Few speaking parts, but it's a winning act

Michigan State: Saying little, seniors Charlie Bell and Andre Hutson make a statement: We know how to win.

Ncaa Tournament

The Final Four

March 28, 2001|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Quiet men Charlie Bell and Andre Hutson could leave a very loud legacy at Michigan State.

Thanks to toughness and a charismatic leader, the Spartans have two NCAA basketball championships in their trophy case. Magic Johnson was the man in 1979. Point guard Mateen Cleaves provided grit and guidance last year, and coach Tom Izzo has spent the past 12 months asking four-year starters Bell and Hutson to follow Cleaves' example and speak up.

"Charlie and Andre are the leaders, but they're also two of the more quiet guys on my team," Izzo said. "Mateen was a lot like I am. He wore his emotions on his sleeve. You always knew what he was thinking. He told me what I was thinking. Mateen had a pulse on the team, so I had a pulse on the team. He was the conduit between me and them.

"These are different personalities, but I know that Charlie and Andre do more leading than I think. They've won a lot of games, done an incredible job in a lot of ways, yet I'd still like to see both be more outspoken. When they do, it's like when E. F. Hutton talks. Everybody listens."

When Duke became the last team to repeat as NCAA champion, in 1992, the Blue Devils' star was Christian Laettner, who had a flare for the dramatic shot and the controversial pose. Bell's and Hutson's lunch-pail work ethic have Michigan State (28-4) on the verge of back-to-back titles, but heading into Minneapolis and a Saturday semifinal against Arizona (27-7), their unassuming demeanors contribute to the Spartans' being relatively ignored.

Bell is the 6-foot-3 guard who heretofore was just another "Flintstone," as he followed Cleaves and Peterson out of the Michigan city of Flint and raised the standards in East Lansing.

He starts at the point and moves to the wing when freshman Marcus Taylor enters. Bell leads the Spartans in minutes (31.2 a game), assists (5.2) and three-pointers (52 this season) and is their second-leading scorer with a 13.8 average. He does it all, from dating Miss Michigan to spearheading a defense that has limited opponents to a shooting percentage of .389.

Bell has played in a school-record 139 games, and won 115. Hutson sat out a game two seasons ago with a sprained wrist and another in January with pneumonia, but in 137 others he's done several tons of heavy lifting for the Spartans.

The 6-foot-8, 240-pound left-hander out of Trotwood, Ohio, is second on the team in minutes played, a fixture in the low post while Izzo rotates sophomore Aloysius Anagonye and freshman Zach Randolph at the other spot. Hutson is the Spartans' top rebounder (7.7 a game) and third-leading scorer (13.6). His career field-goal percentage is .608, and the next bad shot he takes will be the first.

Hutson was one rebound shy of averaging a double double in four South Regional victories. Bell had his best scoring game in two months against Gonzaga in the South semis, and had a stellar floor game against Temple in the final. They shoot, rebound, defend -- but they still aren't vocal enough for Izzo, who wants to hear Bell and Hutson, not freshmen Taylor and Randolph.

"When me and Andre say something to him [Izzo], he'll listen," Bell said. "If Zach and Marcus do that, he might not. He doesn't want that out of them just yet. We have to talk to him about certain situations. All season long, he's been on us to talk more and more. We're talking more than we did, but it's still not to his liking. He's one of those coaches: The better you get, the more he wants out of you."

Whereas Maryland coach Gary Williams stopped asking the equally reticent Terence Morris to be something he's not, Hutson said he is tired of Izzo's demanding that he speak with more than his game.

"He's still pushing us," Hutson said. "We've become better, as far as having the team prepared and pushing guys on the floor to suck it up ... but it's hard taking criticism. Charlie and me have tried to do more things for this team, as far as being vocal, but it's hard to change in one year. It's hard to replace a guy like Mateen, but you have to understand, that's how you win a national championship, with guys like him."

The defining moment of last season came with 16 minutes left in the NCAA final, when a driving Cleaves collided -- some argue he was tripped -- with Florida's Teddy Dupay and sprained his right ankle. Everyone remembers that Cleaves did a Willis Reed and limped back on the floor five minutes later. What they forget is that the Spartans' lead grew during his absence, as Bell simply resumed the stewardship of the team he had run for the first 13 games of 1999-2000.

When Cleaves missed the start of last season with a stress fracture, Bell moved over from his shooting-guard spot and flawlessly ran the point. One Spartans assistant calls him a "chameleon," and it's telling that Bell was a low-post player in high school. That background and big hands allow him to average 4.5 rebounds and contribute to Michigan State's being the nation's best rebounding team.

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