Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Jud Heathcote

Jud Heathcote passed away yesterday at the age of 90. If you're of a certain age from Wisconsin and a college hoops fans, you remember guys like him, Gene Keady and Bob Knight inflicting yearly beatings on Steve Yoder's Badgers. Knight may be the most famous of that troika but I'd argue Heathcote's reach on the game will last far longer.

Jud Heathcote won a national title in 1979 with Magic Johnson. As we know, that game is often lauded as the one that put college basketball on the map. We can argue whether that's the case or not but there is little doubt the impact it had on all of basketball. It jump started the Bird-Magic rivalry that propelled the NBA into a new stratosphere.

While he'd never win another national title, the Spartans remained a perennial Big Ten contender in his tenure. He'd also send numerous players into the association including players like Steve Smith and Scott Skiles. His final team included former Milwaukee Buck Shawn Respert and Eric Snow. The guy knew talented guards.

Upon his retirement, he strongly pushed for his protege Tom Izzo to replace him. After a slow transition, Izzo produced the Spartans second national championship and have continued the winning ways Heathcote began decades ago. There aren't many more coaches as influential in the college game today as Tom Izzo, for better or worse, and Jud Heathcote helped assure that.

There are couple final thoughts about his legacy as well. In his retirement, Heathcote was a regular behind the bench at Gonzaga basketball games. Former Zags coach Dan Monson had served as an assistant under Heathcote at Michigan State. Jud would form a strong relationship with Mark Few, another highly respected coach who has built one of the great national programs.

There's a local connection as well. Marquette basketball experienced a renaissance and great growth under Tom Crean, a Tom Izzo assistant. Say what you want about Crean, but what he did for and at Marquette was as nearly important as what Al McGuire did. 

Jud Heathcote may not be as remembered as a Dean Smith but his impact on basketball was nearly as big. His reach throughout the sport is still felt in many places today. Bob Knight may have the national titles, Jud Heathcote has the greater legacy and lasting impact.

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