Mateen Cleaves joined Gary Payton and Warren Sapp for the latest edition of BetUS Unfiltered, with the three-time Michigan State captain and 2000 Final Four most outstanding player dishing on the Spartans and this year’s NCAA Tournament.
“I was going to war with my brothers on a daily basis, and that was something special,” Cleaves said of his time in East Lansing. “People forget, when I chose to go to Michigan State, it wasn’t the cool thing to do. Back then, if you were one of the top players in the country coming from Michigan, you went to the University of Michigan, and I went total left.
“I was one of the top point guards in the country coming out — No. 1 or 2, depending on who wrote the article, me or Mike Bibby — back in 1996,” he continued. “So everyone thought I was crazy. But to go there and turn things around and bring the program to national prominence, it was fun.”
Later, host Dawn Lupul asked Cleaves about Tom Izzo, who recently caught flak for grabbing Spartans forward Gabe Brown’s jersey while reprimanding him following a defensive breakdown. According to Cleaves, the uproar is over nothing.
“He grabbed a player’s jersey to talk to him and everybody went crazy,” Cleaves said. “Why he’s able to do that is because of the relationship he has with us. Everybody knows that he cares about us. … He’s able to coach that way because he genuinely cares about the players. There’s a lot of soft people now, the game has changed.”
Cleaves also wondered aloud if the current mindset meant Izzo’s days in East Lansing should be numbered before saying the coach deserves to stay on and on and on …
Added Payton: “When you’re that soft and sensitive because your coach grabbed your jersey to tell you to do something, then I don’t think you should be there. … He’s trying to get this guy better, and these guys don’t get it.”
Before taking off, Cleaves took a moment to break down the Final Four with Sapp and Payton, giving his pick to walk away with the national championship next week.
“I’m going with Baylor,” Cleaves said, joining Payton in picking the Bears (+260). “They’ve got a team full of dogs. … They’ve won games when they didn’t even play good, because they sit down on D.”
“Houston ain’t gonna roll over,” Sapp cautioned of Baylor’s semifinal matchup before joining Lupul in picking Gonzaga (-190). “This is a battle for Texas. It’s personal.”
Superteam Building in Brooklyn
When the topic turned to the NBA, Payton broke down the Nets’ latest acquisitions, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge. Brooklyn now has a 2019 All-Star starting at every position, making them a strong contender for this year’s NBA championship.
“This team, they’re stacking up, but that’s what the era is about,” Payton said. “They did it, we’re going to have to watch it, and they’re going to win the championship. They’re too stacked. All of them are going to have to get hurt for them not to win.”
According to Sapp and Cleaves, that’s what teams have to do to compete with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
“We’ve seen him whoop a 73-win team,” Sapp said of LeBron. “We’ve seen him go into Boston and put up numbers like Wilt Chamberlain. He’ll come get you.”
And while Cleaves acknowledged that dynasties can be fun, ultimately he’d rather watch teams on a more level playing field.
“I like parity — if somebody’s just steamrolling everybody then you lose interest in it,” Cleaves said. “But I think it’s harder when it’s to be expected and everybody is coming at you. You’re getting everybody’s best. Especially on the pro level, you’re going to get everybody’s A-game.”
In the show’s final segment, Warren crowned the New England Patriots as the “winners” of the NFL free agency period thus far, but Payton said he was nevertheless impressed by his San Francisco 49ers, who moved up to No. 3 in the NFL Draft and are expected to move on from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
“We want to go younger,” Payton said. “We want to be like Baltimore, we want to be like Houston, we want to be like Arizona. We want quarterbacks that are mobile who can get it to the players that we’ve got, with the defense that we have. But I’ve gotta go with Warren. I think New England did the best.
To hear more, including Payton’s latest Fit with The Glove on the Oregon State basketball team’s run in the NCAA Tournament and the Pac 12’s success this postseason, check out the full show at the top of the page.