Fall is almost here and it's time for a full-scale catchup on the 2014 targets. We'll also talk about the 2015 and 2016 players who have made news recently.
"Turn out the lights, the party’s over…" The Twin Cities PG announced this week that his official visits will be to Kentucky, Baylor, Duke, Kansas, and Minnesota. This ended a long decline in optimism about Michigan State’s chances with Jones. Though that pessimism may have prepared most of us for this, it’s still a surprise if you jump back 12-18 months ago when there was a great deal of talk that Michigan State was among the leaders in the pursuit of Jones’ services. Most of us will never know exactly what went wrong but it looks like things took a turn for the worse when Duke landed Jabari Parker, then beat Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament, and generally proceeded to further sliver open the perception gap between the programs. Not wanting to get "Jabari’d" again, it probably didn’t help that Coach Izzo was unashamed about offering and pursuing Tyler Ulis as an option at point guard in 2014. Over the summer, it looked like MSU was spending less and less time on Jones and Tyus responded in kind. In the end, this appears to be a mutual parting of ways.
Which brings us to his pal Jahlil. Similarly, most of us have written off Okafor from attending Michigan State and consigned the pair to Duke. Okafor also has his visits allocated and they’re a bit harder to peg than Jones. Okafor plans a packed dance card of five officials and three unofficials during the fall. Curiously, two schools not getting officials are Ohio State and Michigan State but he has stated an intention to still visit both. Considering many suspect that OSU is the second most likely option for Jahlil, it seems odds that they won’t get an official even considering proximity. Okafor is also visiting a school, Arizona, that is not recruiting Tyus Jones. Eight schools at this point is a lot and there is really two ways to read all this:
I’d bet strongly on #1 but stranger things have happened. We all think we know the score but maybe Jones and Okafor end up at Kansas together or at separate schools.
With that out of the way, it’s important to maintain a level head about this. It’s true that Ulis reported receiving a Kentucky offer on his visit this week. There’s lots of ways to read that. Kentucky has been closely recruiting TX point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, a top 10 player in his class who rivals Tyus Jones in national acclaim. This could be a push on Mudiay to move him to commit. The offer might also be conditional and allow Ulis to choose MSU or his long-time suitor Iowa with the prestige of holding an invitation from Kentucky. It’s difficult to know whether this one will conclude quickly or continue to be drawn out. Will Ulis make a decision now that he’s visited his primary schools and has his offers in hand? Or will he return to a number of them for official visits later this fall? It’s definitely in MSU’s interest to wrap up the man and let him start working on other 2014 recruits.
Things are also taking shape for the Mississippi shooting guard and in this case it was good news for Michigan State. Booker has a final five of Michigan State, Michigan, Florida, Kentucky, and Missouri. The overall impression is that Booker is likely to return to his home Mitten state to play college basketball and that this will be a duel to the end between Izzo and Beilein. MSU needs bodies and could use a shooting wing and John Beilein could get his first no-if-and-or-buts-about-it recruiting victory over Coach Izzo by gaining Booker’s commitment. A lot has been made of Booker’s friendship with UM football commit Drake Harris but he’s also expressed interest in playing with Tyler Ulis. Booker plans official visits to all five school this fall in preparation for an early signing.
More good news for Michigan State fans as Looney has Michigan State in his final six schools along with Duke, Florida, USC, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. Looney intends to visit all six schools (unofficial to homestate Wisconsin) and he is another player who wants to finish the process up and sign early. Even though their appears to be a trend of players not committing during the summer before their senior year, analysts might be right that a number of players will decide on a fall timetable instead of waiting even longer for spring.
In addition to Ulis, Reid Travis appears to be one of the players Michigan State is in the best shape with. Reid is a consensus top 50 player who would fit the Michigan State profile perfectly. He’s a slightly undersized, blue collar banger who only recently decided to drop his football career after entertaining multiple D1 gridiron offers. There are conflicting reports out there that Michigan State or Stanford might be the team to beat. He’s visited Gonzaga in an official capacity and plans trips to Michigan State, Stanford, Minnesota, and possibly one more school. ESPN in the Twin Cities has a candid extended interview with him here.
A Detroit product, Davis is the new kid in the MSU recruiting circle. It’s not uncommon to see someone pop late in the game and it’s even more predictable now that the Spartans have reached mid-August with no commitments for the class to see them extend to get a bird in the hand. Prior to getting an invitation from MSU, Davis’ offer list included Iowa, Dayton, Detroit, Akron, Eastern Michigan, Iowa State and Rhode Island. That isn’t precisely a murderer’s row and even Davis has acknowledged the MSU is a standout offer. The plan is for Davis to return sometime soon, maybe next month and get another look at campus. It’s difficult to know how hard the staff is pushing Davis for a commitment. Intuition says that if the staff wanted him to join the Spartan fold they should be able to make that happen. They may be taking their time with Davis as other recruits finalize the plans. He could do some things for the Spartans as a 6’4 player who can play either guard position. His versatility could come in handy without or without another 2014 point especially with the uncertainty about the 2015 class.
This in-state player is looking closely at the two big state schools and recently visited both East Lansing and Ann Arbor in an unofficial capacity. He has some serious aspirations outside the state as well and has an official visit scheduled to Iowa State on September 13th. Johnson is also highly interested in defending national champions Louisville. In any case, expect him to be another player who takes all five available officials and decides this fall. How important he is to MSU will depend greatly on our success with other post targets like Reid Travis and Cliff Alexander.
The Alexander recruitment is still a bit of a mystery. For many months (years?) it was played as a two-team race between Michigan State and Kentucky. However, it isn’t clear that he’ll now take an official visit to either of those two schools with whom he is already familiar. WOTS suggests that Kansas might be the team to beat. The plan includes officials to Kansas, Louisville, Memphis, and Arizona with a possible trip to Florida but Alexander is behind some of the other recruits in scheduling these events. It’s hard to be certain which visits will actually happen before the November signing period. This is just a wild hunch but it wouldn’t be uncharacteristic if this is a recruitment that extended past the signing period and into Alexander’s senior year. Again, just a guess, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s February 2014 and people are still wondering where Cliff Alexander is headed.
James Blackmon, Jr.
Blackmon committed to Indiana as a freshman in March 2011(!) and, at the time, there was a lot of anxiety from inside the Hoosier fanbase about whether the commits of Blackmon and his friend Trey Lyles would stick. Lyles dropped his commitment to Indiana some time ago and Blackmon finally did the same only recently. Michigan State is listed among a long number of schools interested in Blackmon (as MSU was initially for Lyles) but most prognosticators think Blackmon is headed straight to Kentucky (as they did, it’s worth noting, for the as-yet-uncommitted Trey Lyles). Rick Bozich, at reputable sports journalist out of Louisville, offered a widely-shared tweet that Blackmon would be making Kentucky, Louisville, and Michigan State early priorities for some visits. I wouldn’t take this too seriously yet but Blackmon is a high four-star talent whose skills as a 6’2" shooting guard could bolster the Michigan State class and help on the perimeter.
Guards have been much of the talk in the 2015 class but Ellenson is a big man 6’9 and weighing 250 lbs out of Wisconsin. His brother plays for Minnesota and he recently took an unofficial to visit up there. Dane Fife watched him earlier this summer and MSU decided to extend an offer earlier this month. He also holds offers from Indiana, Oregon, Purdue, and others.
With so much uncertainty in 2014 still concerning the point guard situation, Michigan State is actively looking for another player to step in and run the offense in the following class. Brunson is another Chicago-area prospect who appears to have received an offer from Michigan State. His further offer list is strong with invitations already from UConn, Ohio State, and Illinois. A representative of the Mac Irvin Fire, Michigan State is very familiar with this player who is in contention to be a five-star player in the 2015 class.
Michigan State might be a bit late to the party after offering this shooting guard from Ohio this summer but he includes the Spartans in a list of ten or so schools in the forefront of things. He’s an in-demand player and is generally considered a Kentucky lean though Michigan, Duke, and Ohio State are thick in pursuit. He just returned from a Kentucky visit that appeared to deeply impress his family.
Bragg continues to take off as schools find his athleticism and ability to the play the combo forward role appealing. Out of Ohio, he has a usual suspects list of Big Ten teams like Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, etc.. Interest us there as well from national big boys including Duke. Bragg intends on visiting Michigan during football season and, though it’s early, this looks like another recruitment where Coach Izzo has some work to do.
Deyonta is a name to remember and a player to watch. He had a great summer as he prepares for his junior season and has picked up new schools of interest. Currently, his offer list is backboned by a MAC who’s who but that might not last for long. Michigan State is keeping an eye on him as a potential post target for the 2015 class.
It’s time for the best rising sophomores to receive offers and this player from Homestead, Indiana is firmly on the Michigan State map having picked up his offer at the beginning of the month. Caleb is expected to be a big-timer for 2016 and is currently a Top 25 player. Though he has a lot of interest, the Spartan coaching staff have offered early in this one. Swanigan is another dual-sport player with invitations to play football from major SEC powers but he has grown vertically out of the possibility of playing football as he gets closer to seven foot and recently dropped football.
Caleb Swanigan (ESPN #18 In 2016) @ The NBPA Top 100 Camp (via iaelites)
After striking out with Jordan Barnett who committed to Texas, Michigan State returned to recruiting St. Louis to offer Jayson Tatum, a 6’6" small forward. Tatum is a superstar and a Top 10 player in his class holding offers from Kansas, Duke, Ohio State, UNC, Kentucky and more; basically a "name your school" guy. Jayson grew up an OSU fan but it’s not clear that will be a determining factor. His first offer came from locals Missouri would love to keep him close to home.
Still good. Really, really, we’re talking possibly the top player in his class good. Stay tuned!
Phew! So, where are we at? At least nine seniors are still considering Michigan State and likely to visit again. I haven’t included or Paul White. It’s not clear that White is firmly on the radar and Cunningham’s interest from MSU doesn’t look to be heading towards an offer any time soon. Cunningham has suggested he might be a late signer so things could still develop before he commits.
2015 and 2016 are only beginning to take shape but Coach Izzo appears undaunted by the post 12/21/12 world and is following a very similar program to 2014 with offers and interest to a number of nationally elite players. The start of the prep hoops season should bring more names from that class and clarify who Coach Izzo and staff are making a travel priority to watch in person. A few things that could really give recruiting this class a shot in the arm are a 2014 National Championship and two 2014 first-round draft picks so I say let’s go for that.
No inside info or crystal ball but a likely class for 2014 could be PG Tyler Ulis, PG/SG Darrell Davis, SG Devin Booker, and PF Reid Travis. It would only take the early exit of Branden Dawson to the draft or someone else not finishing his eligibility to open another spot for a five man class. I wouldn’t count MSU out of landing one more five star and pulling out Cliff Alexander or even Kevon Looney. Officials are getting scheduled and we should have our answers on most of these players within a couple of months. If things go sour, it's possible that MSU only signs a couple of players leading to more recruiting and speculation on seniors available to sign in April.