Nearly 11 years have passed since Tom Izzo last coached in the Stan Sheriff Center. But the lessons of that afternoon stuck with him leading up to Michigan State’s return on Friday.
In the Spartans’ last appearance in Honolulu, then fourth-ranked Michigan State lost its 2005 season-opener to Hawaii 84-62 with several players having to leave the game due to cramps. Future-NBA player Shannon Brown suffered the most severe case and had to be taken from the court on a stretcher in the second half.
That experience factored into Izzo’s practice plans in Hawaii in advance of No. 12 Michigan State’s opener against No. 10 Arizona in the first game of the Armed Forces Classic doubleheader Friday at the Sheriff Center. As in 2005, Michigan State worked out in one of UH’s steamy practice gyms on Wednesday and Izzo made sure to account for the heat this time around.
“What it prepared me for is it made me a smarter coach,” Izzo said Wednesday at a clinic for kids at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, “because we went at it for two days before and we cramped all up and we just weren’t ready for that. We’re getting a little smarter, little more liquids, little more breaks in between practice.”
The loss to UH on Nov. 19, 2005 — a stopover on the way to the Maui Invitational — is one of just three season-opening defeats for Michigan State during Izzo’s 21 years leading the Spartans. They went on to finish third on Maui the following week, closing with a 74-71 win over Arizona in the last meeting between the schools prior to Friday’s 2 p.m. matchup in Manoa.
The teams in the 4 p.m. second game — No. 3 Kansas and No. 11 Indiana — also lost in their previous Sheriff Center appearances. Indiana opened the 1997 season with an 82-65 loss to a UH team led by Anthony Carter and Alika Smith. Later that season, the Rainbows knocked off No. 4 Kansas 76-65 in the finals of the Rainbow Classic.
Arizona has a far more successful history in the Sheriff Center. The Wildcats swept to the Diamond Head Classic title in 2012, punctuating the tournament with Nick Johnson’s walk-off block at the buzzer of a 68-67 win over San Diego State.
“(Arizona was) a logical choice just based on their connection historically with the USS Arizona and the memorial,” said Clint Overby, vice president of ESPN Events. “Arizona was not only interested from a historical standpoint. From a game-playing standpoint their experience (in the DHC) propelled them to really wanting to be here for this.”
Hawaii was slotted as a destination for the Armed Forces Classic when the event was introduced in 2012, with the five-year rotation scheduled to coincide with the upcoming 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The previous four were single-game events held on military bases in Germany, South Korea, Puerto Rico and Okinawa with each focusing on a branch of the military.
The Navy is the honored branch in this year’s doubleheader, which was originally scheduled to be held at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam but was moved to the Sheriff Center in September.
“While we had a great setup at the Pacific Air Museum, we really wanted to make sure from an environment standpoint it was comfortable for the men and women in uniform,” Overby said. “While we could have created that at the Pacific Air Museum, it was ready-made at the Stan Sheriff Center.”
Moving the doubleheader on campus meant shifting UH’s Outrigger Rainbow Classic opener against SIU Edwardsville to 9 p.m. and relocating a tournament game between Texas State ad Florida Atlantic to Iolani School’s gym.
“Our relationship with UH is very deep and positive,” Overby said. “So working with the leadership there from (athletic director) David Matlin to (UH coach) Eran Ganot and of course (SSC manager) Rich Sheriff, we can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done and quite frankly the relationship we’ve built up over the years.
“They did have to make some accommodations to their event, the Rainbow Classic, and I can’t say enough good things.”
While the games will be held at UH, the lead-up to the Armed Forces Classic centered on JBPHH with visits to the Arizona Memorial, ship tours and Wednesday’s kids clinic at the base’s fitness center.
“I’ve done four, five, six of these different events with our troops in different settings and I always say it’s kind of a game-changer for me, it’s life changing,” Izzo said. “Hopefully these guys will see … that it’s not just the parents that have sacrificed a lot, but these kids have had to sacrifice a lot living this kind of life.”