By Terry Foster

I made that magical 2000 journey with Mateen Cleaves and the Michigan State University basketball team as the Spartans won their first NCAA National championship under coach Tom Izzo.

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I viewed Cleaves as a tough kid who lacked world class basketball skills but was a master of the college game. He was loud and outgoing and engaging. He seemed like a good guy who loved the spotlight.

I’ve spoken dozens of times with Cleaves, who played briefly for the Pistons and served as a basketball analyst for FS Detroit. We shared laughs and jokes and even phone numbers. I met his family.

He was a good guy.

Now he is charged with a terrible crime. And if these charges are true then I will view Cleaves differently. He is a monster, if they are true. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said Cleaves sexually assaulted a 24-year-old Mount Morris woman. He’s been charged with unlawful imprisonment, assault with intent to commit criminal sexual penetration, second degree criminal sexual conduct and two counts of third degree criminal sexual conduct.

“The evidence in this case will show that the alleged actions of this defendant were not only criminal, but rose out of a sense of entitlement sometimes found in prominent people,” Worth wrote in a statement.

Cleaves is innocent until proven guilty. But if this is true then Michigan State should remove Cleaves’ jersey from the Breslin Center. It would be a bad look to have a convicted rapist be part of the MSU program.

We live in an era where men are finally taking sex crimes seriously and not brush evidence under the rug in our sports world. MSU would be showing the world that it does not tolerate rape even from one of its favorite sons. And he remains a favorite son. The last time I saw him he was talking to MSU family after MSU played Oakland University at the Palace.

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He quickly disappeared after I arrived, however.

The University of Michigan removed banners for cheating within its basketball team during the Fab Five era. This is worse.

This puts Izzo in a tough spot. He loves Cleaves like a son. In fact he named his son after him. That is one of the highest honors you can bestow upon someone.

“I don’t see him doing anything against anybody’s will,” Izzo told reporters after practice Tuesday afternoon at Breslin Center. “I really don’t. I think I know him well enough for that.”

After the news broke a number of people wrote to our radio station, saying MSU should forfeit its 200 NCAA title. That of course is ridiculous. You cannot punish an entire team for the actions of one person nearly two decades after the fact. If that were the case we’d be taking down banners left and right.

If he is innocent, Cleaves should be embraced and welcomed back into the fold. If not then the banners must fall as they did during the Fab Five era.

The championships stand for MSU no matter what.

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