The Michigan State Spartans are one of the men's NCAA Tournament's better Sweet 16 underdog stories this year, led by the fantastic coaching job of Tom Izzo. On MSU's roster is a familiar last name: Steven Izzo.
Steven is the adopted son of Tom and wife Lupe Izzo. While Steven rarely sees action on the court, the 5-foot-8 senior guard — who walked on to the team in 2019 — has a special life story that involves another legendary college coach: Nick Saban.
Saban and Tom Izzo have a friendship that dates back to the '80s. The two were both assistant coaches for the basketball and football programs at Michigan State from 1983-87, and both took over as head coach of their respective programs at MSU in 1995 (Saban, of course, left for LSU in 2000). They've remained friends ever since, and the Saban family remains massive fans of Izzo's Spartans. Izzo even attended Saban's daughter's wedding in 2015.
Their bond is so close that Saban helped Tom and Lupe find their Steven when the two were looking to adopt.
How Nick Saban Helped the Izzos Adopt Son Steven
Michigan State was coming off its national championship in 2000 under Izzo. Tom and Lupe, who at the time had a 5-year-old daughter named Raquel, were looking to adopt a second child.
A couple months after celebrating that title, Izzo picked up the phone to call then-Michigan Gov. John Engler looking for help with the couple's adoption efforts. While he was on the phone with Engler, Izzo's secretary entered his office to tell him Nick Saban was on the line.
"He calls my wife," Tom Izzo said in an interview with journalist Graham Bensinger.
Saban then told Lupe about a boy who was born in West Virginia, where Saban is from. He had found out through a doctor he knew whom he called an "angel of God when it comes to placing children and helping people."
"We went down there. I'm not kidding you, when I first saw Steven he put his arms out to me. He was 4 days old," Lupe told Bensinger. "There was just no way we were gonna be separated after that."
Tom added: "In the end it was all worth it."
The Izzos named their son Steven Mateen Izzo. The middle name was after, you guessed it, Mateen Cleaves, the player who helped Michigan State win that national championship.
Amazing stuff. Twenty-something years later, Steven Izzo is playing on his father's team in the Sweet 16 while Saban cheers them on.
Saban may often be portrayed as a mean, unhappy man, but he's never not helped those he cares about. If Alabama falls in the tournament, Crimson Tide fans certainly will have another team to root for in Michigan State.
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