MICHIGAN STATE AND THE FLINTSTONES

 

Last year, when highly regarded and 5-star basketball recruit Miles Bridges announced he would be attending Michigan State University to play for Head Coach Tom Izzo, one thing came to mind. That was the fact that Bridges played his high school basketball in the city of Flint, Michigan. A city that has been in the news this past year for its water, not its basketball players. Ever since Tom Izzo went to recruit a few players from Flint, Michigan, Michigan State and the Flintstones have been synonymous with Spartans basketball.

TOM IZZO

It also made a lot of people remember the first group of heralded players who left the streets of Flint and headed to East Lansing to play basketball. Known as the “Flintstones”, a total of four highly regarded recruits decided to work together and try to bring a national championship to the Spartans.

As it turned out, three of those players were there when the team accomplished that feat in the 2000 NCAA season. Mateen Cleaves, Morris Petersen and Charlie Bell led the 2000 version of the Spartans all the way to the NCAA Final Four in Indianapolis. Antonio Smith, known as the fourth Flintstone and the first one to join the Spartans, graduated a year earlier in 1999 but still had a big part of what happened the following season.

In Indianapolis, the Spartans first faced Big Ten rival Wisconsin in the National Semifinals. In a hard-fought contest, MSU got the victory 53-41 to advance to the championship game against the Florida Gators.

Despite losing Cleaves to an ankle injury less than 4 minutes into the second half, the Spartans were able to come away with an 89-76 to win it all. Cleaves ended up returning to the game even though he was in pain and still limping badly from his injury.

But let’s go back to this group of youngsters who eventually earned the “Flintstones” name and take a look at their journey from the streets of Flint to the campus of Michigan State.

HOMETOWN HEROES

Flint is not a small town, but it’s also not so large that athletes could grow up playing sports and never run into each other either. For Smith, Cleaves, Bell and Petersen, they grew up playing either on the same basketball team together or playing against each other.

CHARLIE BELL

As the years went by, these players were able to develop a bond, most likely because they were all from Flint but also because they were very good basketball players who would have a chance to advance to playing college basketball once their high school days were done.

Smith was the first player to commit to the Spartans. After graduating a year earlier than Cleaves from Flint Northern High School, he made the decision to join Izzo and play in East Lansing. Cleaves and Petersen joined Smith the following year and were joined by Bell just a year after that.

“Antonio was the main reason I think all the Flint guys came here,” Cleaves said. “Antonio made the first step. I had a good relationship with him, we played with each other, grew up in the same neighborhood, so Antonio took that first step and I think he’s the main reason the other guys came.”

As they started making their mark on the Spartans it was clear that all of the young Flint players made a point of how proud they were to be from the city of Flint as they worked together as teammates at MSU.

Cleaves and Smith decided to show their loyalty to their hometown by going out and getting tattoos with the word “Flint” etched into their right shoulders to show their pride. Soon the two were badgering Bell and Peterson to join them.

“We kind of made them go get them,” Cleaves admitted. “People across the country think Flint is just violence and plants closing. It’s a lot of down-to-earth, hard-working people.

“We’re proud of Flint,” he added. “That’s why we want to let everyone know we’re from Flint, because we’re proud of it.”

MAKING HISTORY TOGETHER

MORRIS PETERSON

After a 16-16 record and an NIT appearance in the 1996-97 season, expectations rose when Cleaves and Peterson joined Smith the following year. They did improve but still had to settle for an NIT berth with a 17-12 overall record.

A 22-8 season followed in Cleaves and Peterson’s sophomore season as the team reached the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. But the team broke through in a big way in 1998-99 with a 15-1 Big Ten mark and a 33-5 overall record and a final four appearance.

At the final four, MSU dropped a 6 point game to Duke to end their season.

The following season began with high hopes, but they began the season without Cleaves after he suffered a stress fracture in his right foot during the off-season. He returned right after the first of the year and the Spartans played well enough to earn a share of the Big Ten title with Ohio State.

The Spartans ended up winning the Big Ten title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region. From there, they ran the table as the “Flintstones” led the team to the 2000 national title as they beat Florida, 89-76 in the final. Cleaves, Peterson and Bell were all named to the NCAA All-Tournament team. Michigan State and the Flintstones will be forever etched in college basketball history lore.

WHERE ARE THE “FLINTSTONES” NOW?

Mateen Cleaves

After his playing days, Cleaves found work as a broadcaster for both Fox Sports Detroit and as an analyst for CBS sports. He was also recently cleared of all charges in an alleged sexual assault case brought against him earlier this year.

Morris Peterson

Peterson played 11 productive seasons in the NBA before retiring in 2011. He currently serves as an analyst for – The Sports Network – covering his former team, the Toronto Raptors.

Charlie Bell

Bell tried his hand at professional basketball where he played with varying degrees of success for twelve years alternating between the NBA and several International teams. He is currently an assistant coach with the Texas Legends of the NBA Developmental League.

Antonio Smith

The fourth “Flintstone”, Smith returned to his roots and was most recently working security at a Flint Alternative High School and also serves as an assistant coach for both the JV and varsity teams.

 

 

 

 

This article has 10 Comments

  1. I really love to hear Hometown Hero types stories, especially when the subjects are kind of beating the odds! Also, I am really pumped to see that all the players followed their passion for the game even after college in varying ways.

    Antonio Smith’s return to his hometown to coach really strikes a chord with me as I volunteer my time to coach kids sports because I understand the impact it can have on a child’s future. I think these three men exemplify that notion.

    1. Hello,

      This is a very good story. It is extremely rare for 4 players from the same town to go to the same college for a sport. The fact that they won a national championship at Michigan State brought pride and joy to not only the university, but the town of Flint, Michigan. It is really great that Antonio Smith is giving back to the community by coaching. There needs to be more athletes in all sports that do this. They really are hometown heroes.

      -Rob

  2. Hi Rob,

    First of all congratulations on your niche site. I supposed you are far more advance and your content are very detailed and targeted. You are absolutely knowledgeable when ti comes to basketball games in your area, Michigan! The layout and design is very professional and has a lot of details.

    I think, if I am not, mistaken, it is high time you now get soft-selling or promotion in order to earn. If you are earning now, then more promotions or advertising is needed in order to rack up your profit here. Your mailing list is a way to keep your followers from reading and watching your every posts.

    Congratulations!

    Best regards,

    Troy Torrecampo

    1. Hello,

      We strive to provide our readers with the most in-depth information possible. We felt that the story of these 4 players from the same hometown would be a great story to tell. They are considered legends at Michigan State. Considering what is happening in Flint with the water crisis, we believed we should write something positive about the state of Michigan and Flint.

      -Rob

  3. This is a really great article about the ‘Flinstones’ from MSU, I really learned a lot. When I was a kid, I was a big fan of Peterson when he played for the Raptors, and I knew he played at MSU with Cleaves, but I didn’t know that much about Smith & Bell’s careers. This is a great story about 4 highly recruited guys from Flint all going to the same college, in the same state they grew up in. It’s a great story, and it’s a shame they didn’t win the title in 2000, because that would’ve really cemented their legacy in college basketball.
    Great article Rob, and I’ll be reading your other ones. Keep up the great work!

    1. Hello,

      Peterson and Cleaves were All-American’s during their last year. Peterson turned into a good NBA player, while Cleaves never really panned out in the NBA. However, Cleaves was one of the better leaders in recent college basketball history. He was a superb PG in college. Smith and Bell complimented them very well. Tom Izzo really got his great coaching career going with these 4 players.

      -Rob

  4. I love to read stories like these. People who turn nothing into something. When the odds were against them, they beat the odds, Its truly inspirational.So many players across all sports are overlooked and waiting for their opportunity, Its good to see that players never gave up even when it seem like they had no chance of winning. They represented their city to the fullest.

    1. Hello,

      It is a great story. Very rarely do you ever see a situation like this. Especially with what has been going on with the water crisis in Flint, we felt it would be a good story to tell. It gives people hope, in our opinion. Representing where they came from and succeeding is something that everyone from Flint can be proud of.

      -Rob

  5. It’s so cool to find backstories like this because I only find out reports like this of players on Bleacher Report and someone independent like you is providing information that’s worth bookmarking. Seriously dude, keep up the good work in providing news about these players because it’s nice to know where they came from and seeing how they formed a team coming from the same area.

    1. Hi,

      I really appreciate your comments. I felt like this topic was one that people would take a liking too. Considering what is happening with the water crisis in Flint, MI at this time, a nice heartwarming story should be told. Even though it was over 15 years ago, having 4 players from 1 town play for the same college and succeed will always make them legends in the town of Flint.

      -Rob

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