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Welcoming Michigan State's 2012 Basketball Class - Matt Costello, Kenny Kaminski, and Denzel Valentine

It’s been over a year since Michigan State received three verbal commitments for the 2012 class in less than two weeks, adding first Ohio forward Kenny Kaminski, then Lansing’s own Denzel Valentine, and, very quickly after that, the state’s top player in PF/C Matt Costello.  Anyone who feared that Tom Izzo’s brush with the NBA might slow him down or dull his energy for the recruiting road was quickly proven wrong. He was armed not only with more resources for travel but also the recruiting pitch that he had a shot at Lebron but chose to recruit "you" instead.  By taking two local players and another Midwest standout, my friend Con-T has suggested to me that "the class of 2012 looks to be the last traditional Izzo class for at least a couple of seasons. That class is stocked with top local players, but no big-name national stars."  There is definitely some truth to this.  As you look ahead, MSU’s focus has shifted.  Chicago is now a huge recruiting ground and Izzo is earnestly reaching out to more five-star players than in recent years. Meanwhile, players like the 2013 Michigan point guard class that we talked so much about have received less attention. 

That said, it’s my opinion that each of Tom Izzo’s new additions to the Spartan family is underrated by national analysts. I sincerely believe this isn’t merely green-colored glasses and fan bias, and I’m looking forward to being proven correct on the court. Michigan State is adding a do-it-all, playmaking guard (Valentine), an outstanding shooter with a football frame (Kaminski), and (in the opinion of someone who might know), the best Michigan post prospect since Al Horford (Costello).  With every class, you’re looking to fill needs and this is pretty clear in some instances.  Kenny Kaminski and Matt Costello both will help compensate for the graduation of Draymond Green and the earlier departue of Delvon Roe.  At 6’5"and possessing point guard ball skills, Denzel Valentine will be able to provide minutes at any perimeter position and improve depth while battling the incumbents for PT. 

Because of travel plans concerning the Carrier Classic on Friday, Coach Izzo will not be holding a press conference today to comment on the signees.  Also, it is possible that MSU might add an additional player to be named later. 

A look at each player individually after the jump....

Matt Costello

Ht: 6’9"
Wt: 225 lbs
High School: Bay City Western High School
Scout: **** No. 18 Center
Rivals: **** No. 24 Power Forward, No. 82 Overall
ESPN: **** No. 15 Center, No. 85 Overall

Original "Welcome Aboard" Post

There is a lot to be excited about in adding Matt Costello to the G&W and one of the first reasons can be summed up with the word "production."  The state of Michigan has been a reliable place for turning out raw 6’8"-6’11" projects with all the measurables but limited skills and questionable motors.  Costello is not one of those individuals.  I had a great time last season scanning Mlive to see how many points and rebounds Costello was credited with on any given night.  18, 24?  33!?!  Of course, you get exaggeration with high school numbers but it’s clear the Matt is someone who is scoring and rebounding at a high level right now.  Playing in Class A and the Saginaw Valley League featuring consistently top-flight teams like Saginaw High and Arthur Hill, he’s done it against some of the better competition in the state. 

Another common complaint about young bigs is that their approach to the game is "soft."  That description doesn’t fit Mr. Costello either.  Costello is known for aggressive, "spirited" effort and he’s the sort of player who makes opponents stand on notice for errant elbows. Last season, this style of play led to a physical altercation with a Midland Dow player. The "disagreement" resulted in an ejection and Costello’s absence from the next contest.  As I said when this incident occurred, you don’t want to see players lose their heads or act violently.  However, Matt has a fine overall reputation and if you offer me the choice between a passive player who lacks fire and a competitor who occasionally lets the intensity get the best of him, I’ll choose the latter each time.

As the videos below show (major props to MichiganPrepStars), Costello is great around the rim with spins, hooks, and layups all in his arsenal.  To make things almost unfair, Matt is an excellent outside shooter.  He size and ability to play both inside and outside has resulted in one of the most popular comparisons for his game being recent Wisconsin grad Jon Leuer.  If Costello reaches the level of conference success, MSU fans should be cheering.

Like Denzel Valentine, Matt Costello was recruited hard by both in-state Big Ten schools but couldn’t say "no" to the opportunity to play for Tom Izzo.   The attention from one of the countries most successful program made a big impression on young Matt as Matt’s BCW coach Chris Watz said:

"When the Michigan State offer came in, things changed for Matt," Western coach Chris Watz said. "I think he realized that 'Wow, if Michigan State is interested, maybe I can play at that level.' Not that the other schools aren't high-caliber, but now you're talking about one of the elite programs in the country. And that gave him all kinds of confidence that he could really be a Division I player."

Ready to wrap up his process early, Matt took a few weeks to consider his offer and then committed after a visit to Michigan State on August 10th, 2010.

Early on in his high school career, talk about Matt was often paired with Saginaw Arthur Hill’s Jordan Hare, another 2012 big.  Hare was similar in size and build but had an incredible length that made him look like an NBA-prospect.  Years later, a lesson has been learned about the difference between production and potential. While Hare has struggled through injuries and other challenges before committeing to Rhode Island, Costello is in position to be one of Big Ten's best.  If you still don’t believe me, I picked up this quote from respected MSU basketball blogger St8izgr8:

"I think Matt Costello is probably the best post recruit MSU has signed since Paul Davis.  In fact, I think he has a chance to be better than Davis (a pretty strong statement considering that Paul resides in MSU's top ten all time in points scored and rebounds secured) because he has a similar skill set but plays with more passion and edge than did Paul.  He needs to continue to get stronger of course, but he's already  made progress in that area over his high school career."

With Adrien Payne, Derrick Nix, and Alex Gauna all likely to return next year, Matt won’t need to shoulder a heavy burden as a freshman but his ability to put up numbers around the rim and from a distance should make him an immediate contributor. 

Video highlights from MichiganPrepStars:

Kenny Kaminski

Ht: 6’8"
Wt: 246 lbs
High School: Medina High School
Scout: **** No. 20 Power Forward
Rivals: **** No. 25 Power Forward, No. 84 Overall
ESPN: **** No. 16 Power Forward, No. 66 Overall

Original "Welcome Aboard" Post

I knew the name "Kenny Kaminski" before any other of MSU’s 2012 recruiting targets when he popped up all the way back in February 2009 on Lou Dawkins now defunct blog.  According to Lou, that was when Kenny received an offer which, if you’re doing the math, was during the end of his freshman season.  That’s hard to believe but it hasn’t been unprecedented for Coach Izzo to identify at least one prospect in a class very early and make an offer.   Despite Lou’s optimism, MSU didn’t lock KK up that early though he did become the first member to make a public verbal when he chose MSU at the end of July 2011 after having named MSU his leader.  Kaminski grew nervous when he feared Coach Izzo might be leaving for the NBA and during the week of his commitment he told the Medina Gazette, "It was scary…I really liked Michigan State all along. As the decision dragged on, I was really scared. I didn’t want him to go. It was my No. 1 school."

A lot of changed for both Kaminski and the class since that time.  When he was being scouted a whole summer ago, Kenny appeared to be the inheritor of the Raymar Morgan role, a versatile combo forward equally at home working against small forwards on the wing or post players if the match-up required it.  We can call this 6’7", 225 lbs player KK 1.0.  Kenny recently had his measurements taken again at the Kevin Durant Skills Academy and was listed as 6’8", 246 lbs.  If this is accurate, he may have grown himself out of a consistent spot on the perimeter.  By most reports, this isn’t bad weight and Kaminski is merely filling out as he grows and now possesses a college-ready stature.  Looking at MSU’s roster going forward, this transition may help.  With a loaded wing stable, the Medina shooter is just as likely to find PT playing down low.

In most cases, Matt Costello would be your number one long-range bomber as a big but Kenny Kaminski may be the best outside shooting big man in his class.  The official ESPN scouting report calls him "an excellent shooter, one of the best catch and shoot players in his class with range to 22 feet. He's also a great pick 'n pop player; maybe the best in his class at that, too."  This theme of the pick-n-pop player is repeated over and over.  Watching him at Peach Jam in July, had these remarks, "He won't wow with his length, quickness, or athleticism, but he will with his relentless effort and ability to stretch the floor. He was open on numerous occasions in pick and pop situations and made the most of it with 3 triples. He finished with 30 pts and 7 rebs."  MSU is getting yet another player to add to their roster that defenses can’t lose for a moment or allow to get open on the perimeter. 

As many have heard by now, Kenny will miss his senior season at Medina to fix a shoulder injury he received while playing tight end during football season.  Though he could have continued to play, he would have risked further damage if he took a hard hit playing basketball.  Instead, he is likely to be 100% recovered by the time he begins practicing at MSU.  Though his injury is similar to Adreian Payne’s, Kaminski’s need for upper body building is less so and this injury shouldn’t slow his entrance into the Michigan State playing unit. 

Quality video of Kenny in action is much more scarce.  There is this good one that not only features KK on the court but Matt Costello and Denzel Valentine as well:

Denzel Valentine

Ht: 6’5"
Wt: 205 lbs
High School: Lansing Sexton High School
Scout: *** No. 27 Shooting Guard
Rivals: **** No. 13 Shooting Guard, No. 80 Overall
ESPN: **** No. 25 Small Forward, No. 87 Overall

Original "Welcome Aboard" Post

Tom Izzo and Michigan State didn’t have to travel far to grab Denzel Valentine out of Lansing Sexton High School.  Denzel will arrive at Michigan State part of a Spartan legacy that includes his father Carlton, his own squad’s 1988 MVP.  Though bringing the younger Valentine into the fold may now look like a no-brainer, he was slowed by a knee injury early in his high school career when key evaluations were being made and there was some doubt whether MSU would have room with all their other wing prospects.  There’s no doubt now and Denzel Valentine is coming to MSU a player regularly called a "winner" and already a state champion as a junior. 

The first word I heard on Denzel was "Draymond on the wing," a multi-skilled blue-collar athlete with the ability to do a number of things on the court, including handle the ball and run the offense.  Since then, evaluations of DV by scouts, bloggers, and the twitter-happy have confirmed this analysis.  Eric Bossi of Rivals noted Denzel’s "old man game" and posited him as one of the 2012 players likely to spark some controversy.   Watching him this summer in Las Vegas, the ESPN crew looked over his performance and said, "Michigan State coach Tom Izzo could have found himself a guy with more athleticism or size, but not with the same instincts and intangibles." Where have we heard that before recently...

In the same beat, you can watch the videos below and prepare to answer some of the implicit criticism of Denzel’s game.  First, though not on the level of recent MSU recruits and targets like Branden Dawson, Gary Harris, and Dwaun Anderson, Valentine is not what you’d think of as a negative-athlete.  As just one piece of evidence, MichiganPrepStars caught this State Championship clip of an impressive cut into the lane capped by a soaring two-handed dunk.  Denzel has the speed and athleticism not only to make plays on offense but also defend perimeter players effectively.  Connected to the prior skepticism is the suggestion that he is a player without a position.  Though versatile, hard-working, high-IQ players sometimes get this label, I disagree.  Valentine is a guard and that’s the story.  That will be his role at MSU.  In addition, MSU is getting another tall guard thought primarily as a wing who could be a real option at point guard.  Depending on who you talk to and where you look, some observers already consider "PG" Valentine’s primary designation.

Timing is vital in recruiting and there is no doubt that Valentine is a player who almost got away.  The University of Michigan got the jump on offering along with other schools and Denzel was geared up to be a solid fit for John Beilein’s halfcourt offense.  Sam Hosey over at LifeInLansing caught the story when Denzel committed to MSU and a widely-dispersed quote told everyone just how close the Valentine family was to spurning their legacy status and wearing Maize and Blue:

"Michigan came really hard," Valentine said. "The visit (on August 3) was amazing. They made a video highlight tape of their players. I met the athletic director. They took me to the new (facility) and the (football) stadium. It was great."
Carlton Valentine echoed his son's sentiments.
"Michigan came strong, man. I'm serious," he said. "We were ready to commit right there. Those coaches, they are unbelievable. They treated my family with the utmost respect.

Michigan State’s own offer to Denzel followed the attention explosion caused by his excellent summer of 2010 that had schools like Butler, Xavier, and Georgetown vying for his services.  Coach Izzo’s decade of success and dominance in the state paid off and an invitation to join the Spartan family was too much for Denzel to pass up.  He committed on August 9th, 2010, barely a week after receiving his offer. 

There is a lot of video out there of Denzel but, as often is the case, Jay over at Michigan Prep Stars has produced some of the best.  Here is a selection:

Summer 2011
2011 State Championship Game

Some other sources:

That's all for now.  We'll keep covering Signing Day events this week and I'll drop anything interesting into the comments.  Joe Rexrode told me that he expects MSU to release some quotes on the signees later but it wouldn't be the same as Izzo's press conference.

Also, if blogging about recruiting has taught me anything, it's that the moment I hit "Publish," we're likely to have major news which changes much of what I just wrote.  I'm glad I did my small part by not holding this article.