Michigan State's Tom Izzo was among several college-basketball dignitaries to attend Oakland coach Greg Kampe's latest Coaches Beat Cancer fundraiser. Tony Paul, The Detroit News
Royal Oak — Tom Izzo can't say no to Greg Kampe, even if perhaps he should.
"Stupidity," Izzo said with a hearty laugh, when asked about extending the Michigan State-Oakland basketball series. "We've played a lot of times and we've won them all, by one, by three, in overtime. When he had good teams, it was really a fight. When he had bad teams, it was a five-point game.
"That's what I said to him. I said, 'What, am I stupid or what?' Sooner or later ..."
Michigan State and Oakland agreed in mid-July to extend the rivalry for at least six more years, alternating between Little Caesars Arena in Detroit and Breslin Center in East Lansing. The first game is Dec. 14, in Detroit — which will allow star Michigan State senior Cassius Winston to play one final game in front of his hometown fans.
The extension was no guarantee, given the increasing restrictions in scheduling, especially with the Big Ten moving to a 20-game conference schedule.
But for Izzo, it was a no-brainer, even though he fully expects to lose at some point. To date, Michigan State is 17-0 all-time, but there have been scares, none more than the overtime game at The Palace in 2015, when Michigan State was No. 1 in the nation.
"It's the respect I have for him, it's good for our state," Izzo said. "It's become a little miniature rivalry. It's not Michigan-Michigan State ..."
But outside of UM-MSU, MSU-Oakland is the top college hoops in-state draw in Michigan.
Every game they play is sold out, or darn-near sold out.
When they last played at LCA, in 2017, as part of a doubleheader, the opening game, Michigan-Detroit Mercy, was about half-full. Michigan State-Oakland was full.
"Every one of them is packed," Izzo said. "That thing is packed every year, no matter where we played, and give him credit, because they're always competitive."
Izzo, 65, and Kampe, 63, have become great friends, and Izzo always is available for Kampe's big initiatives, no bigger than the Oakland coach's continued crusade against pediatric cancer.
On Monday at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Kampe brought together nine of the biggest names in college basketball to meet with young cancer patients.
The list of names gets bigger and bigger ever year, this year including the likes of Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, Oklahoma's Lon Kruger, Alabama's Nate Oats, South Carolina's Frank Martin, Grand Canyon University's Dan Majerle (Central Michigan), CBS Sports' Bill Raftery and the Drews, Bryce and Homer, both former coaches at Valparaiso. And, of course, there's Izzo, a participant since Day 1.
Kampe calls Izzo the "Gold Standard," and the participant who really helps get the big names into town — like, in years' past, John Calipari and others.
"It's gonna affect all of us," Izzo said, of cancer's wide-reaching impact. "This is one time I unite with every coach, the ones that will beat my brains in and the ones I've won against.
"This is a lot bigger than the Hatfields and McCoys rivalries that you have in sports.
"We're human. Our chances of getting cancer are no different than anybody else's."
This is Kampe's third Coaches Beat Cancer event, which is personal to him, given the parents of players he's seen die from cancer, as well as others close to the program.
In conjunction with the American Cancer Society, Kampe's event has raised more than $500,000, including this year's funds, coming from an auction to play golf with the coaches at legendary Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township.
The golf was to take place Monday afternoon, after Izzo, Kampe and the roster of coaches met with cancer patients at Beaumont's Proton Center.
"It's great. Sometimes I sit back and I can't believe what we get here," Kampe said. "It's unbelievable that they give up 24 hours of their lives to come to Michigan to do this.
"As a coach, you know you're making a difference when you walk through this place.
"And we all want to do that."