This week kicked off the July evaluation period in which college coaches can go out and observe AAU contests and scout their prospects. Coaches aren't allowed to communicate directly with the players so the goal is to watch and get a better idea of the strengths and weaknesses of targeted players as well as be seen by players to whom you want to convey your interest. With MSU having only a limited number of players with offers and many to be considered for the future, this month might be more about the former task than the latter. With so many questions going into this recruiting cycle, here's my take on the new information. These are seven things we've learned:
1. There’s a bit of drama between MSU and Derrick Walton.
UMHoops caught up with Derrick Walton during the week for an interview and Walton revealed that he had expected a Michigan State offer during his recent unofficial. However, the MSU staff detected what they felt was a lack of enthusiasm from Walton and told him he would have to wait awhile longer for his offer. Recruiting is a two-way street and Walton wouldn’t be the first MSU prospect to see his interest dissipate from playing it too cool. No one really expects that scenario in this case and the consensus seems to be that Walton has an offer coming in the near future. He also appears interested in making an early decision. Later, there was a false alarm in which Walton claimed to have picked up the MSU offer only to have his camp backtrack and clarify that it was a joke/misunderstanding. This was another lively reminder of what I always say in caution – offers are tricky things and it’s hard to know who has a full offer and who doesn’t, even when you’re talking to the recruit himself.
2. That said, Derrick Walton is good. Real good.
This young point guard received widespread praise for his play over the past couple of days. TJ Kelley called him "bonkers" on Thursday for his scoring from all over the court and when Brian Snow of Scout saw him in action, he referred to him as "destroying" the Michigan Mustangs. Lastly, Steve Schwanda tallied him for 35pts in another matchup. That was just Thursday. Today, he got more recognition. Jody Demling, primarily an Indiana/Kentucky guy, liked his game. Mike "Peegs" Pegram, the highly respected proprietor of the Indiana Rivals site, called him "terrific" as numerous coaches looked on. He’s always been considered one of if not the top point guard in the state and these AAU breakouts are only confirming that assessment. This is an unrefined comparison but, if he comes to MSU, I would hope Walton's rare court vision and scoring potential at maaaaybe 6’ makes him a kind of rich man’s Korie Lucious.
More after the jump...
3. Drake Harris has apparently earned his offer.
Izzo doesn’t throw out scholarships to rising sophomores out very often but the state of Michigan has a big-time prospect in the class of 2014. Grand Rapids Christian’s Drake Harris is a talented wing player well ahead of the basketball curve. As I’ve said before, the preliminary vibe has him being the state’s highest ranked perimeter player in some time, probably surpassing Keith Appling, Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers, Manny Harris, and Ramar Smith. You’d probably have to go back to Malik Hairston in 2004 to find a guard with his national acclaim. Word came out that he now holds an offer from MSU so ignore what I just said earlier about not trusting recruits! Many people familiar with local hoops are putting MSU in the driver’s seat for this one, including some UM fans, and believe Drake may be a Spartan before the end of summer. That is very good news for the Green & White.
4. Tom Izzo’s private plane is paying off.
Coach Izzo is a tireless recruiter and it was surely the burdens of recruiting as much as coaching that almost lured him away to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Now, not only does Izzo have a deluxe recruiting vehicle but he also has access to a private plane. If you haven’t been following CBS’s Gary Parrish as he shadows Izzo, you’re missing out on great stories and even pictures of how our coach travels in style these days. That private plane allowed Izzo to be in Indianapolis throughout the day on Wednesday watching numerous players at the Adidas Invitational and still make it to Akron, OH for the Lebron Skills Academy the next morning to watch the best of the best - players of interest like James Young and some guy named G. Harris who Izzo is apparently still all-in for. As someone who works the beat as hard as Izzo, these new resources are useful tools.
5. MSU, like everyone else, is still recruiting and scouting very young players.
Michigan State came up associated with multiple prospects from the class of 2014 and 2015. Joe Eberhardt, writing for IndyHSHoops, reported that Michigan State is among the schools who have contacted Indiana guard Jalen Coleman, a 2015 player already getting attention. MSU has also been watching Jaquan Lyle (one of the 2014 top 20 players from Indiana not yet snatched by Tom Crean), 2015’s Derrik Smits (son of Rik and potentially a monster center), and 2014’s Tyler Wideman, an AAU teammate of Drake Harris. They also continue to recruit Jahlil Okafor out of the Chicago area for 2014 and Okafor is in contention to be one of his class’s top 10 players.
6. MSU does have interest in D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (2012 PG). We just don’t know how much.
Jim Comparoni of SpartanMag had a lot to say on DSR/MSU and offered this revealing tweet.
Tuff situation for MSU. They could get in on Smith-Rivera, i think. Already are. Dane Fife handling it for MSU. But in G Harris race too
I don’t believe DSR will be a Spartan but with Comp mentioning Dane Fife in action, one can’t rule it out. It wouldn’t be the first time MSU came in slow or late on a recruitment only to ramp things up and close strong. He’s a true combo as well and that might change the PG/wing roster equation. FTR, Comparoni also called DSR one of the top five players at the Lebron camp.
Tucked into this tweet is more evidence that Dane Fife is a true bonus for MSU, including as a recruiter. He’s been visible at events and mentioned on twitter frequently (more by name than most assistants) and he can’t hurt with the numerous players MSU is recruiting from Central Indiana.
7. MSU can’t take them all and will probably miss out on some very good players.
We knew this really already and it happens every year but this 2013 class may be an extreme example. Derrick Walton, Monte Morris, and Demetrius Jackson all had great weeks, earning rave reviews for their play, and each has been a focus of MSU interest. It seems highly unlikely that MSU would take two 2013 point guards so multiple players who would probably otherwise be Spartan-caliber will be playing elsewhere. This is true at every position. Can MSU plan on attrition and massage their roster to fit Drake Harris, James Young, and Gary Harris? Perhaps, but it’s tight. In asking that, I didn’t even mention all the other elite wing guards and forwards that Izzo recently watched, like Bo Zeigler and V.J. Beachem. Most observers also think we need a post player in 2013. Jabari Parker (who continues to amaze scouts) could be that guy as a 225 lb, 6’8" PF but what about someone like Tommy Hamilton? Does Izzo hold off on adding a different post player until Parker has decided 15 months from now? I suppose this is why he gets paid the big bucks.
Overall, it was a revealing week if you like to follow MSU basketball recruiting closely. We learned that MSU is serious about a 2013 point guard and that Derrick Walton appears to be in the lead for that spot. We saw that Izzo’s interest in Gary Harris hasn’t waned at all as he went out of his way to be there at the very first moment he could to watch Gary in Akron. And fans were reminded that Izzo won’t hesitate to pull the trigger on a young local player with immense talent so Drake Harris now has his offer without yet playing his sophomore year of basketball. These next classes, 2012-2014, are starting to come into some clearer focus.