That is a new one, I know...
Seriously, the fans of the Michigan State Spartans basketball team didn‘t really need another reason to be thankful for having one of the classiest, most successful and most sympathetic coaching staffs in the entire nation. Yet we got one with the commitment of a certain fellow named Emoni Bates at the beginning of the week. In case you haven‘t heard, he is a pretty good basketball player. Like, really freaking good. A generational talent. But him choosing Michigan State as his preferred college destination isn‘t just about him transforming the program for whatever short time he dons the Spartans jersey and comes out of the players tunnel at the Breslin Center. It is a testament to the work that Tom Izzo and his coaches have put in for well over 20 years now and it is finally the big prize they have forever earned but so many times missed out on in the past.
We all know the names that have spurned Izzo and the Spartans, the ones that left coaches and fans wondering how great and how national the program and the brand really are. We know the story of Jabari Parker, of Cliff Alexander, of Jahlil Okafor and Tyler Ulis and Vernon Carey and of course way back Chris Webber. Especially in recent years the Spartans felt like being in good position with so many bluechip prospects and stood knocking on the door of the other blue bloods constantly. Yet in recruiting they often were reminded that they might not entirely belong with the Dukes and Kentuckys of the world (which in a weird kind of way, can also be described as a good thing). And knowing how Tom Izzo and his men approach their entire profession, how much heart and soul they pour into it every day, how much the kids really mean to them and how deeply they would love to add them to their family, you couldn‘t help but feel a bit sorry every once in a while that all of that didn‘t seem to be enough for the really great players. Well, no need to be sorry, probably the greatest since LeBron is coming to town.
It will certainly bring a huge smile to Tom Izzo‘s face and of course his fellow assistants will join in. Dwyane Stephens and Dane Fife have long been considered juggernauts on the recruiting trail and Mike Garland is considered by many to have been one of the keys behind the Bates commitment with his legendary status in the Belleville and Ypsilanti area. To understand how frustrating the recruiting world can be we just have to remind ourselves of all the work these guys are putting in here all day every day. It‘s not like back in the day when former Spartans coach Gus Ganakas just took in Greg Kelser based on hearsay and without ever seeing him play in high school. Today coaches have to be on top of the AAU circuit, summer tournaments, the high school year, international play and much more. They got to show themselves early and often, many times even years before they can even think of offering someone a scholarship (the first contact with the Bates family was in seventh grade). Social media, TV attention and an ever rising interest in the young stars of tomorrow haven‘t made it easier either. Izzo probably needs two additional phones for all the messages he shares with potential recruits.
He has been the MSU head man for 25 years now and in every class he and his assistants seriously contact well over twenty kids, they offer maybe ten. Every one of these players and their parents is entertained on visits, has to be scouted, talked to on the phone and so much other stuff beyond what we can even imagine considering that this kid‘s and ultimately the program‘s future is on the line. Think of how many messages, phone calls, deep conversations, meetings and so on Izzo had over the last 25 years. Think of how he must have felt during many of these, with him being a rather emotional and hearty fellow. Then sit back and enjoy it maybe a bit more that he can now call Emoni Bates his program‘s recruit.
There are so many other factors that come into play like the family atmosphere at MSU, the culture, the values everyone around the team shares. All things that the Spartans coaches have built for a quarter of a century. Things that the Bates family identified as real and plenty good enough to make it part of their journey to stardom for Emoni. It‘s so much more than a commitment for the green and white, that‘s for sure.
In Western Scotland there is a narrow mountain pass that is called “Rest and be thankful,“ a really beautiful place with a view to die for. Better words can‘t describe what all MSU fans should feel right now. Not only for the commitment of Emoni Bates but even moreso for the tremendous coaching staff they can call their own and that makes this program everything that it is today.
It proved to be plenty good enough for a generational basketball prospect...