‘It's just heaven’
Playing days over, 2000 MOP Cleaves happy to stay in game
When Mateen Cleaves arrived in East Lansing, Mich., in 1996, Michigan State had just posted a 16-16 record and made an NIT appearance under first-year head coach Tom Izzo.
By the time Cleaves left in 2000, the Spartans had advanced to the NCAA tournament three times, including Final Four appearances in 1999 and 2000, and capped off the run with a national championship. Cleaves garnered the Most Outstanding Player honors for his performance at the 2000 Final Four, averaging 14.5 points and 4.0 assists per game. He concluded his career as Michigan State’s only three-time All-American in basketball, and was twice named Big Ten Player of the Year.
“From Day One, we all had one common goal, and that was to win a national championship,” Cleaves said. “It was fun to be around my teammates because everybody genuinely cared about it … that’s what made it so special. That’s what I cherished the most.”
Cleaves, a native of Flint, Mich., was drafted by the Detroit Pistons with the 14th overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft, and averaged 5.4 points and 2.7 assists in 78 games during his rookie season. He was then traded to the Sacramento Kings where he played sparingly. While his NBA career did not flourish, Cleaves continued to play professionally overseas until retiring in 2008.
After his playing career ended, Cleaves remained in the basketball world, becoming a studio analyst for Fox Sports Detroit during Pistons games in 2010. He also serves as an expert host on SiriusXM’s Inside College Basketball radio show.
And, if Cleaves wasn’t busy enough, he is now flying off to New York a few days a week to serve as a studio analyst for Inside College Basketball on CBS Sports Network.
“It’s something near and dear to my heart, so working at CBS is a lot of fun,” Cleaves said. “I’m enjoying every day of it. To me, it’s just heaven. It is easy because I’m doing what I love.”
While Cleaves commutes to New York and Detroit for work several days a week, he still makes his home in Flint, where you can catch him at a high school basketball game or the local grocery store on his days off.
In addition to his work as a basketball commentator, Cleaves has branched out into the music business, creating his own record label, named All Varsity Entertainment. Rap artist Jon Connor is represented by Cleaves and has earned notoriety in the business, appearing on MTV Jams, MTV2, and BET.
“I’ve had a love for music, and listened to a lot growing up,” Cleaves said. “We’d sit around and listen to The Jackson 5 at family gatherings. Jon Connor was a kid from Flint that I thought just needed a push. Coming from a small city it’s not like New York or L.A. I had an avenue with some people in the industry that I met when I was playing basketball. I saw his passion for it, and I wanted to help.”
No matter how busy he is with other projects, Cleaves always makes time to watch the Spartans and is a frequent visitor to East Lansing. He believes this year’s team has a chance to cut down the nets like he once did, and they have the right coach to make that happen.
“Coach Izzo knows what buttons to push,” Cleaves said. “He understands his teams, and knows what to say to the guys to get them motivated to play. He’s got a great work ethic … he never sleeps in March. The thing that sets him apart is he’s great at making adjustments on the fly.”