As a recruiting junkie, National Signing Day is a bit like a holiday. Today, MSU officially welcomed four new players to the Spartan family - Dwaun Anderson, Branden Dawson, Brandan Kearney, and Travis Trice. One of the most interesting parts of this week is that Tom Izzo can go on the record for the first time and discuss each player individually. Fans get insights that previously could only be speculated about. What made a difference in each player's recruitment? How does Izzo envision them fitting into the roster? How would he describe the game of each incoming player? I think there's an element of gamesmanship in some of Izzo's answers so I take them with a grain of salt but they're still deeply revealing and one of my favorite parts of Signing Day.
The goal of this class was to deal with the loss of perimeter players and add depth to the backcourt. With Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers (and originally, Chris Allen) moving on and no wings from the 2008 and 2009 classes, it made sense for MSU to focus heavily on these spots and perhaps even find a starter for next year. For some time, Brandan Kearney was the Spartan's only verbally committed player and the class seemed full of question marks. However, with the May addition of fast-rising and long-time MSU fan Dwaun Anderson and the August 4th same-day verbals of AAU teammates Dawson and Trice, the class came together quickly and about as well as any fan could hope. Today in his press conference, Izzo credited MSU's success and Final Fours as finally paying off in terms of helping him land players who were eager to come to Michigan State. It's good to know that, perhaps, life has gotten a little easier for Coach Izzo in getting the players he wants.
It's fair to express some regret at not adding one more post player. Izzo priority Zach Price made a very early pledge to Louisville and recruiting relationships with Mike Shaw and Amir Williams failed to go the distance. Izzo himself today expressed a desire to see his classes break down with a little more balance in terms of perimeter players and bigs. Still, a redshirt year from Alex Gauna and the arrival of Matt Costello in 2012 should ease some of those concerns.
My player-by-player discussion and Izzo quotes after the jump...
It's worth noting that Izzo stressed throughout his press conference five factors that he felt were central to his recruiting and applied to all of his signees: they were all winners at the high school level, each player has been well-coached, every player was enthusiastic about coming to Michigan State, all the players' families were involved and supportive, and the skills and talents of the individuals fit the needs of the program. He also repeated how excited he was about the versatility of each of his wing recruits.
With that, here are the signees:
School: Detroit Southeastern (Detroit, MI)
Scout: Four-Star, No. 29 Shooting Guard
Brandan Kearney was the first player to join the 2011 Michigan State class. Kearney had been a high profile recruit for years in what was viewed as an excellent 2011 in-state batch of players and Izzo confirmed today that he was recruited for a long time. Early thoughts suspected that he would end up wearing his childhood favorite Maize and Blue and it was once reported that he was on the verge of offering John Beilein his verbal commitment.** The recruiting world changes quickly and by October 2009, Kearney had declared MSU his leader and on Nov. 3 he became the first 2011 player to join the Michigan State basketball program.
One of Kearney's strengths is his well-balanced game. Though no single skill may devastate you, he can handle the ball, shoot mid-range, distribute effectively, and drive to the basket. If you want some even-handed scouting, ESPN's most recent take is probably as good as any. Another aspect of his appeal is the measurables - the physical things you can't teach. Word is that he's every bit the 6'6" he's listed at and he's well-suited to gain weight and improve his strength. Wings with that height and length don't fall from the sky so Izzo was confident to wrap-up a player early who's built to be an effective basketball player as his development progresses. Tom Izzo today made the comparison I've been hearing from others and expected - Michigan State great Steve Smith. He talked about how Brandan has the potential to play three positions on the perimeter. Even if he never assumes any true point guard duties, Kearney should be a step up from MSU's last emergency PG, Chris Allen.
Out of all the recruits, Kearney is actually the one I'm most intrigued to see. With Dawson, Anderson, and to some extent Trice, you're getting known commodities. Dawson is an athletic, hyper-rebounding power wing, Anderson is a high-flying guard with developing skills, and Trice is a hard-working shooter refining his ability to the run an offense. Kearney's precise role and fit at MSU remains to be seen. Kearney has struggled at times and been said to lack aggressiveness on the court. Some have expressed concerns that he may struggle to find playing time alongside his fellow 2011 wings and the 2012 class, especially if Gary Harris comes aboard. That said, it is far too early to count him out. Branden Kearney, like Alex Gauna in 2010, arrives at MSU with the most to prove in his class and that could serve as quality material for his bulletin board.
**Although, dig this signing day nugget from TJ Kelley who talked to Brandan today. Hmmmm:
Brandan Kearney mentioned he wanted to go to Michigan State as soon as he scored 20-points vs. Pershing his freshman year.
School: Sutton's Bay (Sutton's Bay, MI)
Rivals: Four-Star, No. 89 overall
Unlike Brandan Kearney, Dwaun Anderson was not someone high school basketball fans were talking about when he was a freshman. He caught regional attention when approaching his junior year by showing up big-time in a match-up against 2010 Michigan standout Trey Zeigler. His stock rose from there with write-ups on ESPN and other national recruiting services. By Fall 2009, people were noting that Tom Izzo and staff had started arriving in Sutton's Bay to watch Dwaun in action. In was long rumored that Dwaun was a big MSU fan just waiting for the opportunity to give his verbal pledge so it was no surprise that an offer extended during a May 5th visit was accepted the same day. The Free Press had this account:
Anderson jumps out at you with elite level athleticism and LifeInLansing's Sam Hosey said, "there may not be another player in his class with more physical talent." Izzo used the adjective "phenomenal" when talking about his athleticism and compared him to Kelvin Torbert. This ability could be Dwaun's ticket to early playing time but his need to refine his jumpshot form as well as the pressure on freshman at MSU to play hard defense may also put him on a slower pace. I would say a redshirt is unlikely but, with the possibility of Russell Byrd being a redshirt freshman in 2011, the suggestion that Anderson (or Kearney) could take an extra year to develop isn't outrageous.
Speaking of athleticism, one more time, anyone want to a see a sick dunk?
To Dwaun's credit, it was reported the he had some work in the classroom to do to ensure qualifying to play at Michigan State. He succeeded and the amount of work on and off the court Anderson has engaged in is a credit to his desire, character, and determination.
School: Wayne High School (Huber Heights, OH)
Scout: Three-Star, No. 28 Point Guard
Some observers (myself included) thought MSU might pass on a true point and allow talented players like Brandan Kearney and Denzel Valentine (2012) to handle the duties for 8-10 mpg. However, there was lots of evidence that Izzo was after someone to fulfill this role. The first 2011 offer was to Flint-Powers' Patrick Lucas-Perry, and MSU spent a long time recruiting combo guard Jeremiah Davis of Muncie. However, in the end it was Travis Trice from the Dayton area who accepted the scholarship to man the point at MSU. Though fans may view him as a sort of mystery man whose name appeared on the radar just days before committing, he was no mystery to Tom Izzo. Trice benefited from playing with fellow MSU signee Branden Dawson on the AAU circuit leading to the coach's attendance at nearly all his games. After becoming deeply familiar with his game, Izzo decided that Travis was fit to be a Spartan.
As Pete noted when welcoming Travis to MSU, this quote from Travis's father in a Rexrode's article says it all:
"Tom told Travis, 'I saw you with my own eyes. I saw you being the best player on the floor in a lot of games,'" the elder Trice recalled of the conversation. "There's a comfort level when one of the best head coaches ever lays eyes on you for 22 games and decides there's a spot for you at Michigan State."
Trice was just blowing up when he committed with offers from Dayton, Creighton, Ohio, Northern Iowa and others. He had recently become the recipient of an offer from Minnesota and a focal point for Tubby Smith. It was widely reported that Tubby was on the phone with the Trices on their way to East Lansing asking if he could get them to turn around and become Gophers! Izzo mentioned that Trice might have ended up at Dayton playing for Brian Gregory if he hadn't paused to wait and see what else was out there.
In terms of scouting, TT is a point guard, no doubt, but his game is still developing to be a success at the Big Ten level. He's already an accomplished shooter and his touch is on display in this highlight video produced by his AAU team, Hardwood Elite. In his review of Big Ten 2011 recruiting, Evan Daniels of Scout picked him as the best shooter among the entire conference's signees. If Trice can hit near or above 40% in college, MSU will have one more weapon at its disposal.
Izzo mentioned that Trice specifically caught his attention as the player getting Dawson "the ball in the right places all the time" and followed by saying that he had "as good an understanding of the game as any point guard I've recruited in a lot of years." He credited the wisdom of his mentor Jud for telling him to always take the opportunity to recruit the son of a coach and used the word "special" to describe Travis's potential.
I've discussed this before but I want to reject the "Izzo took Trice to entice Dawson" argument one more time. As good as that sounds phonetically, I don't think it holds water. Not only is the timetable dicey for the claim, but MSU, with its tight scholarship situation and recruiting potential, isn't in a position to take anyone who is anything less than great for the program and can earn his keep on the court. Also, there's little evidence Izzo needed to offer Trice to get Dawson. By all accounts, BD committed impulsively and had been planning on a late decision. Why would Izzo take Trice in August if it was likely that Dawson would wait until April? In the end, there's little doubt that Travis Trice earned his MSU spot on the court with his own play.
I don't expect Trice to be the next Mateen Cleavers or even Drew Neitzel but I also expect more than a Isaiah Dahlman-esque career - play early out necessity then vanish from the court. He'll be an important contributor to bridge the gap between Lucious/Appling and the arrival of the next true PG, presumably in 2013. It'll be interesting to see if he can close his career as a starter once those two players exit.
School: Lew Wallace (Gary, IN)
Rivals: Five-Star, No. 13 overall
Scout: Five-Star, No. 4 Small Forward
The basketball court will prove whether we've saved the best for last but in terms of recruit rankings, we definitely have. The centerpiece of Tom Izzo's 2011 recruiting class is Gary, Indiana wing Branden Dawson. It was long thought that Purdue was the frontrunner in this race based on their historical strength in recruiting this area of NW Indiana. Even Tom Izzo apparently agreed. I love this telling passage from a February article:
Renaldo Thomas, the Lew Wallace coach, tells a funny story about how Izzo called this fall and asked in Izzo-speak if he had a chance with Dawson. Izzo had more or less conceded him to Purdue or IU. Thomas gave him the signal to get in the game. The Spartans have been hot for him ever since.
Clearly, Coach made the right call. It's difficult to replace a player like Durrell Summers - an super athletic wing player who can not only score for you but also possesses exceptional rebounding prowess from the guard spot. Yet, that's exactly what MSU has done in scooping up Branden Dawson. Scout.com has gone as far as to call him "the best offensive rebounder in his class" without any qualifications and Dave Telep (now with ESPN) re-upped this claim in a recent article. What Dawson does right now is play a kind of power guard, physical game. His strength and athleticism are enough to overwhelm most opponents. Though his handling and shooting are not at an elite level yet, I haven't heard one scout express the opinion that it's anything to be concerned about. All signs indicate that Dawson is going to be a monster in the Big Ten as he continues to develop his wing game.
Branden's recruitment was definitely high-profile with Purdue pinning their hopes on making him the rock of their recruiting class. Originally, he had discussed waiting until the late period to sign but famously committed impulsively via facebook before notifying his own coach or any of his suitors. Dawson has said that watching old Michigan State games and enjoying their style of wing play was part of what finally moved him to commit to MSU. At the risk of upsetting Purdue fans, my speculation is that BD believed MSU would best prepare him for an NBA future playing on the perimeter. With Michigan State's frontcourt depth, it won't be necessary for solid-bodied, 6'6" Dawson to play down low and miss out on other development. That said, people have already compared his game to that of a power forward and if players such as Alan Anderson, Austin Thornton, and even Travis Walton can man the '4' at MSU, my guess is that Dawson could see some situational minutes in the post over his career. This is merely one more weapon and line-up look from an increasingly versatile Michigan State squad. Someone asked Izzo during the press conference about his potential to play point guard and I would call Izzo's reaction respectful (he praised his passing and handle) but rather hesitant. Probably not going to happen much, if at all.
If you look at the potential roster for 2011, it's possible Dawson will get a crack at starting as a freshman. Assuming Draymond Green's future is starting in the post, at least one wing spot will be available (I'm giving the first to Keith Appling). Dawson's main competition (in addition to his fellow freshmen) should be Austin Thornton. Though AT may not have all of Dawson's physical gifts, I'd like to see a player in his fifth year in the system really make a freshman earn that starting spot.
This video of Branden is dated but if you want a more personal take on who he is (with production values!) have a look at a piece from last December as he looked towards his junior year.
I'm guessing today and tomorrow will bring some good follow-up stories from recruiting services and local news. We can add them to the comments as they come out.
Remember, games are won on the court but the future is secured on days like these!