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MSU's Dwayne Stephens, Dane Fife ranked among Stadium's top Big Ten assistants

The Detroit News

Not only does Michigan State have the top basketball coach in the Big Ten, it has a pair of the league’s best assistants.

Dwayne Stephens and Dane Fife rank No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, in the conference, according to a survey conducted by Stadium’s Jeff Goodman, who polled at least 20 coaches, primarily assistants.

Michigan State's Dane Fife, left, and Dwayne Stephens are ranked among the top assistants in the Big Ten.

Stephens, a Ferndale native, played at Michigan State from 1989-93 and started his coaching career as an assistant at Oakland University in 1997. After two seasons with the Golden Grizzlies, Stephens spent four years on Tom Crean’s staff at Marquette before returning to his alma mater in 2003.

Stephens has spent the past eight seasons as Michigan State’s associate head coach. He has received recognition as one of the top assistants and recruiters in college basketball for years.

“DJ has the unique ability to fit in with everyone,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo told Stadium. “He has great people skills, but in all honesty, he is underappreciated as a ‘basketball mind.’ He is very good being my right-hand man on the bench in game situations. Will be an excellent head coach someday soon.”

Added an unnamed Big Ten assistant: “Dwayne has been a staple with the Michigan State basketball program for a long time as he has done an outstanding job recruiting, and is constantly in Coach Izzo’s ear during in-game play.”

Fife, a former Clarkston star who played at Indiana from 1998-2002, was an administrative assistant for Mike Davis at Indiana for two years before landing a head coaching job at IPFW in 2005. He guided the Mastodons for six seasons — and was the youngest head coach in Division I basketball at the time — until he left his post to join Izzo’s staff.

Fife has served as an associate head coach for the Spartans the past two seasons.

“Dane is a guy I’ve known since he was in high school and I was excited when we had the chance to bring him here, and that hasn’t changed in nearly 10 years,” Izzo told Stadium. “He’s a terrific coach, a great recruiter and knows the game. He has had a great impact on our success and I appreciate the commitment he’s made.”

Added an unnamed Big Ten assistant: “He has a wealth of Big Ten experience as a big-time player and as a longtime assistant. His defensive mindset is clearly implemented in the toughness that has been a staple under Izzo at Michigan State. His relationship with players is clearly one of the reasons they do such a great job in recruiting every year and remain as consistent of a program as there is in the country.”

Ohio State assistant Ryan Pedon was ranked No. 2 on the top-five list, which was rounded out by Indiana’s Tom Ostrom and Maryland’s Orlando Ranson.