Today (May 26, 1927) is the anniversary of legendary Spartan basketball coach George “Jud” Heathcote’s birthday. The 1995 autobiography entitled “Jud: A Magical Journey,” co-authored by Jack Ebling, chronicles his early years.
Born in Harvey, N.D. to parents Marion and Fawn Heathcote, both his father and mother were teachers. Jud’s dad and baby brother died during the diphtheria epidemic of 1930, so after a couple years later five-year-old Jud, his older brother, Grant, and his younger sister, Carlan, were sent to Manchester, Wash. to live with his maternal grandparents. At the age of eight, he and his brother, Grant, began working for their neighbors, digging and clearing brush. During the summer before he began high school, Jud and Grant got jobs as water boys for a construction company. As a nearly 6-2 and 195-pound prep athlete at South Kitsap High School, Jud was an all-conference end and defensive tackle in football, and earned all-state honors in both baseball and basketball. In his book, Jud indicated that the most influential men in his life were his coaches. Said Jud, “I always wanted to be a teacher and a coach. Everyone said it was because of influence my coaches had on me. To a degree, I think that’s true. But I really think it was from the memory of my dad. I knew he was a coach and a teacher. And that’s probably why I did what I did.”
Source : Mike Pearson, “Spartifacts”, Lansing State Journal, May 26, 2015.
George M. (Jud) Heathcote coached the Michigan State men’s basketball team from 1976-95, guiding the Spartans to 340 victories, three Big Ten titles, nine NCAA Tournament berths and one national title during his 19 seasons in East Lansing.
Heathcote is the second-winningest coach in MSU history with a record of 340-220 (.607), including a 14-8 (.636) mark in the NCAA Tournament. His overall record was 420-273 (.606) over 24 seasons, including five years at Montana.
In his third season in East Lansing, Heathcote led Michigan State to its first NCAA men’s basketball championship in 1979 and won back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1978 and 1979. During those two seasons, Heathcote had the opportunity to coach one of the game’s greatest players, All-American Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who propelled the Spartans to a 51-10 record in his two seasons at MSU.
A two-time Big Ten Coach of the Year (1978 and 1986), Heathcote coached seven All-Americans (Johnson, Gregory Kelser, Jay Vincent, Sam Vincent, Scott Skiles, Steve Smith and Shawn Respert) and 22 NBA players. Five of his players won the Big Ten scoring title a total of six times. During Jud’s tenure, MSU had at least one player among the first-team All-Big Ten selections in 12 of his 19 years.
Prior to his retirement, Heathcote ensured that the future of Spartan basketball would be in good hands. In 1990, he promoted assistant Tom Izzo to associate head coach, and fought for Izzo to be named his successor.
He was the National Association of Basketball Coaches Coach of the Year for the 1989-90 season in which he claimed his third Big Ten championship. He was NABC District 7 Coach of the Year for the 1977-78 season and College Sport Magazine Coach of the Year his last season in 1994-95.
In his five-year stint (1971-76) as head coach of Montana, Heathcote led the Grizzlies to two Big Sky championships and was named Inland Empire Coach of the Year and Big Sky Coach of the Year in 1975. The two conference titles were the first in school history.
He served as an assistant coach of the United States Pan American team in 1975 and 1987.
Jud played varsity basketball and baseball for Washington State and was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in September of 1990. Heathcote was also inducted in May 2000 to the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame and the Michigan State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2001. In 2009, he was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame.
Heathcote received the 2001 Golden Anniversary Award for 50 years of service to basketball by the NABC at the 2001 Final Four in Minneapolis. Jud was also a Silver Anniversary Award winner in 1976.
He passed away on August 28, 2017.
“Heathcote Passes Away At 90, MSU Basketball Website, August 29, 2017. Legendary Spartan coach led Michigan State to its first NCAA Championship in 1979.
“Michigan State’s Jud Heathcote Through the Years“, Detroit Free Press, August 28, 2017.