The big news of the weekend was interest between Michigan State and Chicago guard Alvin Ellis, who decommited from Minnesota after the firing of Tubby Smith. He had pledged to the Gophers last September as the first member of their 2013 class shortly after his official visit. Ironically, he told The Twin Cities Pioneer Press ""I waited for two weeks now to see who they were going to bring in...Nobody was coming in, so I had to do what's best for me. I had to get my stock back rising and see what I want to do" just hours before the announcement of the hiring of Richard Pitino. Despite that, it appears likely that Ellis will not be returning to the Minnesota fold due to a lack of attention preceding the hire.
Immediately after the announcement talk turned to Northwestern and their pursuit of the 6'4" guard's services. He had been recruited by the previous staff and would be a good fit for Chris Collins' program there if he can meet the aggressive academic standards. Since then, word has been that numerous high profile programs have reached out to Ellis as one of the best 2013 guards available at this late hour. Though it is mostly rumorous word of mouth, the list appears to include Arizona, Creighton, Texas, Providence, Missouri, and Michigan State. In addition to MSU, iIt also appeared that Missouri is a priority visit for the Ellis crew. The quick motion makes sense with what I'd expect. My guess is that Ellis's re-recruitment will be over sooner as opposed to later. He'll probably whittle down that list of schools (if he hasn't already) to the few he is truly interested in and set up any additional visits in a hurry. He may also jump at the best program who actually extends to him a commitable offer upfront. Based on an article this morning from Chicago Hoops, Ellis is under the impression that he now has such an invitation from the Spartans.
There isn't a lot of great recent video of Ellis in action but you can view this popular mixtape from last summer: He was recovering from an injury and that partially explains why he might have an opportunity to profit from some rising stock. ESPN's scouting evaluation talks about his toughness, versatility, and ability to attack the rim while describing him as someone who needs to work on both his jumpshooting and handling skills. With good size and comments about him as a high energy defender, this could be another part of the formula that would make him an MSU player.
I've long guessed that MSU would look at a grad transfer to provide some perimeter depth and compensate for the absence of Brandan Kearney. Picking up a player like Ellis would be a bold alternative. To extend him a scholarship offer, Michigan State has to be confident that he is not just a single year plug but someone to invest in for four years and develop. Considering the mass exodus that may occur after next season, it wouldn't be a bad idea to have more continuity and bring back another guard with some experience in the program for 2014. This situation will probably develop quickly so we'll stay posted.
Another interesting story at the start of April AAU last weekend was the appearance of Cliff Alexander playing for the Mac Irvin Fire. While Roy Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-eye cautioned people to not make too much of this, it's hard to ignore it as at least somewhat of a positive for Michigan State in their pursuit of Alexander. MSU has a strong relationship with the Mac Fire, more so that Alexander's other AAU unit The D-Rose Allstars. While it's hard to know how much the D-Rose people have been advocating for Kentucky with Cliff, the more time spent with other influences, the better. In addition, this gives Cliff an opportunity to play alongside the Fire's Jahlil Okafor. There's one school deep in the mix for both who has demonstrated the ability to utilize a large, strong center complimented by a tall, athletic power forward and that's Michigan State. If they enjoy playing together and could envision continuing to do so in college, major bonus points for our guys.
That dream won't be easy though. Jahlil Okafor recently entertained the Ohio State coaching staff for an in-home visit. He's being sold on being the inheritor of the Oden, Mullens, Sullinger mantel and that's a strong selling point. Okafor has also sang the praises of Coach K as well saying, "Coack K, that is my guy." It's important for Michigan State to get Okafor onto campus soon. That might be the next piece to stay in the thick of things. It's my guess that Okafor and Tyus Jones follow through on their intent to play together and anyone outside of MSU, Duke, and OSU would be an upset.
According to Jason Jordan of USA Today, Tom Izzo headed down to Moss Point to visit 2014 SG Devin Booker in Mississippi. With last week being the start of a recruiting period in which coaches can visit players, all the coaches were out talking to their priority recruits. It's pretty clear that we can firmly place Booker in the Level 1 tier of MSU targets with the other big names. Booker is not a super athlete but a skilled player and very strong shooter. One recent MSU point of reference might be someone like Chris Hill. Michigan is hot after Booker too, and Coach K was supposed to be in to visit but was thwarted by a tornado. It'll be interesting to see if the recent commitment of Booker's close friend Drake Harris to UM football has any impact on this recruitment. Booker also has an offer from Alabama. Just sayin'.
According to numerous residents of the Land of 10,000 Lakes, there were Tom Izzo sightings in the Minneapolis area yesterday. Though his precise itinerary is unclear, my guess is that he wasn't there to see Prince after all. With recruits like Tyus Jones, Reid Travis, and others in the neighborhood, Tom Izzo wasn't about to be out-worked by his coaching competitors in making it up to the Twin Cities. Hopefully there will be more news about his travels soon.
The video below is from last month but it's a good collection from PrepHoopsTV of A.J. Turner. Turner is a very intriguing prospect with excellent height (6'6") for a wing player and reputation as possessing some PG skills. The 2014 class is expected to be a large one for MSU with three, four, or even six spots potentially available. Even if MSU lands the big fish of Jones, Okafor, and Alexander, that won't be enough. Turner, who plays on the MSU friendly Dorian's Pride AAU team along with sophomore phenom Josh Jackson but at the UM friendly De La Salle HS, could be an appealing prospect to add into the mix with his size and versatility. A lot of combo style guard/forwards have been hailed as the "next Raymar Morgan" (I've been as guilty as anyone) and Turner could step into this role as a long, ball capable wing forward. Turner's recruitment is just getting going but he has the attention of both Michigan and Michigan State. He was able to catch some of MSU's practice prior to the Duke game last month.
In news about a recruit in the fold, Hondo Carpenter has a lengthy feature about Gavin Schilling over at his SpartanNation site. It's a good opportunity to hear a bit more about his recruitment and get to learn about his personal story as he gets ready to suit up for the Spartans.
That's all for now. After this flurry of visits and AAU events, the recruiting calender will enter a brief Dead Period before a series of AAU evaluation weekends. This will be the next opportunity for us to stalk which coaches are stalking which players. There's probably a more wholesome way to say it but I'm not hunting for one this time.