Michigan State‘s 2020 basketball recruiting class started off with a great anchor in four star point guard Jalen Terry in April. In recent weeks Tom Izzo and his coaching staff most likely finished off next year‘s incoming group with two big commitments from combo guard A.J. Hoggard and center Mady Sissoko. Both players are ranked inside the top 100 nationally and bring many things to the table that will endear them early to Spartan Nation. Let‘s take a look at both new players and see what they will add to the green and white when they step on campus next season.
A long way from home
Mady Sissoko‘s basketball story isn‘t a long one yet the pace with which the center is developing certainly makes you fasten your seatbelts. Five years ago he wasn‘t even playing basketball regularly and still lived with his parents on a farm in his hometown of Bafoulabé in the West African country of Mali, roughly 5000 miles away from East Lansing. Once he developed a love for the game and saw how it could open many future doors for him, he moved to Utah and enrolled at the traditional basketball powerhouse Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant.
It was here under the guidance of his guardian Mike Clayton and Wasatch head coach David Evans that Sissoko‘s basketball career really took off. He developed both his body and his game at a rapid pace and soon national basketball powers took notice. Among the ones interested in the 6-10 center were Kansas, Kentucky and BYU but his official visit to East Lansing sealed the deal for the Spartans in early September. Being interested in the agricultural industry helped since MSU provides one of the nation‘s best agricultural schools. Tom Izzo did the rest. “One thing I like about Coach Izzo is he‘s a humble guy to talk to”, the devout Muslim Sissoko said after his commitment. “He‘s in the Hall Of Fame. Since he started recruiting me he‘s been honest with me and just great. I believe he will help me get to my next level, wherever that might be.”
Raw with sheer endless potential
The fact that he hasn‘t been playing basketball for a long time makes scouts and the Spartan coaches excited about just that next level. Sissoko by all accounts is a raw prospect but despite having to learn a lot of things already offers an intriguing package of athletisism and skill. The first thing that jumps out watching him is his size. Standing at 6-10 with a wingspan of 7-4 he has a prototypical and great frame for a college big man. He pairs his physical measurements with tremendous quickness and elite level athletisism.
That combination is most notably on the defensive side of the ball. Sissoko already is a natural, instinctive shot blocker and projects to be a top rim protector at the next level. There are other parts of his game though that make his defensive potential special. He moves his feet really well for a young player and works extremely hard on and off the ball. Despite earlier language barriers he has developed into a vocal defensive presence for Wasatch, constantly directing teammates and calling out rotations. He fights hard for position, defends before the ball is in his area and has shown an abiliy to switch onto quicker, smaller guards from time to time. He knows how to use his wingspan to his advantage and throws his body around whenever he has a chance. There is probably not a game where you not see him dive on the floor for a loose ball.
On offense his impact is still rather limited, even though he has shown great strides in his development in recent years. He doesn‘t offer much yet as a post player though he owns a fairly reliable quick hook shot. His hands and his footwork need some work even according to himself. His biggest impact comes via finishing dump off passes or converting on offensive rebounds. Once he has the ball deep Sissoko goes up violently and attacks the rim hard, often finishing with ferocious dunks. The “throwing his body around” part of his game gets him in trouble fairly often when he jumps before seeing an outlet or pummeling into traffic. His core strength needs some work as he can get pushed out of position at times despite weighing in at around 230 pounds. He is still a tireless worker on the offensive side aswell, constantly moving, setting picks or going after offensive boards. Here he shows a tremendous ability to cover lots of ground with just a step or two. That enables him to get himself into a lot of plays yet it his aggressiveness can also lead to foul trouble.
Due to his sheer size and athletisism Sissoko‘s long term ceiling is fairly high but he should easily provide valuable minutes early on in his career, too. Even if his offensive game remains a work in progress his defensive potential alone makes him a great get and he shows a lot of the little things that will help a team win basketball games.
To East Lansing via West Virginia… heard that before?
Sissoko‘s newest Spartans classmate‘s early basketball career has fared quite differently. Anthony „A.J.“ Hoggard is a native of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, and has already honed his craft against top level competition from an early age. The gritty combo guard started playing high school basketball at Archbishop Catholic High, a program that plays in the Philadelphia Catholic League, arguably one of the finest leagues in the entire country. In search for even better competition and after a coaching change Hoggard decided to transfer to Huntington Prep in West Virginia, the same program a guy named Miles Bridges starred for before he went on to greener pastures at Michigan State and the NBA.
MSU‘s interest in Hoggard really gained steam this summer and after his lone official to East Lansing a couple of weeks it didn‘t take long for him to commit to the Spartans. Assistant coaches Mike Garland and Dwayne Stephens handled most of the recruiting process and developed a great relationship with Hoggard along the way. Other schools interested in him included Louisville, Florida, UConn, Maryland and Marquette. Yet Hoggard decided he wanted to be part of a long legacy of great Spartan guards like Magic Johnson, Mateen Cleaves or lately Cassius Winston. “It definitely played a big part in my decision”, said Hoggard after he committed in early October. “All those guys have built a tremendous legacy and I want to be part of that.” Miles Bridges and Cassius Winston have already talked to him and told him what to expect his freshman year at MSU. The latter told him “to put his hard hat on”, something the naturally tough and competitive Hoggard won‘t have a problem with.
A combo guard with a bulldog mentality
Hoggard has spent most of his high school career as a playmaker but can definitely switch to the off ball guard spot at the next level. His biggest strength is clearly his driving ability. Once he puts the ball on the floor and decides to attack the rim there won‘t be many players his age that can even think about keeping him out of the lane. Standing a stocky 6-3 and 215 pounds, Hoggard uses his big frame to his advantage and absorbs contact easily. He understands angles and how to position his body in order to get his shot off in the paint. Though not an explosive athlete per se, he has a vicious first step and fast twitch movement while attacking the rim.
Once he has a step on his opposition he is very creative with a barrage of floaters and step back jumpers. He constantly keeps his dribble alive and shows tremendous ability to naturally use his left hand in the lane, something not many high schoolers can say of themselves. All in all Hoggard is a tough, aggressive power guard with a bulldog mentality who poses immense problems for a defense with his driving ability. That part of his game helps his passing, too. “I love to attack the basket because it opens up the court for my teammates and frees everyone else up”, Hoggard says. His court vision is good and he constantly has his head up looking for teammates.
While his ball handling and driving creativity are already elite, there are numerous parts of his game that need some work, most notably his jumper. His form is good yet it is not consistent enough, as Hoggard will quickly admit. His off ball defense is spotty at best right now and he gets caught ball watching too often. While his thick frame certainly works to his advantage when he drives into the lane, it is clear that Hoggard isn‘t fully developed physically. A year in MSU‘s strength and conditioning program should do wonders for him and even though he will probably never be an above the rim type athlete, turning some body fat into muscle should only help his explosivness.
How do Sissoko and Hoggard fit at MSU?
Sissoko is a natural fit for Michigan State as they looked to add a physical, athletic inside presence that can hold down the center spot against long opponents. Most of their recent big men commits were either a little shorter (Julius Marble), skinnier (Marcus Bingham) or not as athletic (Thomas Kithier, transfer Joey Hauser) but Sissoko will add a true center presence from day one. Hoggard‘s commitment is a more interesting story since MSU already had a commitment from point guard Jalen Terry for 2020. This in addition to Foster Loyer and Rocket Watts already being on the team might hint that Tom Izzo not only sees Hoggard as a combo guard but also looks more toward having multiple ball handlers on the court at the same time. With his size Hoggard could easily defend the two spot next to the smaller Terry or Loyer and MSU won‘t be at too much of a physical disadvantage like there were with some of their former two point guard looks (Korie Lucious & Kalin Lucas or Cassius Winston & Tum Tum Nairn for example). Izzo has commented on the importance of having multiple ball handlers on the floor, a notion that might also be pushed by last year‘s NCAA Championship game. Both champion Virginia (Ty Jerome, Kihei Clark) and runner up Texas Tech (Matt Mooney, Davide Moretti) ran two point guard lineups with great success and loading up on good ball handlers and potential playmakers might be Izzo‘s attempt to react to an upcoming trend early on.
Both Sissoko and Hoggard will also provide a lot of intangibles once they don the green and white jersey. They each excel in the class room and have strong families in their background. Sissoko is an enthusiastic, excitable player who will rub off on others with his work ethic and emotions. Hoggard is seen by many as a natural leader, a player that won‘t shy away from any challenge and who will put a team on his back whenever it is needed. No wonder that Tom Izzo and his staff described both of them as „OKGs“ - our kind of guys. They certainly are now and looking at them you can easily understand why.