Heathcote coached the Spartans for nineteen seasons and will likely be best remembered for the two years in which he coached future Lakers star Earvin “Magic” Johnson (1977-79). The Spartans won the NCAA National Championship in 1979 in a memorable finale over Larry Bird and undefeated Indiana State.
The legacy of coach Heathcote is seen across the college basketball world, most notably in current MSU head coach Tom Izzo, who was one of Heathcote’s assistants for twelve years before taking over the program in 1995. Other members of the Heathcote coaching tree include Tom Crean, Brian Gregory, NBA coach Scott Skiles and many more.
On Twitter, Magic Johnson had this to say of his former coach: “Coach Heathcote made me a better person, player and champion. He turned a young kid into a man.”
Tom Izzo said in a statement, “Any coaching success I’ve ever had is because of him. Long after he left Michigan State, he was still one of the first people I would call when I had a tough decision in coaching or life.”
Heathcote is survived by his wife, Beverly, two daughters, one son and three granddaughters.