Elder Kade Harrick with Michigan State University men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo. And, a pre-mission photo of Elder Harrick with his grandfather, storied basketball coach Jim Harrick, and mother, Melanie Harrick (Photos courtesy of the Harrick family)
How a full-time missionary ‘reconnected’ a pair of storied college basketball coaches — Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and retired NCAA titlist Jim Harrick
Missionaries also interviewed rising Michigan State basketball player Jaxon Kohler about his testimony of Christ, prayer and the Book of Mormon
By Jason Swensen
26 Jan 2023
Days after arriving in the mission field last fall, Elder Kade Harrick called home to his family on P-day with the news that his first proselytizing area included the Michigan State University (MSU) campus in East Lansing, Michigan.
During the call, Elder Harrick’s grandfather made a request of the young elder: “Say hello to Tom Izzo for me.”
First, some background on the unique connection linking Elder Harrick’s grandfather, Jim Harrick, and Tom Izzo:
Jim Harrick is a retired college basketball coach whose head coaching career is highlighted by jobs at four different Division 1 universities — including UCLA, where he guided the Bruins to the 1995 NCAA championship.
Tom Izzo, of course, is the longtime MSU basketball coach who has led the Spartans to eight Final Fours.
Both men — Harrick and Izzo — belong to a small community of college basketball coaches who have ascended to the elite level of their profession. Still, Elder Harrick figured it was unlikely he would ever bump into MSU’s most celebrated employee during his missionary ventures to the sprawling campus.
He was wrong, according to Elder Harricks’s parents — Monte and Melanie Harrick — who shared his missionary/basketball experiences with Church Ball Magazine.
The day after his grandfather made his special “hello” request, Elder Harrick was on campus and spotted a middle-aged man wearing a Michigan State Basketball t-shirt walking his way.
It was Izzo.
“Hi Coach Izzo,” called out the young missionary, “my grandfather asked me to say hello.”
“Who’s your grandfather,” replied Izzo, affably.
“You’re kidding me — Jimmy Harrick.”
The two shook hands and Coach Izzo noticed the missionary’s name tag — Elder Harrick — and his atypical garb. He asked Elder Harrick why he was wearing a white shirt and tie. The young man gave the venerable hoops coach a brief lesson on the purpose of missions.
Elder Harrick also reminded Izzo that one of MSU’s most promising freshmen — center/forward Jaxon Kohler — was also a Latter-day Saint.
The two snapped a photo together, which Elder Harrick sent to his thrilled grandfather, Jim Harrick, back home in California.
A Spartan’s testimony of Christ and the Book of Mormon
That fortunate encounter between Elder Harrick and Coach Izzo is just one of several MSU basketball/missionary moments the young elder from San Clemente, California, has experienced.
Elder Kade Harrick played basketball at Southern Virginia University in 2021-22 prior to accepting a call to the Michigan Lansing Mission. (Photo courtesy of Southern Virginia University Athletics)
Given his basketball lineage, it’s no surprise that Elder Harrick is a hoops junkie. He played a year at Southern Virginia University before accepting a call to serve in the Michigan Lansing Mission. He is also a devoted missionary committed to sharing the gospel, however possible. The savvy elder has found ways to blend his desire to teach of Christ with his love of basketball and his understanding of the power of social media.
Shortly after arriving in East Lansing, Elder Harrick and his companions befriended Jaxon Kohler at the Latter-day Saint athlete’s ward. Kohler agreed to be interviewed by the missionaries at center court of the Breslin Center arena where the Spartans play their home games.
In the Facebook video, Kohler speaks candidly about his testimony of Christ and the power of prayer, the Book of Mormon and the scriptures:
After incorporating the scriptures into his daily routine, “I could feel the happiness in my life,” said Kohler in the “Come Unto Christ in Michigan” Facebook video. “The reason why I’m so happy is because I have come closer to Christ.”
Elder Harrick and a fellow missionary, Elder Preston Squire, also received permission from their mission president to attend the Spartans’ recent home game against Purdue, college basketball’s top-ranked program.
From left, Elder Kade Harrick; Latter-day Saint/Michigan State University basketball player Jaxon Kohler; and Elder Preston Squire
The missionaries were able to snap photos with Kohler — and Elder Squire was able to reconnect with an old high school teammate, MSU big man Mady Sissoko.
Elder Squire and Sissoko played together at Utah’s Wasatch Academy.