Michigan State had two visitors last week both important for future plans. The first was Devin Booker, the 6'5" guard from Mississippi with strong in-state ties who made it up to not only watch Wisconsin vs. MSU but also the Indiana game at Michigan. The report on Devin Booker is that he's not an elite athlete but he's a very strong shooter and can get his shot in a variety of ways. Whatever he has to offer, it's been enough to earn him a 5-star ranking and invitations from Duke, Michigan, Missouri, and others. As Michigan State looks for a wing (or two) in the 2014 class, Booker has appeared to come to a fore as a major target with mutual interest. There isn't too much WOTS about the direction of his recruitment but it's clear that he's interested in traveling away from his Southern home and a choice in the Mitten State is on the table. He's also friends with Drake Harris which could be a factor as our big two universities compete for the attention of both players.
The primary prospect for the 2013 class, Gavin Schilling, made his official visit this weekend. With a decision and signing presumably coming in March/April, Schilling is making his way through visits to his four finalists - MSU, Villanova, Minnesota, and UCLA.. With the great atmosphere for Senior Day, Michigan State could be in strong shape to wrap this one up. Schilling and his family were present for the post-game celebrations and word was that they looked very engaged and moved by Coach Izzo's fiery talk. There are also some ties that could help the Spartans. Despite many moves including overseas, Illinois is still considered "home" by the Schillings so proximity and familiarity could be a bonus. Also, his Findlay Prep coach Todd Simon is a Fowler native who knows about Michigan State basketball from the inside. Provided Adreian Payne returns, Schilling isn't really a make-or-break recruit but I'm sure he's being told that the opening frontcourt spot is his to compete for along with Alex Gauna, Matt Costello, and Kenny Kaminski.
The Thursday night tip for the Illinois state playoff game kept Coach Izzo from watching Curie's Cliff Alexander and Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor go head-to-head. It was a great, back-and-forth matchup ultimately won by Whitney Young despite foul trouble for Okafor. As most of the accounts noted, Okafor continued to display a highly advanced post game and practiced footwork. Alexander, once acknowledged as head and shoulders behind Jahlil as an offensive player, has made up ground and probably edged out a narrow player-to-player advantage. Alexander describes himself as a power forward whereas the 6'11 Okafor is undoubtedly a center. With the twin towers of Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix giving Michigan State a huge, powerful frontline, these two recruits already have a model for how well Coach Izzo can utilize two true "bigs." MSU is still believed to be in excellent shape to get Alexander into the fold and they have at worst a "puncher's chance" to keep Jahlil Okafor and his friend Tyus Jones away from Duke, Ohio State, and other suitors. Cliff recently visited Illinois but that choice would be considered a substantial upset.
Speaking of Duke, our coach was able to get away on Friday and watch Whitney Young's reward for the win on the previous night - a contest against Simeon Academy, who feature a star player named Jabari Parker. Just like old times, Izzo notched another night watching Jabari more than any other coach. Awkward? Who knows; probably not. That's just life out on the recruiting trail. I'm going to try and bypass picking that scab one more time. No reason to believe that Jabari's commitment to Duke is anything less than 98% solid. Still, seeing Izzo there courtside, again, had to be an interesting moment for both parties. FTR, Simeon won big 69-51 behind a standout 29pt night from their best player.
Jahlil's friend Tyus Jones cut his list of potential schools by one. North Carolina received a pledge from 2014 PG Joel Berry leading to the end of the Jones courtship. UNC wasn't expected to be major factor and it's still difficult to imagine Jones ending up somewhere besides Duke, MSU, or OSU. Kentucky and Minnesota are also fighting for position. With Keith Appling graduating from the starting spot the season before Jones' freshman campaign, the door is definitely wide open for Jones to start at Michigan State on Day One if that's important to him. He'd have to compete with Travis Trice but a system of Trice continuing to be a key bench player would probably work well in 2014-2015. My pure guess is that Jones is still sincerely undecided, even if he's a lean. IMO, a strong tournament showing by Michigan State could help push the needle slightly to hold the attention of elite players like Jones.
As high school basketball seasons wrap up, some juniors might start looking at taking more visits, perhaps officials (they're eligible) in order to move the process along and even become open recruiters themselves this summer. April will also bring the first evaluation period when the coaching staff will travel to AAU events to scout players and make sure they're seen courtside. That's the next step and it'll be interesting to see how Michigan State handles recruiting the 2014 class. They have a core of key players (Okafor, Jones, Alexander, Booker) but have also checked in on and entertained a number of others (Sam Logwood, Tyler Ulis, Kevon Looney). With a much larger pool of targets this year, we'll keep track of where the coaches are and how they adjust.
Last note: Gavin Schilling's decision should come in the next few weeks (days?) so we'll have coverage of that when it arrives. Until then, Go Green!