brought his team to a pub, JT Schmid’s Restaurant & Brewery, just near the Honda Center, site of Sunday’s championship game against Providence.

The entrance-way read “Spartywood” and featured a big blow-up of Sparty. And when the basketball team arrived, just after the football team’s kickoff against Penn State, Denzel Valentine was the hero, with some fans screaming, “Denzel for President!”

MSU’s Orange County Alumni Association sold more than 700 tickets for the watch party with the basketball team, which was only planning to stay at the bar until halftime — till the players told Izzo they wanted to mingle with the fans for a bit more.

His response, to the crowd: “Some of them have girlfriends, so ...”

“It’s been fun to watch it grow,” Izzo told The News, speaking of the football team joining the basketball team as the university’s greatest success stories. “Because I’ve been here it since it wasn’t that way. It’s one of the reasons I’m still here.”

Izzo and the basketball team always have been the university’s center of attention, especially since the national title in 2000, and this year, the Spartans are 6-0 and heading to a game against Providence at 10 p.m. Sunday in the title game of the Wooden Legacy.

The football team, meanwhile, is 10-1, heading to the Big Ten championship against Iowa in Indianapolis next Saturday — Izzo said he’ll bring the basketball team to the game — and preparing for a possible spot in the four-team College Football Playoff.

And Izzo is loving every second of the synergy.

“A lot of times, there’s a jealousy among that,” Izzo said. “I think part of that is, I like football better than basketball, if I was to tell the truth.

“Team MSU, we’re all on the same team.”

Michigan State basketball always seems to be in the championship chatter, with seven Final Fours in the last 18 years.

Michigan State football, well, that’s been a different story.

Before Dantonio arrived in 2006, that is. Izzo, actually, was on that hiring committee, and his old friend, who’d been an assistant under Nick Saban, was an easy call. The Spartans boast top-five finishes in football the last two seasons, and have a chance to do better this season, following victories over Ohio State and Penn State.

“I’ve been here longer than anybody but Lou Anna (Simon, MSU president),” Izzo said. “When I gave money, I gave it to football. I’m smart enough to know if football succeeds, a lot of us have a better chance.”

Izzo was the center of attention Saturday at the Anaheim pub, delivering a non-scripted, 20-minute halftime speech to the the crowd, before posing for more than 100 selfies and signing almost as many autographs, despite the plan to head back to the hotel at halftime and start studying film on Providence.

But even Izzo acknowledged the football team’s achievement was a bigger deal.

So he stayed, and mingled, and bantered with the crowd, excited not just about the football team or the basketball team, but the state of Michigan State athletics.

“I honestly think our whole university is starting to get on this plane,” said Izzo, in his 33rd year on Michigan State’s staff, including 21 as the head coach. “It’s been fun to watch it grow.

“We’ve been here since it wasn’t that way.”

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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