After months of talking about official visits, two of them begin today for Michigan State’s top targets in the 2014 class. Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker are expected to arrive today and get the full treatment from the Spartans. It's Alumni Weekend so many MSU bigshots, including Draymond Green, will be in town to make an impression. On the player's end, Joe Rexrode has an excellent piece including lots of candid and on-target talk from James Ulis, Tyler’s father. Rexrode hits on a reoccurring and important point – the notion that Ulis is a catalyst recruit who could help his school of choice fill the rest of their class with elite talents who want to play with one of the nation’s best facilitating point guards. There’s already extensive documentation that Ulis and Booker are serious about playing together and MSU and Kentucky are the two possible destinations. Devin Booker is also rumored to be high on Michigan so it would be no upset to see Ulis choose Iowa and Booker UM but MSU would be the co-choice winner if Booker wishes to play basketball in Michigan with Ulis.
The timetable is going to be interesting to watch. Devin Booker is a long way from making his final decision. Michigan State is only his first official visit, his last scheduled trip is Missouri on Oct. 16, and he has yet to make a plan for Florida. I would say that players typically stick to their official visits and don’t commit and cancel but the Wild West nature of this cycle has already thrown that off (Leron Black recently cancelled further officials and committed to Illinois). So, it’s hard to assume what Booker might do if dominoes begin to fall. Tyler Ulis should be done after his trip to Kentucky immediately following his time in East Lansing. There’s reason to speculate that a decision will come sooner as opposed to later. With all officials out of the way and lots of talk that this recruitment was close to being done a long time ago, the Ulis family might have everything they need to make a decision. Now, could we find out that coaches are being summoned for a final round of in-home visits in October? Maybe.
If Tyler Ulis makes a decision next week after his trips, it could have major ramifications for Michigan State's other recruits. MSU is welcoming Louisville PG Quentin Snider on the 14th of this month. He has already taken official trips to Illinois and UCLA. After Trevon Bluiett selected UCLA, they are perceived by many to be in the driver’s seat for Snider. If Ulis selects MSU next week, Snider is probably off the table for MSU. However, if Ulis heads elsewhere, Quentin’s visit to East Lansing becomes even more high-stakes. The staff clearly wants another point guard to buttress the roster next season after passing on players in the past two classes and missing on Tyus Jones, Tyler Ulis, and then Quentin Snider would be a major setback for Coach Izzo’s intentions for the class.
I had originally heard that Darrell Davis would be visiting the same weekend but it looks now like his official visit will take place on the 27th. Most scouts are clear that Davis, a combo guard, is not currently on the same level as prosects like Booker, Ulis, etc., but Davis brings some things to the table in terms of versatility. It’ll be interesting to see how Coach Izzo plays this one. If he has players in hand, like a PG, does he pass on Davis? Does he work to bring him in as a utility guard in conjunction with others players? If MSU is still interested in a yet un-committed Devin Booker, does Izzo accept a commitment from Davis anyway using the bird-in-the-hand principle? Situations like this are where recruiting really becomes a dance but the staff should have a much better feel for the proper steps in three weeks.
James Blackmon has enough skill that he’s likely to be welcomed regardless of what any other player decides. He’s not a true point guard at 6’2 and lacks the size of someone like the 6’6" Devin Booker but Blackmon is another devastating shooter who is especially effective when plays are run to get him open looks. He’s recently made a blitz of unofficials, traveling to Louisville, Michigan State, Michigan, Kentucky, and his prior intended school Indiana. The overwhelming sentiment is that he’s been a Wildcat already for weeks. He recently told Scout that he intends to use officials for Kentucky, Indiana, and possibly Michigan with more decisions to be made. He’s talking about still more schools showing interest so this might be the longshot for MSU that it was long assumed to be.
Things became increasingly complicated with PF Reid Travis over the weekend. Along with Tyler Ulis (pre-Kentucky), Travis had become a new favorite choice for "Most Likely to be a Spartan." On Wednesday, he received an offer from Duke after Duke got in contact this summer. Duke immediately joined his Top 7 with Gonzaga, Michigan State, Stanford, Georgetown, Minnesota, and Notre Dame. The 24/7 "Crystal Ball" feature got a little freaky this week with tons of people jumping on the "Travis to Duke" bandwagon within days. Travis has demonstrated that he’s more than willing travel far from his Minnesota home with his strong interest in Gonzaga and his attention to Stanford shows that academics are a priority. For that reason (in addition to all the standard stuff), it’s not surprising that Duke is perceived immediately as a major player and Travis says an official is in the works. If it’s true that Coach K can walk in, offer a player like Travis late and get him, then, yeah, this does start to feel like a very rough string of luck for Coach Izzo. However, like Kevon Looney and like Tyler Ulis, I think it’s silly to write anyone off yet. Things are still unfolding and Michigan State has been recruiting Travis for a long time.
Kevon Looney, a Top 10 forward from Wisconsin, is already in Durham this weekend for his official visit to Duke. There’s been talk that he’s a Duke lean but that feels more assumptive and less substantiated than the Jones/Okafor rumors. I’ve read some speculation that if Looney doesn’t commit this weekend, it’s fair to feel like this is anyone’s race. It’s not clear if Coach K would take Looney, Travis, Okafor, and Turner all in the frontcourt in addition to Tyus Jones, SG Justice Winslow, and committed guard Grayson Allen. Even Duke can’t get everybody and that would more than fill their class. Looney is headed to Tennessee on Sept. 21 and the Vols recently missed out on Leron Black putting even greater emphasis on Looney. He has already been to Florida to be wooed by Billy Donovan. Though his MSU visit is yet to be scheduled, he recently told Paul Biancardi that he intends to take all trips with stops for UCLA and Wisconsin also.
In no large surprise, Ypsi PF Jaylen Johnson committed to Louisville today. The talk had sounded like he and his family were enamored with the defending national champions. Tom Izzo had been candid that he didn't "need" Johnson but still wished to bring him into the fold. Ask Izzo three missed power forwards later and he might have a different response. For now, with Looney, Alexander, and Travis still in play, this doesn't feel like a catastrophic or even unexpected loss.
If you like "Flavor of the Week" rumors, Cliff Alexander is now going to Illinois. Yes, the once public Michigan State lean then heavy Kansas favorite is now going to play for John Groce based on something someone heard somewhere, probably behind a paywall or maybe just in the janitor's closet of Assembly Hall. Let me get full informal blogger for a minute and tell you that I hardly care anymore. It would be fantastic for Alexander to select MSU and it seems like there’s a reasonable chance that could happen. All these conflicting rumors also mean that none of it likely means anything. On this one, unless your name is Cliff Alexander or Tom Izzo, call me when there’s an announcement.
With Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker in town, here's hoping that we're back next week with a long overdue "Welcome to MSU!" article about the 2014 class!