DETROIT – It was the middle of the 2012 NBA Draft when Dan Gilbert’s phone rang. Gilbert is the majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, now the reigning NBA champs, but back then they were a LeBron James-less team coming off a 21-45 season. They had used a pair of picks in the first round on Dion Waiters of Syracuse and Jared Cunningham of Oregon State. They had the third and fourth picks of the upcoming second round.
Calling Gilbert was Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.
“’Listen to what I’m telling you,’” Gilbert recalled hearing from Izzo. “’You better take this kid, Draymond Green. You’ve got two second-round picks. I don’t tell you what to do. I don’t talk much about this, but go out on a limb and take (him).’”
Gilbert couldn’t convince his scouts or front office to listen to Izzo then, and it is a mistake he regrets after Green has gone on to become an NBA champion with the Golden State Warriors and a gold medalist from this past summer’s Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.
When Izzo and Michigan State athletics director Mark Hollis called Gilbert to discuss ways the Michigan State alum could give back to the university, he listened and acted.
Wednesday afternoon in downtown Detroit, Gilbert and his wife, Jennifer, announced a $15 million gift to Michigan State that will go towards a new addition and renovations to the Breslin Center as well as two other MSU programs: the Detroit Scholars Program and the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities.
University President Lou Anna K. Simon and Hollis were among those attending the announcement.
“It’s an honor to be in a position to be able contribute and help Michigan State University in any way we can,” Gilbert said. “These three areas are really important to us, they’re important to the university and they’re important to Detroit.”
The renovations to the Breslin Center, which opened in 1989, will include the Draymond Green Strength and Conditioning Center. Green donated $3.1 million to Michigan State last year after signing a five-year, $82 million contract extension with the Warriors.
This season’s incoming freshmen class of Miles Bridges, Joshua Langford, Cassius Winston and Nick Ward was rated as the No. 3 recruiting class in the nation by 247Sports.com. That’s the highest-rated class for Izzo. The renovations will help the men’s and women’s programs maintain the success levels they’ve enjoyed.
“It means the world to me because, in all honesty, we’re going to be able to tell the recruit that the guy that’s been successful, these are the kind of people that when they leave they still give back,” Izzo said. “It helps us not just with the facility but with a statement that says we’re a family that gives back to a lot of different places.”
Women’s basketball coach Suzy Merchant agreed.
“As a university, you just really appreciate people that believe in your institution and what it did for them,” Merchant said. “And then specifically from the basketball perspective, it is about the bells and whistles of the young person. That generation, they’re very visual. Everything is short, sweet. Text message, social media, the quicker the better. So for us to really have an opportunity with this gift to upgrade some of our areas so that when recruits come in and current student athletes as well, they’re going to be the best they can be when they leave because of it.”
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo