Developer Chat

General WhatIfSports

Jud Heathcote

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

7:00 PM - 8:00 PM EST

The LIVE portion of this chat will begin on

Wednesday, March 07, 2007 at 7:00 PM EST.

Welcome everyone to our Legends of the Game chat with Former Montana & Michigan State basketball coach Jud Heathcote.

Why did you choose to be a coach? (pkprostudio - Newbie - 8:02 PM)

My dad was a coach, but he passed away when I was three years old. I think the memories of him made me always want to be a coach. Also, growing up without a dad and always into sports, my coaches were my father figures and I aspired to be a teacher like them. I decided at a very early age that this is what I was going to do and I never deviated from that - never wanted to be a fireman or police officer or businessman - just wanted to teach and coach.

What was it like coaching Magic Johnson? Was it obvious to you that he would develop into an NBA star? (danmam - Hall of Famer - 8:05 PM)

Magic Johnson of course is one in a million. You don't have the opportunity to have a player like that often. He was more than just a player though; he was a leader. He may have loved the limelight and pub, but all he cared about was winning. Other players would poor over the stat sheet after every game, but he never looked at it because he figured if he had done anything noteworthy, he would hear about it anyway. If we didn't win, he didn't care. Magic was also the hardest worker I ever had. He was always the first and last guy in the gym. If we gave him something to work on, he would go at it hard until he had improved in that area and would always exceed our expectations. We literally had to kick him out of the gym almost every night or he would have missed his meals.

How sweet was beating Larry Bird in the NCAA Championship in '79? (danmam - Hall of Famer - 8:06 PM)

The build up for the '79 championship was the first time that the Final Four captivated the country. The minute we got to Salt Lake, the media (double what they had ever had before) was writing about Magic/Bird before we had played Penn or Bird's team had played DePaul. That matchup and rivalry is the reason that game is still one of the most watched games in history and it has a lot to do with why the Final Four is so big now. Really, it was so great because it lived up to the build up.

I remember vividly the "Jud Thud". Can you tell us when that started and why it continued? (jerichokings - Hall of Famer - 8:07 PM)

The Jud Thud - I claim I hit my head so many times that my brains are scrambled. I was not even conscious of the fact that I was doing that and then someone mentioned it and everyone kept bringing it up. When people were alerted to watch for it, I think it became more obvious, but I never remember thinking about doing it. I just hit my head when I got frustrated.

Coach, thanks for coming by for a chat. Could you tell us anything about how important it was for you at State to recruit locally, in the immediate area and within a couple hundred miles of campus, compared to recruiting nationally? (metsmax - Hall of Famer - 8:08 PM)

The recruiting process for just about everyone starts by drawing a close circle to where you are and expanding that as far as needed to get good players. Keeping guys from around the area is vital. We always went close early and then expanded out to Ohio, Indiana, Iowa and Illinois. We rarely recruited nationally because it cost so much to go that distance and then finish second.

Which player do you think got the most out of whatever talent he had? (WiredTiger - Hall of Famer - 8:09 PM)

That would be Scott Skiles. We would kid him that he could not touch the rim at 6'1". He had no leaping ability and no speed. But he did have a tremendous knowledge of the game and some good quickness. Somehow he became an All-American and played in the NBA for ten seasons and now he is the coach of the Bulls and doing a heck of a job with that.

Did Magic Johnson improve in college, or was he NBA ready when he showed up? (oldresorter - Hall of Famer - 8:12 PM)

Magic was always improving because he worked so hard. I like to joke with him that I taught him everything he knows, but it was really him and his determination that started the process long before I saw him play and continued on into the NBA. Even when he went to the NBA he would come out here in the off-season every year for about six years and work on his game for hours every day. Bird used to always say that he would shoot for an hour until he felt good and then remember that Magic was somewhere shooting for an hour so he would shoot for another.

Hello coach I got to be honest, I was never a big State fan but Shawn Respert was one of my favorite players to watch play. I love seeing a player who can hit a pile of shots in a row. How does he rank on your list of all time greats that you have coached (sg_giants - Hall of Famer - 8:14 PM)

Shawn was the best shooter we ever had. It was just disappointing that his pro career was cut short after contracting stomach cancer. Plus, he was just the wrong size at 6'2" for SG in the NBA. He is healthy now and working for the league. Shawn was one of those rare guys who I never thought had a great practice, but then someone would come up to me afterward and ask what I thought of his performance. I would kind of shake it off as a normal practice for Shawn and then the guy would say, "He just hit 33 of 35 threes. That's really good."

Can you rank these coaches: Tom Izzo, Kelvin Sampson, Mike Montgomery, and Mark Few? Who gets the most out of their players? (wileysanch - All-Star - 8:15 PM)

I think that they are very different and have different ways of achieving success. Izzo and Sampson are emotional and demonstrative and not afraid of getting in the face with players, yet have great relationships with their players. Mike and Mark are much calmer and have found ways to keep their players cool under pressure. Mike is probably the best X and O guy around the game in the way he prepares and is so well organized.

I grew up in Missoula, MT watching the Griz and players like MR Richardson and my teacher in HS was Eric Hays. Since you coached both Michael Ray and Magic, chow would you compare them as players? (whboone - Hall of Famer - 8:16 PM)

After a game early in Magic's career - he had a triple-double - the media asked me if I had ever been around a player like him and I said yes and no one believed me. The media did not even mention who I told them as they just laughed it off. That player was Michael Ray Richardson. I said he could do all the things Magic could do but at 6'4" instead of 6'8". When he was selected fourth overall by the Knicks, the media noticed because that was unheard of for a Big Sky player. He had the quickest and best hands of any player I ever coached. Its a shame that the drug use cut his NBA career short, but he was fortunate to play in Italy for many years and now is like an institution over there.

How do you think the shift toward parity among mid-level college basketball teams is going to affect the game in the coming years? (borisimo - Prospect - 8:18 PM)

You talk about parity and you realize the mid-majors are just so much better than they used to be and there are a couple of good reasons: they always keep their best players for four years and with the scholarship decreases they have been able to recruit better players that the top schools could not accommodate. Plus, many players would rather play now because they can get exposure anywhere. Suddenly, there really is not a big gap between the power conferences and the "mid-major" conferences. In the coming years, I think the parity that has been established now will probably continue, but the power conferences will always dominate college basketball in the tournament. The chances of a George Mason are higher now than they were ten years ago and may be slightly higher in ten years, but it is still a big conference tournament. A realistic goal for these teams now is the Sweet 16 whereas it used to just be to make the dance.

What are your opinions on "pay for play" in college athletics? (nyoudontstop - Prospect - 8:20 PM)

Basketball, like football, is a big business in college. The people generating the income are the players and yet that amount of money has to be distributed among all of the other sports that the schools sponsor. There is nothing wrong with that in my opinion. If you look at what a college education is worth now, I think players may deserve a little more of a monthly stipend, but anything beyond that is unnecessary. We need to allow all players to live life like normal students. That may require a little more help for some players. Just a minor change would be enough for me.

When it comes to recruiting, what did you find to be the biggest factor that kids used in their decision making process, e.g. TV exposure, conference affiliation, past success, playing time, etc.? (Admin - Site Staff - 8:21 PM)

Kids nowadays look at playing time first. They used to want to start, but you can cross the t off of that because they want to star. They want the publicity and attention they need to make the NBA. Essentially every player in the major conferences thinks he is going to play in the NBA. I would think that TV exposure is right up there and then it is coaching and the other players on the team. People think it is heresy not to think about academics, but I believe that a player can get a quality education at any school with a high power basketball program.

How has the coaching profession changed since you began your career and what changes have noticed since you came back from retirement? (buzzardbill - Prospect - 8:23 PM)

For years and years, the coach was a teacher and kind of on a comparable scale with salary and prestige as the campus professors. Yet, in the last 15 years that has radically changed. I guess the schools that have aspirations to get to the top have driven the salaries out of sight. Now coaches are far more business oriented. There are fewer teachers first and coaches second. They are all businessman first. This is still coaching though and the pressures to win are greater because of all the turnover. So they'd better remember to be a great coach.

Coaching in the Big Ten, how much pressure did you feel to get to NCAA tournament every season? (fejtrain - Newbie - 8:24 PM)

There is tremendous pressure in the power conferences to get to the NCAA tournament. If you go multiple years without getting there in a good conference your job is in jeopardy. We used to talk about the mainstays in the Big Ten - Knight, Keady, Davis, Heathcote, Henson, Bennett, etc. but that has changed and I don't think we will see many coaches like that, especially all in the same conference.

Did you and Bob Knight get along? (zchild - Newbie - 8:25 PM)

Bobby Knight and I in the 19 years that I was in the Big Ten played 37 times and they won 20 of them. That was a great rivalry and I always had great respect for him and he had great respect for me. We were very good coaching friends and still are. We talk about three times a year and end up talking for hours. Our relationship is great and I am pleased to say that he is one of my dear friends in coaching. Bob is a great teacher and wherever he could end up he would do well. He has resurrected the Texas Tech fortunes despite not having the talent that Kansas and Texas have. The Big 12 is a tough conference and he has done a miraculous job with what he has and I expect him to continue that.

Who was the most underrated player you have ever coached? (fejtrain - Newbie - 8:25 PM)

Kevin Willis - He was a really athletic, talented, seven-footer but he got hurt as a senior just when he was blossoming into an All-American. He only averaged 11 points that season and still was a top pick. Then he stayed healthy and had a great, long NBA career. Kevin never got the recognition that I would have expected had he remained healthy.

Do you have any favorite players in college basketball right now? (fejtrain - Newbie - 8:26 PM)

I still follow Gonzaga and Michigan State and the guards, Neitzel and Raivio are almost mirror images of each other. Those would be my favorite players because they do so much for their teams. I just watched Raivio get 28 points against Santa Clara to get Gonzaga its ninth straight NCAA appearance. They're both about 6'1" yet can carry their teams to victory. I could add Kevin Durant of Texas from another team. He is awesome to watch. It seems like he could score 40 and get 20 rebounds every game if he got the ball more.

Coach, what are some of your favorite memories of the Michigan/Michigan State hoops series? (zchild - Newbie - 8:26 PM)

Its difficult because it is such a big game for boosters and alumni. We tried to say that every game counted as just one, but that game was more like 1.5 or 2. Everyone involved with the program is so focused on beating Michigan. I guess I just remember the series and all the hype that surrounded it more than any specific game or moment.

What do you think of Brian Gregory's job at Dayton? (Admin - Site Staff - 8:28 PM)

Brian is just one of my all-time favorite guys. He started at Oakland before we hired him at Michigan State. He did a fantastic job for us and I think he is capable of doing a great job anywhere. The wins - though I see they won today - don't seem to come as much as they should. That team has been unlucky, which is unfortunate because he is so competitive and they fight so hard - always seem to be in every game. As they mature, they will cure some of their road woes and I expect UD to be at the top of that league for years. We talk about 2-3 times a week and I know he can win, it has just been a little tough the last couple of years.

How many times would you go see a kid at his house or see him play? (cjbphoto - Hall of Famer - 8:29 PM)

I still remember going to every game Tim McCormick played...then he went to Michigan. Now you only can watch a player five times and have one home visit and one school visit. The head coach needs to make all of the visits and the ACs go to a lot of the games. The whole recruiting process has moved up about a year to the point where you have to be on a kid's radar before he is a junior. Then, you can get commitments from players as juniors, but you still need to follow up and make sure they stay with you. It adds to the stress because you have to be looking for new guys while making sure the guys who said they were coming to you are still going to do that.

Coach, what's your opinion on the NBA's rule requiring draftees to be out of high school for one season before becoming draft eligible? And what impact do you believe this will have on the college game? (Iguana1 - Hall of Famer - 8:30 PM)

I think that is a step in the right direction for everyone. I just don't feel that players at a young age are ready for the NBA life. The one-year limitation is not enough either. I think it should be the way that football works where they have to be three years out of school. One year is better than no years, so you get some time away and are exposed to life beyond high school. Plus, there is a lot more certainty with players who have played against better competition outside of high school. There are only a couple Kobes and Lebrons and Kevin Garnetts. This rule at least gives them a better understanding of the game, the pro game and themselves and how they fit in.

Who was the best big ten player you coached against. (zosonate - Rookie - 8:31 PM)

Joe Barry Carroll at Purdue the first two years that I was there. He ended up being the top NBA pick. He was almost unstoppable. I think Mychal Thompson at Minnesota was very good and Mike Woodson at Indiana was a guy you could not defend. Steve Alford was the best shooter. If you were not right on him the shot was always in. As far as forwards are concerned Glenn Robinson was unreal. I could name about 20 more players, but those guys stand out more than the others.

What process did you go through in order to determine those players you did recruit and those you did not? (jcskids - Hall of Famer - 8:32 PM)

We always looked at speed and quickness for size. If you are 6'5" you are the size that a lot of teams don't want, but if you were quick, you were on our radar. And the 5'9" kid better be an absolute jet or he is not good enough. Then we looked at what kind of hands they had. I put a lot of stock in how quick and sure a guys hands were. He'd better be able to pass and catch and defend with soft hands. I also feel that we looked at character more than other coaches. We always wanted the program to be bigger than any player or coach and we wanted players who could and would buy into that and work to make it happen.

Who would you say was the best coach you competed against? (zosonate - Rookie - 8:33 PM)

Flip a coin between Knight and Gene Keady. We had better success against Indiana than Purdue. I always told my players that if they played as hard as Purdue for 40 minutes we would beat them. Then I would have to compliment after a loss because they would play as hard as I had ever seen them play, but Purdue still played harder. Gene and Bog always got the absolute most out of their players.

What is more important, coaching or recruiting? (zosonate - Rookie - 8:34 PM)

I would like to say that it is teaching and coaching, but in reality it has to be recruiting. You aren't coaching against dumbbells in the Big Ten. I used to always say that it was the worst conference in the country because it has too many good players, too many good programs and too many good coaches. Since most guys can coach at that level, recruiting becomes the answer - though I say that not wanting that to be the answer.

Hello Coach What was your most overachieving team that you ever coached? (sg_giants - Hall of Famer - 8:35 PM)

The '86 MSU team that did not have a player over 6'7". We had Scott Skiles and Harold Johnson and Vernon Carr and had to play entirely as a team. That team lost to Kansas on a clock debacle when 19 seconds went off the clock. We went to overtime and fell apart. I think we would have made the Final Four had we won the game. When you talk about overachieving, some coaches do their best jobs with their poorest players. That team making it as far is it did was one my biggest accomplishments.

Jud, great to have you here. Thanks for the wonderful years at MSU, I miss the 'Jud-thunks' on the sidelines at Jenison. My question is: Do you keep in touch with Mike Montgomery and do you think that we will see him in the collegiate coaching ranks again soon. He really did not seem well suited for the NBA. (netgymrat - Hall of Famer - 8:36 PM)

I saw Mike Montgomery in December doing TV work and I asked if it was fulfilling and he said no. So I told him to get back into coaching. I think you will see him at one of the top schools this coming season.

What's the toughest part about failing to sign a recruit? Especially ones you see great potential in, or know that he seriously considered joining your team before having great success elsewhere? Do you think there are players that would have achieved their potential at MSU, but didn't elsewhere? (la287 - Pro - 8:36 PM)

The recruiting process changed so dramatically during the middle of my coaching career with the middle man - AAU coach, family friend, HS coach or parent. The kids and middlemen became con artists too where they would lie to you to play with you and get a trip out of it. The kids not leveling with you was very disappointing because we lost recruits that we thought we had but were never interested. We stopped wasting time or money to finish second and only went after the guys we were pretty confident we would get.

In the 1979 title game against Indiana State, did you add in some new wrinkles and adjustments to your defense to deal with Bird? Or did you play the same defense you had played for most of the season? (davis - Hall of Famer - 8:37 PM)

We adjusted the zone so we always had a player and a half on Bird. We were worried more about his passing than his shooting. The day before the game, Magic practiced as Bird and he just had a field day against our defense. He was all happy about all the stuff he was doing on the court, but I was worried. We were fortunate because we had someone who could play like Bird but they did not have anyone who could play like Magic. People said that he had a bad game and I think we were able to take something away from him without it hurting us too much. We were probably just lucky that it worked for us that night.

How often do former assistants call for your advise? (zosonate - Rookie - 8:43 PM)

They don't really call for advice - the call to catch up and most of the time it is me calling them because they are all so busy. I still talk to coach Izzo and Brian Gregory often. But mostly I just get a hold of them to tell them they are doing a good job. If things get tough, I tell them to keep their heads up. I talked to Mike Dean at Wagner today to talk about next year's team after this year's lost in its tournament. Then I told Stan Joplin (Toledo) not to schedule like he did with nine straight road games to start the year. Who knows, it may work for him though if he can win some games in the MAC. We talk about the games but we usually talk more about other things.

Coach, it seems to me that today's players are more athletic and talented, but not nearly as good at the fundamentals. What are your thoughts? (commish118 - Hall of Famer - 8:44 PM)

I think that is right. Athletically they are all bigger and stronger and get into the weights earlier to mature physically at an early age. Athletic ability sacrifices fundamentals because you don't need to know the game as well just to play it. You used to have to pass, shoot and play solid defense just to make a team. Now everyone is just in awe of the athlete and you automatically get a spot if you can play above the rim. I would blame the three-point shot a bit for this as well. If you don't have a three-point shot, you just try to drive and get your points. And if you have a three-point shot you shoot it and don't worry about passing or defense.

Thank you very much for participating in our Legends of the Game chat with Jud Heathcote. It's been great being able to pick the mind of one of the more legendary basketball coaches of all time. For more information regarding upcoming chats, please click here.

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