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Mat Ishbia is worth billions as coach of his business; he credits lessons learned from Tom Izzo at Michigan State



Mat Ishbia is worth billions as coach of his business; he credits lessons learned from Tom Izzo at Michigan State

It’s because Mat Ishbia wanted to coach that he did not become a coach. If that sound strange, it’s not nearly as curious as Ishbia choosing not to become rich and winding up a billionaire.

It was 21 years ago this weekend that Ishbia joined several more-talented basketball players, though perhaps none more driven, atop the freshly constructed podium on the floor at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis to celebrate the 2000 NCAA men’s basketball championship the Michigan State Spartans had won. The victory over Florida had been just decisive enough for coach Tom Izzo to send Ishbia into the game for one minute, the most glorious of the 40 he played that season.

MORE MARCH MADNESS: Live scores | Updated bracket | TV schedule

Ishbia was a sophomore, so there were two more seasons to follow, including a second Final Four. He got in for a minute that time, too, because the Spartans lost to Arizona in the national semifinals by 19 points. Then came a year spent as a graduate assistant on Izzo’s staff, which could have set him up beautifully for a future as a Division I head coach. Izzo had gotten a raise to more than $1 million a year after winning that title. Ishbia was aware of what his future as a coach might be worth, and he was getting offered the opportunity to work with MSU assistant Mike Garland as he moved to become head coach at Cleveland State.

“It was such a great experience with Coach Izzo for that year,” Ishbia told Sporting News. “I had the chance to go with Coach Garland, and that would have been an amazing experience. I ended up making the decision, rightly or wrongly, based on a couple things. One, Izzo saying to me, ‘Hey, maybe you could apply some of these things to business and do something really even bigger than being a head coach one day.’ Also, I’ve been very close to my parents my whole life, and I always remember my dad coaching my sports, being involved in my life, and thinking that one day I wanted to be involved in my kids’ lives.”

And so it is that Izzo’s influence on a player who scored just 28 points in four seasons as a Spartans guard lingers even decades after Ishbia’s college career ended. Ishbia listened to Izzo’s advice and went to work for a mortgage business his father had begun. There were 12 employees when Ishbia joined United Wholesale Mortgage. He took over daily control in 2013. There now are around 9,000 employees at UWM, which is headquartered in Pontiac, Mich. It went public in January through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) and is valued at more than $16 billion. Ishbia received the honor of ringing the bell on the New York Stock Exchange on the first day of trading.

Because it has meant so much to how he views business and runs his company, it can be said that Ishbia has made more money from basketball than just about anyone.

Ishbia works ridiculously long hours, like most college basketball coaches. Unlike most coaches, he has the control to be able to step away for a family event — he has three children, involved in basketball, flag football and other activities — when necessary.

“When I left Michigan State and decided not to go coach, I thought it was going to be less than a year before I was back,” Ishbia said. “Mortgages? Mortgages are boring. I was going to see if I could do it, and then I realized I could take my competitiveness, my passion to get better every day and apply to a business. And I kind of got so excited about it a couple months in and never left.”

Ishbia said he did not initially enter UWM with the vision to build it into the second-largest mortgage lender in the U.S., although the goal now is to take it to No. 1. It was a gradual process trying to improve the business incrementally, in various ways, facilitating its growth.

“Every time we’d get to what I thought was the mountaintop,” Ishbia said, “I’d realize there were about 20 more mountains.”

He claims he learned “everything” about leadership and coaching his employees from playing for Izzo and playing with point guard Mateen Cleaves, whom he hired to work for the company 30 months ago to be the “leadership coach.”

That Cleaves is referred to as a coach rather than manager or director or whatever is part of how Ishbia has intertwined sports terminology and tactics into the soul of the company. Employees are “team members.” Managers are “leaders” or “captains.” Meetings, indeed, are “huddles.”

The conference room from which Ishbia and Cleaves called by Zoom honestly looked as though it was located in Michigan State basketball offices.

“It applies to business more than people realize,” Ishbia said. “One thing I learned from Coach Izzo: No matter what was going on, he was in the weeds of his business. For Michigan State basketball . . . I’d talk to players from other schools and they’d be like, ‘Does Coach Izzo run the practices?’ Does he run the practices? He does the practice plan, he’s blowing the whistle, he’s screaming at this guy, he knows everything about what’s going on.

“Same thing here. I’m the CEO of a large company, but there’s no detail too small. I know exactly what the sales team is doing … If you start to outsource the little things, the big things don’t get taken care of. So we focus on every detail of the business.

“Another one is to outwork everybody. When I coached for a year with Izzo and saw the meticulous attention to detail and the focus he had on outworking everybody — we’d work until 1 in the morning and come back at 7 in the morning. I don’t have our people work like that, but I’m here at 4 in the morning and out at 6:30 at night. Izzo used to say this: “I’m not the best X-and-Os coach, but I’m going to outwork everyone.’ I’m not as smart as Jamie Dimon. I don’t have as much money as Dan Gilbert. Whatever it may be. But I can work three hours more a day than them, and if I do that for 18 years, I’m going to eventually catch them. And that’s what we’ve been doing.”

MARCH MADNESS: Who is in the Final Four in 2021? 

You won’t see television commercials for UWM because it does not operate in the retail mortgage space. The company exclusively works with mortgage brokers to provide loans, ideally to provide more reasonable rates and fees.

When the 2008 financial crisis struck, as dreadful as it was, it actually helped the company to grow because it had not written the sub-prime mortgages that were problematic for so many other lenders. “It didn’t affect us because we were so small back then, no one would have known if it affected us,” Ishbia said, with a tiny chuckle. “What I always think about — the integrity, the way we do loans, back then it validated the way we do loans.

“From my father, his perspective was: Don’t lend money to people that can’t pay you back . . . you do the right thing all the time, good things happen. Back then, it didn’t feel like it was right to not do those loans. It felt like we were missing on a lot of opportunity.  We had a lot of people leave our company because they could make more money elsewhere.

“When the crash hit and everybody else had all their problems . . . We were sitting there, and all of a sudden 2009 was our best year ever. We really took it to the next level. To me, it was a validation of the belief system.”

Cleaves, a two-time first-team All-American and a first-round NBA Draft pick, played six seasons in the NBA. He joined UWM when Ishbia conceived the idea to have one of college basketball’s great leaders ever “come in and lead his leaders,” Cleaves told Sporting News. He was unsure of both his suitability for the mortgage business and for working daily in an office, but Ishbia sold him.

“At Michigan State, we were able to have success because we had a group of guys that loved each other, cared for each other, that was willing to go over and beyond for each other,” Cleaves said. “It’s the same thing here at UWM. The person that’s to your right or left: That’s your brother. That’s your sister. We don’t do the co-worker thing here. We’re family members.

“It is from sports. Everything we learned from Coach Izzo, we’re doing the same thing in business. And we’re having a lot of fun doing it.

“It’s the care factor. When I led, that was my big thing. I cared about everybody on the team. And that made it easy for me to go over and beyond for my guys. That’s what I try to instill in our leaders now.”

Cleaves is not the only former Spartan at the company. Christopher Hill, the top shooter on the 2005 Final Four team, was the first to join. He works as pricing strategy leader. Adam Wolfe, who played for the 2001 Final Four team, is chief legal officer. Antonio Smith, the rugged center on the 1999 Final Four team, works as building support specialist. Charlie Bell, Cleaves’ backcourt partner for the 2000 champions, works as success track trainer.

Not only is UWM climbing the mortgage charts, but in a corporate basketball league, it would be doggone close to unfair.

Because of Ishbia’s success and obvious inclination toward sports, the natural question is whether he wishes to go into professional sports ownership. “That’s definitely something I would look at . . . at some point in my lifetime. Would I like to own an NBA team? Yes. Would it be in the next week? No. But sometime in the next five, 10, 15 years, that’s definitely something that would be fun for me.”

Ishbia has made major donations to the Michigan State athletic department, including $32 million to help renovate the football facilities, endow two funds and to rename the football facility and basketball court in Izzo’s honor.

“Think about this: I’m a walk-on who barely played, and I could call Coach Izzo in 2009, seven years later, and he picks up my call, helps me with what I need,” Ishbia said. “We all go back to his house twice a year — we have a reunion, basketball games and football games.

“Was he surprised? I’m sure he thought I could do good things, but obviously we’ve done great . . . He’s been around. He came and spoke to our company in 2014, when we were only at about 1,300 people. He brought the team out her one time and Mateen talked to them, and I got a chance to speak with the players.

“I know he was appreciative. I was more appreciative of all the work he put in and the loyalty and love he showed to players like myself. Just to be able to be part of that team and that family, I’ll never forget it.”

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ESPN’s Holly Rowe speaks French and English in WNBA Draft interview; Twitter reacts



ESPN's Holly Rowe speaks French and English in WNBA Draft interview; Twitter reacts

ESPN reporter Holly Rowe received many a “tres bien” from her confrères in media for conducting a bilingual interview with WNBA Draft pick Iliana Rupert, a France international, on Thursday night.

Rupert was chosen 12th overall by the Las Vegas Aces. With the draft being a virtual event for the second year in a row because of COVID-19, Rowe conducted the post-selection interview in an ESPN studio while Rupert was on camera remotely.

MORE: Why Paige Bueckers was ineligible for ’21 WNBA Draft

Rowe began the interview with “Bonsoir,” or “Good evening,” and asked Rupert in French whether she spoke English. Rupert responded in the affirmative and the interview proceeded in English.

“It’s always been one of my dreams and it’s amazing being recognized,” Rupert said. “I’m really happy to [represent] my country and I’m just excited to finally start this journey.”

After two more questions and responses in English, Rowe switched back to French for the interview’s conclusion, telling Rupert “Bienvenue,” or “Welcome,” to the WNBA. She also gave her regards to Rupert’s family.

Rowe’s media colleagues were quick with the compliments.

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‘It shows how exciting we can be!’ – Saka says Arsenal have real chance of winning Europa League after Slavia rout



'It shows how exciting we can be!' - Saka says Arsenal have real chance of winning Europa League after Slavia rout

Bukayo Saka says Arsenal have a real chance of winning the Europa League after their rout of Slavia Prague, and claims their latest performance “shows everyone how exciting we can be”.

Arsenal bounced back from a disappointing 1-1 draw against Slavia in the first leg of their quarter-final tie at Emirates Stadium by picking up a comprehensive 4-0 victory in the Czech Republic on Thursday night.

Saka was among the scorers as the Gunners booked a last-four clash with Villarreal, and he is confident they can now go all the way in the competition after flexing their attacking muscles at the Sinobo Stadium.

What’s been said?

“It was fantastic from start to finish. We did it for all the fans, they all deserve it for all the support they give us. We are really happy to progress,” the Arsenal winger told BT Sport.

“We showed real character. The first one was disallowed, Emile deserved a goal, we kept going and got the first one again. We pretty much killed the game in the first half.

“In the first leg we played well but weren’t clinical, credit to the manager and coaching staff, the way we set up, pressed, they couldn’t get out.

“It shows everyone how exciting we can be, when we play like this it is so amazing to be involved in. We have a chance of going to the final and winning this competition, it is up to us. We look forward to the next opponent.”

Arsenal put Slavia to the sword

The Gunners went at their Czech opponents right from the first whistle in the second leg clash, and found themselves in front after just 18 minutes when Nicolas Pepe dinked the ball into the net after being teed up by Emile Smith Rowe.

Alexandre Lacazette then doubled the visitors’ account from the penalty spot after Saka was fouled in the box, and the teenager got his goal moments later when he cut in from the right-wing before firing the ball low past the goalkeeper at his near post.

Lacazette added extra gloss to the final scoreline with a trademark finish 13 minutes from time as Arsenal progressed to the semi-finals 5-1 on aggregate.

What’s next?

Arsenal will now turn their attention back to the Premier League, with a home fixture against Fulham scheduled to take place on Sunday.

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What pressure? Arsenal sweeps Slavia Prague aside to set up a reunion with Emery



What pressure? Arsenal sweeps Slavia Prague aside to set up a reunion with Emery

Slavia Prague 0-4 Arsenal: Match statistics

What was all the fuss about?

It was billed as the game that would define Arsenal’s season, a night that could even shape Mikel Arteta’s future at the club.

The pressure was supposed to be on against Slavia Prague but within 25 superb minutes, the Gunners were in cruise control.

Last week’s 1-1 draw at Emirates Stadium had left the Gunners with a very simple equation going into the second leg of their Europa League quarterfinal in the Czech capital: score a goal.

Arteta’s side knew failure to find a way through a Slavia side that was unbeaten at home in all competitions this season would send it crashing out of the tournament and leave an already disappointing season in tatters.

Serious questions were being asked of the players after the way in which they threw away a lead in the closing stages of the first leg to hand Prague the advantage going into Thursday night’s return fixture.

But in the space of six scintillating first-half minutes, those questions were answered in emphatic style.

The brilliant Emile Smith Rowe had already had a goal ruled out for the tightest of offside calls before Nicolas Pepe gave the visitors the lead on 18 minutes, thus canceling out Slavia’s away goal.

Alexandre Lacazette then struck from the penalty spot three minutes later to make it 2-0 on the night before Bukayo Saka added a classy third goal – all within 24 minutes of the game getting underway.

It was game, set and match Arsenal before we had even reached the half-hour mark.

Even in his wildest dreams, Arteta would never have imagined such an impressive start from his side, especially with his captain and talisman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missing due to contracting malaria while away with Gabon on international duty.

This was a major statement from his side and another example of why there is genuine belief within the club that things are heading in the right direction under the Spaniard.


The abject performances throughout November and the majority of December may have led to a hugely disappointing Premier League campaign, but the improvement since Christmas has been undeniable.

Since beating Chelsea 3-1 on Boxing Day, Arteta’s side sits fourth in the form table, with only Manchester City, Manchester United and West Ham picking up more points.

And now the Gunners have booked their spot in the Europa League semifinals, where they will meet Unai Emery’s Villarreal.

Clearly, there is still much for Arsenal to improve on and failure to go on and win the Europa League will more than likely leave it facing up to a season without European competition for the first time in 25 years.

For a club of Arsenal’s stature, that is not good enough, but there are still plenty of reasons for optimism and they were all on show as Prague was blown away in its backyard.

Arsenal’s homegrown youngsters have been the catalyst for the improvement since Boxing Day and one again they led the charge – with academy graduates Smith Rowe and Saka proving far too good for the Czech champions.

Immediately after seeing a goal ruled out for offside, Smith Rowe waltzed through the Slavia defense before working the ball to Pepe, who showed wonderful composure to score his fifth Europa League goal of the season.

Saka then took center stage, winning a penalty, which was converted by Lacazette, before scoring the third himself with a fine finish from the edge of the box.

At that point, the game was done and dusted. Arsenal had done its job and it cruised through the remainder of the quarterfinal, with Lacazette putting the gloss on a fabulous night’s work with a fourth goal on 77 minutes.

All eyes now turn to the semifinal against Villarreal and the return of Emery, the man Arteta replaced just over 16 months ago.

Emery led Arsenal to the Europa League final in 2019 and now he is the man standing in their way of repeating the trick two years later.

A return to the Champions League is now within touching distance for Arsenal. Just three games stand between the Gunners and a seat back at Europe’s top table.

They went to Prague with their season on the line and they return to London with the dream still alive.

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