Tom Izzo defends Dan Fife, criticizes MHSAA in Thomas Kithier case

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Clarkston coach Dan Fife

East Lansing — While Thomas Kithier continues to sit at Clarkston, ruled last week as ineligible by the Michigan High School Athletic Association, his future college coach wondered Monday what the next step is while defending the process that got the 6-foot-8 forward in the jam he is now.

Kithier transferred from Macomb Dakota to defending Class A state champion Clarkston. His former school opted not to sign a release, saying the move was athletically motivated. That eventually led to the MHSAA ruling, which has left Kithier, a part of Michigan State’s 2018 recruiting class, sitting on the bench.

“I am not crazy about the ruling that I’ve heard,” Izzo said on Monday. “I think we’re archaic in our thinking on this. I think one way or another, this is going to bring some changes to how we look at it from the Michigan High School Athletic Association part.”

Izzo said on Monday he feels “partly to blame” for what has happened because of his desire to keep players from leaving the state.

“I think he was gonna go to a prep school,” Izzo said. “I’m not as crazy about that. I hate when the kids from the state of Michigan are all leaving because of my love for the state.”

More: Thomas Kithier family pleads case to school board

That eventually led to Kithier’s decision to move to Clarkston, which is coached by Dan Fife, father of Michigan State assistant Dane Fife. Dan Fife has coached at Clarkston for more than 35 years and won his first state title last season.

Izzo staunchly defended the Clarkston coach Monday.

“Dan Fife had zero — ZERO — to do with this,” Izzo said. “And early on, his name was getting dragged through like he’s a recruit. Zero. Zero.”

Clarkston can appeal the Executive Committee decision to the MHSAA Representative Council, but that group is not scheduled to meet until March.

Unless there is an earlier meeting scheduled, Kithier might be out of options at the high school level. That has Izzo exploring what he might be able to do from his end, including checking on the possibility of enrolling next semester at Michigan State.

It’s a practice more common in football and isn’t something Izzo is normally in favor of, but he’s open to at least finding out if it’s possible.

“To me, a very sad situation because I hate when a senior does not get a chance to go to the prom and play basketball or do this or that,” Izzo said. “That’s why I’m against some of these things and all these kids leaving. I’m not even in favor of the football rule where they come at the semester, personally, because I think you’re missing out on a lot of things. And I think we have to find a way to do a better job with the rules to make it so there are rules, but there are also adjustments to the rules that will take place in the future.

“I hope it doesn’t cost him, but I just don’t know enough about all of it because I didn’t think it would come to this.”

Spartans get NBA glimpse

Michigan State will get a chance to play at Little Caesars Arena on Saturday when it takes on Oakland and could get another shot in March with NCAA Tournament first and second round games being played at the new arena in Detroit.

But the Spartans got a sneak peek Friday when they were guests for former Spartan Draymond Green for the Pistons-Warriors game.

Izzo was on the road recruiting, but he was happy his team got to be around the NBA environment.

“You kind of want your kids to see winning teams,” Izzo said. “I think it was nice they got to see the arena, but it wasn’t like they shot any baskets on it or anything. But it was one of those team-building things the NCAA lets you do now. And thank God for my athletic director and the people with the Pistons who were able to work the whole thing out.

“And then, for those guys to be able to spend a little time with Draymond, I think everybody (felt) it was priceless. I wish I could’ve been there and spent a little time with (Kevin Durant) myself.”

Michigan State vs. Oakland

Tip-off: 2:30 Saturday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: ESPNU/760, 1130

Records: Michigan State 9-1; Oakland 6-4

Twitter: @mattcharboneau