Tom Izzo has seen a lot in his time as the Men‘s basketball coach at Michigan State University, way more than all the championships he has amassed and what might be recognized at the surface. He has dealt with and affected thousands of human beings, he has traveled around the world, has held his head high through dire times, has lived the highest of highs imaginable… yes, he probably has experienced more over the course of his career than most other coaches ever will, both on a professional and on an emotional level. Yet not surprisingly, with the coronavirus pandemic affecting millions and millions of lives all across the globe, the current situation in college basketball is certainly a first for the Hall Of Famer as well.
He wouldn‘t be where he is today though if he wouldn‘t try to make the best out of the circumstances and invest heavy time on the recruiting trail these days. Well, technically he is not on the road of course but he certainly is trying to make things match in regards to the Spartans‘ future personnel. As perfectly covered by Sam yesterday, the Spartans have found their first basketball commit for 2021 in four-star wing Pierre Brooks II from Detroit Douglass. With him as the starting point that recruiting class is off and running and it might just be another year where Tom Izzo puts together a special group that can carry the program for years to come.
Their overall plan seems to be proof once more that the Spartans have adjusted their strategy when it comes to the best high school players in the land. Mike Garland already pointed that out last winter. “What we‘ve done is we have gone back to recruiting like we used to – going back to who we are,” the popular assistant coach said. “We were trying to get those high, high-level guys, top ten tier guys. Are they really our kind of people? We‘ve got a saying: OKG – our kind of guy. That‘s what most of our kids are, they are our kind of guys. They‘ve got a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. They may not be the five star, one-and-done-type guys. But they can be that, with coaching and discipline. And they know it. And invariably, what has been happening is our kids, even though our kids come in here a little lower rated, they’re coming in here and bypassing those guys.”
While every recruitment and every player is different and while MSU would surely not reject a high level player (like for example a generational talent like Emoni Bates, if he chooses to reclassify and pick the Spartans in 2021, something that cannot be ruled out yet), Garland‘s words perfectly describe the way Michigan State has built the base for their success in the past and will continue to do so in the future. With all that in mind, let‘s take a look at the names that the Spartans have identified as potential OKGs for 2021. First there are some promising in state kids who happen to have a lot of ties to Pierre Brooks:
Jaden Akins (6-4, 180 lbs, Combo Guard, Farmington HS, Michigan)
Many people consider Akins to be one of the fastest rising prospects in the nation right now and whoever has seen him explode for a dunk in traffic knows why. You just can‘t teach the combination of size, athleticism and tempo that he possesses. The lefty can really jump out of the gym, is a very dynamic player and can cover a lot of ground with ease. When in the paint he can finish with either hand comfortably. His shot has improved a great deal from when he was younger and is slowly but surely becoming a weapon. Already a strong defender, his wingspan and foot speed give him even more potential on that side of the ball. Point guard skills, decision making and overall balance need some work but it seems as if he is absolutely on the right track.
Michigan State has offered him a scholarship in August 2019, which already had a lasting impact on Akins. “It was a dream come true,” the young guard said. “I‘ve been watching them for a long time and seeing all the great players come from MSU and having an opportunity to play there is a blessing.” Sounds pretty good, doesn‘t it? Interestingly he just had a virtual visit on Tuesday with the Spartans, one day before Brooks committed. Michigan, Xavier and Iowa among others have also shown a lot of interest in him.
Kobe Bufkin (6-4, 180 lbs, Shooting Guard, Grand Rapids Christian HS, Michigan)
Kobe Bufkin does remind quite a few people of former Spartan great Gary Harris, they even seem to look a little bit alike. More importantly though Bufkin could also have a lasting impact on the court in East Lansing, just like the Denver Nuggets star had from 2012 to 2014. Bufkin is really skinny but he packs a punch that you wouldn‘t expect from a lanky player like him. He drives into the paint fearlessly, is explosive at attacking the rim and he can finish through contact. His handle is tight and very much advanced for a non-point guard. The left handed guard loves to set up his drives with a dangerous jumper from the outside. An all state selection as a junior, he gets very creative at finding lanes in between defenders and knows how to use his long wingspan to his advantage. His long limps also help him on defense where he can be real pest for the opponent. Obviously he needs to add a lot of weight but MSU has a history of helping kids transform their bodies.
The Spartans offered Bufkin on the same day they extended their offer to Jaden Akins. He is also being recruited by DePaul, VCU, Northwestern and TCU apparently. He has played EYBL with both Jaden Akins and Pierre Brooks.
Beside Bufkin and Akins, Michigan State is also involved with two highly rated prospects who don‘t hail from the Great Lakes State:
Max Christie (6-6, 175 lbs, Shooting Guard, Rolling Meadows HS, Illinois)
Christie is a top 15 talent nationally in his class and rightfully so. He is a deadeye shooter who can get his jumper off basically whenever he wants due to his 6-foot-6 height and impressive wingspan. His shooting motion comes very easy and smooth, the base for his jumper is phenomenal. Christie can play on the ball as well as he moves fluidly around the court despite his lanky frame. His finishing inside is solid and he can go up over defenders. Overall a lot of Christie‘s game seems very natural and effortless. He possesses great balance, understands angles and situations plus he has a true scorer‘s mentality. Christie needs to add a lot of weight but his upside is pretty impressive considering how good he already is without nearly enough muscle to fill out his frame.
Unfortunately for MSU, Duke is involved in the recruitment with Christie and those decisions haven‘t gone well for Sparty in the past (especially considering that Christie is also from Chicago). He has alluded though that Duke has a different style than other schools, having Coach K not talk to him all that much and basically just staying in contact. Michigan State has been his only official visit and he said he “had a great time.” In the long run that means nothing of course and we‘ll see where he goes. Christie has said he wants to make a decision before the upcoming high school season, other big name programs who recruit him are Villanova, Virginia, Florida and basically half of the Big Ten.
Charles Bediako (6-11, 220 lbs, Power Forward/Center, Andrews Osborne Academy, Ohio)
On the surface Bediako doesn‘t seem like a “typical” recruiting target for Michigan State, even though some services rank him lower than Christie. The tall and ultra athletic Canadian looks more like a classic high end prospect that ends up at Kentucky, Kansas or Duke (only the Blue Devils have offered him out of those three). Being fairly raw at the beginning of his high school career his career trajectory has been nothing but up recently. His huge wingspan, his fluid movement and the next level athleticism already make him an NBA prospect, the fact that he starts to show perimeter skills at his size further underline that notion. Bediako is still far from a finished product, but that also makes him so interesting going forward. He possesses tremendous upside as a shot blocker and might already be a daunting matchup problem once he enters college.
A lot of schools are after Bediako‘s services after he had a strong showing at the FIBA U19 World Cup for Canada. He hasn‘t ruled out reclassifying to 2020 but there‘s nothing imminent on that front yet. Maryland, Louisville and Illinois have extended offers to him among others but some big time programs could follow soon.
Outside of the above mentioned names, Michigan State is apparently scouting combo guard Jalen Hardy out of Nevada and shooting guard Malaki Branham from Ohio. Both seem like long shots as of now, just like some of the low level players that are listed as potential MSU targets on certain sites. The upcoming couple of years will be very interesting nonetheless in regards to recruiting and roster construction. The NCAA is deciding about a one-time transfer waiver on May 20th which many people consider likely to pass and jump start an unprecedented run on college players from around the nation. On top of that there is still the possibility of things changing in regard to the one and done rule in the near future, even though there isn‘t anything set in stone yet.
It certainly feels good for Michigan State to have an experienced head man like Tom Izzo steering the ship through those uncharted waters laying ahead. In the end, he has seen almost everything…