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The future is uncertain but the end is not near. Take that, Mayans! In the wake of some disappointment, Coach Izzo and Michigan State are moving forward recruiting the 2014 and 2015 classes while holding out for a late bloomer in 2013 to deal with unexpected losses.
"There's no question, we don't recruit in mass like some schools," he said. "Some day it's gonna hurt us."
- Tom Izzo, The Lansing State Journal, Nov. 2007
The days of Coach Izzo racking up commitments from Matt Costello, Brandon Dawson, Denzel Valentine, Travis Trice, and Kenny Kaminski in bang-bang fashion seem long ago. Since then, the Green & White scored big with Gary Harris and picked up dual-sport star Drake Harris but there's been some bumps in the road. Four players, including three 2013 targets MSU spent significant time on, picked another school over MSU - Karl Towns Jr. (2014), James Young, Jonathan Williams, and some guy named Parker. For my money, you could add the misfortunes of many of MSU's potential Plan B's signing early (Sterling Brown, , Monte Morris), MSU not finishing out the recruitments for Demetrius Jackson and Jaquan Lyle, and (IMO) Michigan getting a player MSU might regret not closing on - Derrick Walton.
Luckily, the ceiling of the Breslin Center is still in place and has not smashed upon the program leaving it in shambles. What does Coach Izzo do moving forward now that Jabari Parker has chosen Duke and Branden Kearney has left the program? First, Michigan State is clearly looking to add a player to the 2013 class when Derrick Nix departs and Kenny Kaminski comes off a redshirt year. They have three scholarships now open and Saturday was a testament to how quickly this team can start to look thin in key spots. However, I wouldn't bet the house that Michigan State will sign another player, despite their stated intentions. Izzo often talks about adding a player, saying "we're not done recruiting" year after year only to have nothing come of those statements in the end.
Right now, Michigan State is targeting one player closely for next season. They've reached out to the prep school route for one of its hottest names, 6'9" forward Gavin Schilling. The interest is real and Schilling recently visited Michigan State with his father for an unofficial. It is likely that Schilling will return later and use one of his official visits on MSU. His list of offers is impressive with invitations from Ohio State, Minnesota, UCLA, Missouri, and others. Duke was looking to get involved but they picked a commitment last month so are likely out of the race. Schilling is German-born but called Chicago home before heading to Findlay Prep in Nevada. He's also played on an AAU squad Coach Izzo is very familiar with, the Mac Irvin Fire, so there's many reasons to believe this recruitment might have legs. Recent photos of Schilling reveal the physicality that would intrigue D1 coaches.
There's some time for a new name to work its way into the conversation and Coach Izzo is probably just beginning to respond to the loss of Branden Kearney. Schilling wouldn't do much about perimeter depth so we'll have to keep ears to the ground concerning whether MSU is looking at senior guards. My hunch is that the staff is interested in bodies as much as anything. Three is too many scholarships to leave unused for this group. I also wouldn't rule out a Brandon Wood scenario at all. The Spartans could use the fifth year transfer rule to add a mid-major standout to the roster at the season's end.
Not to add salt or flog a horse but, to use one of my favorite clichés, "let's be real with each other." The events of last month did nothing to help MSU in its pursuit of 2014 standouts Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor. I always thought that Jabari Parker's allegiance would be a major plus in pursuing that duo and this is not "Advantage Izzo." True, Parker is not likely to still be in school in two years but a verbal pledge would have provided MSU's recruiting with a shot of adrenaline, given Coach Izzo an extremely high profile advocate, and helped reinforce the notion of MSU as credible choice over Duke. Tyus Jones may have shifted to a strong Duke lean at this point and Jahlil Okafor is close to both Jones and Parker. Here's the good news - we should all be reminded that in recruiting it is not over until it's over. You can be way out front, even lead a recruitment for years, and that is not a done deal. I'd hold out hope that Coach Izzo can work some magic with Tyus and his intended package deal partners.
There's lots else going on in the 2014 class and it looks like the Michigan State staff is responding appropriately and widening the net in recruiting juniors. They just extended an offer to SF/PF Reid Travis of Minneapolis. Reid is a solid Top 50/Top 30 prospect and was recently one of the many high D1 prospects at the Minnesota/Michigan State game along with Rashad Vaughn and Tyus Jones. I don't know if there's any strong relationship between those players, in particular Jones, but Tom Izzo may be turning Minneapolis into Chicago-North in terms of recruiting a batch of players. Travis is also an accomplished football player and is getting D1 looks as a QB though he's undecided about how he will balance those sports at the next level. The Spartans are new to this recruitment and it's just getting started.
I really think the No. 1 priority should be to wrap up Cliff Alexander. The Chicago power forward professed his admiration of MSU as a favorite more than once last year but hasn't pulled the trigger on committing. It's understandable for fans to be nervous each month this goes on. Having Alexander would give MSU a Chicago area player as a commitment and give more shape to the 2014 class. He's looked good lately and continues to get compliments for his growing offensive game. CSNChicago named him the MVP of Illinois holiday tournament and had this comment:
MVP: Cliff Alexander, Curie's 6-foot-19, 240-pound junior. His team finished third at Pontiac but, from start to finish, he was a model of consistency and intensity. Michigan State and Kentucky are the front-runners but don't discount Illinois. Alexander is a top priority for Illini coach John Groce.
"There is no question in my mind that Alexander still ranks as the No. 2 prospect in Illinois in the class of 2014, one of the top 10 nationally," Roy Schmidt said. "The only downside is he continues to be overshadowed by Okafor, who is more advanced in terms of offense. But Alexander has added more things to his offensive arsenal, which were very noticeable at Pontiac. As long as he keeps getting the ball, he will be effective."
One long-term beneficiary of Branden Kearney's exit could be Drake Harris. Though I've thought of him as an elite football recruit and basketball luxury, the absence of another senior guard in 2014-2015 might open up the door for Harris to have a larger role as a shooting guard especially with MSU focusing more thus far on forwards and larger, SF-style wings.
On that list is still Wisconsin small forward Kevon Looney. Izzo has apparently ramped up his recruitment of Kevon and watched him in action recently multiple times. There's also been word that he's met with the staff and had them affirm their strong commitment to pursuing him as part of their class.
As Con-T talked about on twitter, Hyron Edwards recently visited Michigan State for a game. He had some encouraging things to say to Kyle Neddenriep of IndyStar. Edwards told him that his family was interested in him staying close in the Midwest to more easily attend his games and was hosted by Indiana native Branden Dawson. Fittingly, he has lots of Big Ten interest including Indiana, Purdue, MSU, and Michigan. Edwards is in no hurry to make a decision but depending on what Michigan State does with a 2014 point guard, a player like Hyron could become a major priority. MSU will have passed on a true point guard in three straight classes if one is not added in 2014.
Bottomline of where we're at? It's Tom Petty, Johnny Depp, and the great wide open. I think that's the takeaway here. Speaking for myself, I've had a rather rigid picture of how 2013/2014 was going to shakedown and that appears less solid these days. Coach Izzo has won multiple ways with a diverse set of talents and there's no reason to believe that can't continue due to a couple of setbacks. We're going to have to expand our view of possible 2014 players and wait patiently to see what develops for next season. It wasn't too long ago that the semi-unexpected departure of Maurice Joseph opened up a late scholarship for a player who, at the time, was welcomed to East Lansing like a career second fiddle to uber-recruit Delvon Roe. That player was Draymond Green and you know the rest. Time to make some lemonade.