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2014 MSU Basketball Recruiting Hotlist

Coach Izzo communicates his goal for the 2014 recruiting class (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Coach Izzo communicates his goal for the 2014 recruiting class (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Coach Izzo communicates his goal for the 2014 recruiting class

The 2014 Basketball Recruiting Hotlist is not mysterious. The word has been out for some time that Tom Izzo has a core group of players he’s looking at and this list has moved very little in the past few months. The list is also shorter than in the past because MSU’s target pool is very focused. My collaborator Con-T and I could puff it up with prospects who appear to be longshots but that would be misleading. Unless players start committing elsewhere or new players breakout, these are the guys Michigan State is concentrating on.

Tom Izzo has been on the record in the past that you can always tell who he’s recruiting by who he shows up to watch. Coaches just began a new period of time in April to scout AAU events and our head coach was personally in to watch Tyus Jones, Cliff Alexander, and 2013 top targets Jabari Parker and James Young last weekend. If you haven’t heard the word, James Young was a consensus standout and did everything offensively to earn his Top 10 ranking.

It makes sense to talk about recruiting 2013 and 2014 together. On paper, MSU has four scholarship spots to distribute over those two classes with a maximum of two for ’13. As usual, it’s probable that MSU will add more than four players to those classes. With the huge wealth of talent (MSU plans to use 12 scholarships on recruited players in 2012-2013), transfers and early departures to the NBA are to be expected. So far, the goal appears to be three or possibly four players in the 2014 class. If Jabari Parker takes a 2013 scholarship (my money says he will), you might be able to pencil that one off the books again for the following season to open a spot.

More analysis and the Hotlist after the jump….

What is MSU looking for in this class? The simple answer: incredible talent. You might consider this the first season in which Michigan State is attempting to fully cash-in on the program's rise in status and Coach Izzo’s ample recruiting resources. Branden Dawson and Gary Harris were highly sought after and elite recruits in consecutive classes but recent years do not compare to the string of top players MSU is currently looking at. When you scan the Hotlist, you’ll find more targets in the tops at their position and five-stars since the wake of the 2000 National Championship.

The first thing to take into account is the established logjam at the wing position. It’ll be a tight squeeze for the right fit in the Spartans’ plans for 2014. While covering their bases, Grand Rapid’s Drake Harris is the key target for that position. Many believed Drake would be a Spartan by now but his family’s interest in UM football appears serious and his camp wants to spend more time exploring his options. With the exception of combo player Jaquan Lyle, Michigan State has been recruiting this position cautiously and being very tight with offers.

With a full roster of returning wings, the focus is elsewhere. MSU is thick in the mix for 2014’s top point guard Tyus Jones. MSU adds versatile ball-handling guard Denzel Valentine next season and has yet to take a point guard in 2013. That means the door is wide open for a classic speed point guard in the model of Lucas, Lucious, and Appling to make a major impact as an underclassman in this class. As Con-T says below, it’s a fierce competition for Jones’ services but MSU is definitely a leader and I’m tempted to substitute articles and use "the" for this one.

In the next couple years, Adreian Pane and Derrick Nix will be come off the books so MSU needs size at the center position to compliment young forwards like Matt Costello and Kenny Kaminski. Again, MSU is being aggressive where this is concerned. They are after two of the best big men in the class – Whitney Young’s Jahlil Okafor and Curie’s Cliff Alexander, both out of Chicago. The idea of landing this duo feels outrageous but it’s almost a guarantee that MSU would accept them if two five-star post players wanted to arrive in the same class.

The question is how likely is it that Tom Izzo can pull off a Calipari-caliber super class? Though MSU fans are right to not get over-excited this early, I would point out one thing: MSU’s narrow focus on a few players with minimal attention to contingencies could be a sign of real confidence by the staff. Izzo has stated that avoiding scattershot recruiting will backfire on him one day but he’s been at this a long time. My hunch is that MSU feels good about landing at least two, if not three, of their prime targets. Continued success by Mark Dantonio will make it easier for Drake Harris to say 'no' to Michigan football. MSU is the clear leader for Cliff Alexander and a possible leader for Tyus Jones as well. If the Spartans can get Jones to commit and have him work on his close friend Jahlil Okafor, it is on in the style of your favorite 80s video game. 2014 could be Tom Izzo’s most impressive recruiting class yet.

I’m going to throw this out there for fun. I don’t expect this result but it’s too irresistible to not type it:

PG: Tyus Jones
W1: Jaquan Lyle
W2: Drake Harris
PF: Cliff Alexander
C: Jahlil Okafor

That would be a decent line-up.

Point Guards



Tyus Jones

Ht: 6'0"
Wt: 170
School: Apple Valley HS (Apple Valley, MN)
ESPN: ***** (No. 1 Point Guard, No. 3 overall)
Rivals: ***** (No. 7 overall)
Scout: ***** (No. 1 Point Guard, No. 1 overall)

In the last year-and-a-half Jones has shot into national prominence, thanks in large part to a breakout AAU season last year. But he was on the MSU radar well before this and the length and persistence of Tom Izzo's attention has put Michigan State in a strong position with Jones. Izzo even reportedly took his family with him to Minnesota to watch one of Jones' games. Jones apparently returned the favor with an unofficial visit to East Lansing this March. Despite the strength of the point guard class in 2013, Izzo now seems to be looking to lock up his next floor leader in the 2014 class, and Jones is the clear first choice. He received his offer from Michigan State last July. He's a pure point guard and already seems to possess the complete package: he can drive, dish, is extremely quick, sees the floor and can hit from outside. The only unknowns about Jones appear to be the intangibles, which, given Izzo's persistent pursuit, are probably solid as well. Though Jones boasts a catalog of offers too lengthy to list here, Duke, Ohio State, Minnesota and Arizona seem to be MSU's main competitors for his services. Izzo, Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and others were spotted at his AAU games this past weekend in Minneapolis, joining a standing-room-only crowd that was backed up three deep. (Con-T)



JaQuan Lyle

Ht: 6’4"
Wt: 185
School: Benjanmin Bosse HS (Evansville, IN)
ESPN: **** (No. 3 Point Guard, No. 16 overall)
Rivals: ***** (No. 8 overall)
Scout: **** (No. 2 Shooting Guard, No. 13 overall)

One year ago, JaQuan Lyle told Jody Demling of the Courier-Journal that he expected to be making a decision this summer. Since then, he appears to have slowed down but is still welcoming a host of attention and offers. He has been offered by most of the Big Ten’s best – MSU, Purdue, Indiana, Ohio State, and Illinois. Lyle also has has nationwide interest from UCLA, Texas, and Louisville. Out of his lengthy list, he recently said OSU and Louisville were the schools he hears from the most. There is some debate about how much of point guard JaQuan truly is but it’s worth noting that his own statements suggest that he sees himself as one and that role could be important for a recruiting pitch. You can watch a recent video to decide what you think – wing or point? No one doubts that he’s a gifted passer and has the ability to make plays for others. The interest between Michigan State and JaQuan is undeniable. He visited Michigan State late last year and got a great deal of attention from the players and staff. According to one source, they’ve been back in contact recently. There’s no point to ignore rampant talk that Lyle has faced question marks about his maturity and composure. He faced game suspensions during his sophomore season. Receiving the continued attention of elite programs may involve Lyle proving more than just his basketball skill, which is an element that no one doubts with this elite Evansville product. (Intrpdtrvlr)




Drake Harris

Ht: 6’4"
Wt: 180
School: Grand Rapids Christian HS (Grand Rapids, MI)
ESPN: unranked
Rivals: **** (unranked)
Scout: *** (unranked)

Perhaps the first thing to know is that Drake is true two-sport prospect. He claims football invitations from Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame. That is not a group of pigskin lightweights. Though the early talk was that Drake was likely to focus on basketball and do it at MSU as a quick verbal, the recent developments have become more complicated. It’s open secret that some close to Drake are very intrigued by the Hoke regime and are interested in him exploring his opportunities. Still, Drake is a confessed Michigan State fan since childhood and the Spartans are in an excellent position. A lot has already been written about his game because Drake was identified as a major prospect at an early age. He’s been the overwhelming pick as the top in-state player in his class since people paid attention. It could be said that his rankings haven’t exactly lived up to the hype but Drake had a good summer last year and UMHoops is already glowing about his new campaign. It appears likely that this player will stay in state with one of the two biggies. Whether he ends up a Spartan, Wolverine, or none of the above, whoever gets him will have the bonus of saving a basketball scholarship if Harris decides to play football as a freshman. (Intrpdtrvlr)



Rashad Vaughn

Ht: 6’5"
Wt: 190
School: Robbinsdale Cooper HS (New Hope, MN)
ESPN: (unranked)
Rivals: **** (unranked)
Scout: *** (No. 9 Shooting Guard)

Rashad’s recruitment had an out of the blue character when it was reported on twitter that Tom Izzo himself was in New Hope, MN to watch Vaughn play. Since then, I haven’t seen a lot about this particular guard and MSU. Rashad recently claimed offers from Kansas, Texas, Wisconsin, and Minnesota and this looks like a case where coaches are ahead of most scouts in viewing Vaughn as an high level talent. He also has a good relationship with Tyus Jones and the two aren’t opposed to playing together in the future. Vaughn has been described as a very good athlete and dangerous scorer. He received a mention from Reggie Rankin already this summer and there’s solid video of him here. Handicapping the competition for Vaughn is difficult but he looks like an important recruit for Tubby Smith to keep in Minnesota. (Intrpdtrvlr)



Paul White

Ht: 6'8"
Wt: 200
School: Whitney M. Young Magnet HS (Chicago, IL)
ESPN: **** (No. 4 Small Forward, #19 overall)
Rivals: **** (No. 21 overall)
Scout: **** (No. 6 Power Forward, No. 28 overall)

One of the many Chicago players on MSU's radar, but a bit more of a dark horse, is wing forward Paul White. White had intended to visit this year’s Midnight Madness where it was rumored he could receive an offer but left early for a USA basketball opportunity instead. He has an unusual combination of size and skill that will definitely create a lot of interest among top programs. At 6'8" he can handle the ball and pass as well as score. His challenge, should he wish to become a Spartan, will be the sheer number of players on the wing MSU is considering. Izzo brought in two wing-heavy classes in 2011 (Branden Dawson and Brandan Kearney) and 2012 (Gary Harris, Denzel Valentine and Kenny Kaminski) and with 2013 top targets including Jabari Parker, James Young, Bo Zeigler and Tony Farmer there's a real logjam where White is concerned. According to White, "Ohio State, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Marquette have been on me the hardest so far." So he may not be a plan A prospect for Izzo, but by all reports he is still in the picture. (Con-T)




Abdul-Malik Abu

Ht: 6’7"
Wt: 220
School: Kimball Union Academy (Meridan, NH)
ESPN: (unranked)
Rivals: (unranked)
Scout: *** (unranked)

Evan Flood of the Wisconsin Badger’s 24/7 Sports site reported back in February that Michigan State has extended Abu an offer. Abu confessed that his own involvement with recruiting is limited and he was very surprised to here that MSU had offered when informed via his coach. Because of the game of telephone involved (and the ambiguity game coaches can play), MSU fans might want to be cautious about expecting Abu to commit Michigan State any time soon. It’s possible that what he holds isn’t a "full offer." He also claims offers from Iowa State, New Hampshire, UMass, and Wisconsin. Despite possessing less than ideal height, Abu is said to be a force to deal with down low. He is aggressive near the basket and very good athlete with long arms. All of this helps him play larger than he is. Continued solid play this AAU season has drawn interest Kansas and a new offer from Rhode Island. When offered by MSU, Abu talked about visiting early this summer with the possibility of a date in late April or early May. If that holds, we should know soon how serious MSU is about this player. (Intrpdtrvlr)



Cliff Alexander

Ht: 6'9"
Wt: 240
School: Curie Metropolitan HS (Chicago, IL)
ESPN: ***** (No. 3 Center, No. 11 overall)
Rivals: ***** (No. 9 overall)
Scout: ***** (No. 3 Center, No. 12 overall)

Alexander is one of a trio of big men from Chicago, along with Thomas Hamilton, Jr. and Jahlil Okafor, currently on the short list for Izzo and the Spartans in the 2013 and 2014 classes. Alexander carried his Curie High School team to the Chicago city championship game, where they ultimately lost to superstar Jabari Parker and his loaded Simeon team. Most sites report Alexander as holding an MSU offer already and the interest appears to be mutual. About Michigan State Alexander recently said($): " like Izzo, I love Coach Izzo. The coaching staff is great, the players are great, I love the campus, I just love it." Like many high schoolers his size, Alexander plays center for Curie but at 6'9" he may project more as a 4, depending on growth, which is how some sites list him. His strength is clearly, well, his strength. He's developed a reputation as a terror on the glass - literally. This weekend he created a sensation by shattering the backboard in one of his AAU games, not the first such incident in his career. And he's a terror in the more conventional sense as well, with rebounding and shot-blocking as the meat-and-potatoes of his game. He's a ferocious dunker, obviously, and a lot of his points come that way, from putbacks and screen-and-roll lobs. He has yet to develop a true back-to-the-basket game and doesn't have much of a jumper yet, but, like the rest of these guys, he's only a sophomore and has some time to develop. Izzo did join John Beilein, Tom Crean and John Calipari in Merillville, Indiana this weekend to see him, which certainly bodes well for his prospects. MSU is up against the rest of the B1G conference, more or less, for Alexander. (Con-T)



Jahlil Okafor

Ht: 6’9"
Wt: 275
School: Whitney Young HS (Chicago, IL)
ESPN: ***** (No. 1 Center, No. 2 overall)
Rivals: ***** (No. 4 overall)
Scout: ***** (No. 1 Center, No. 2 overall)

Perhaps in a "true good to be true" syndrome, some Spartan commentators have been inexplicably hesitant to put Michigan State in the forefront of Okafor’s recruitment. It’s true that he’s been compared extensively to Jared Sullinger and there’s no doubt that Ohio State is in prime position to add another five-star to their list of recent big men. However, MSU’s involvement with Okafor is serious and not to be disregarded. FiveStarBasketball reported that MSU was a standout school for Okafor near Christmas and Brian Snow of Scout stated just this month that Jahlil cites MSU, OSU, and Arizona as his most aggressive recruiters. Tom Izzo has dropped in to visit him recently and when The Mars Reel asked him what schools he planed on visiting this summer, Okafor’s reply was "I’m not quite sure, probably Michigan State." Close friend Tyus Jones has been steadfast that he and Okafor intend to play in college together. If MSU can grab a commitment from Jones, they’ll have another powerful recruiter in their corner. Have I offered enough evidence that this is for real? Oh, and there’s this. Okafor’s game is intimidating. Whereas some recent MSU post targets and players have built reputations as defensive disruptors or shooting 4's, Jahlil Okafor is a powerful post scorer already. There’s little to disbelieve that he is one of the best post players in the country in any class. (Intrpdtrvlr)


via bloximages.chicago2.

Tyler Wideman

Ht: 6’7"
Wt: 255
School: Lake Central HS (St. John)
ESPN: (unranked)
Rivals: (unranked)
Scout: *** (unranked)

Wideman is one of those guys where "intriguing" is probably a good word. He has lots of attention from quality schools many of whom appear to be scouting him either as a Plan B or a late breakout player. Wideman was excited by an early offer from nearby Purdue. An AAU teammate of Drake Harris and HS competitor alongside Glenn Robinson III (UM-2012), everyone is watching the young man looking not only for skill growth but literal growth. His body looks like a true center but this 6’6"/6’7" stature is likely to prevent him from being an impact center at the high D1 level. A few more late inches could change his recruitment dramatically. Wideman stills needs to work on his conditioning with scouts noticing his difficulty running the court. Right now, his strengths are a true post focused game and difficult to move build that TJ Kelly recently hashtagged with "#NFL." Michigan State is among the schools watching him after he visited for Midnight Madness and Tyler has reported MSU coaches at his workouts. It’s hard to imagine Wideman as a Plan A but if the big fish fall through and he has a great senior season, he could work himself into scholarship contention. (Intrpdtrvlr)