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Michigan State Men’s Basketball: the offseason beckons — transfers and roster thread

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-UCLA at Michigan State Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

After flaming-out of the NCAA tournament...

The Michigan State men’s basketball offseason has already begun in earnest. With the bitter-sweet announcement of Jack Hoiberg’s transfer, the exciting arrival of Tyson Walker, Rocket Watts entering the transfer portal after an enigmatic two-year tenure at Michigan State, Thomas Kithier entering the portal, and Foster Loyer also entering the transfer portal, with Aaron Henry declaring for the NBA Draft and Joshua Langford confirming that he is retiring from the game of basketball, there has already been a lot of changes from the 2020-2021 roster. With continued rumblings around the program, and with a transfer portal list a mile-long, Spartan fans can expect more roster movement between now and whenever the roster gets finalized heading into the 2021-22 season.

This is an open thread for folks pining for basketball catharsis (you will not find it here, at least not yet, but keep searching), and a forum to muse, post updates, and speculate.

Please be respectful, please be conscious that many members of the Spartan family read this site, and please be thoughtful. We never want to see Spartans leave the program in any way other than a happy senior day and a legendary run in the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, roster attrition, transfers, and early departures happen all the time in college basketball (and college sports writ large). Celebrate these student-athletes’ contributions, wish them well if they leave, and refrain from unproductive discussion.

Here is the time line for the offseason:

On Wednesday, March 24, Jack Hoiberg entered the transfer portal.

On Saturday, March 27, Michigan State added Northeastern point guard Tyson Walker to the program, via transfer portal.

On Monday, March 29, Rocket Watts entered the transfer portal.

On Monday, April 12, Aaron Henry declared for the NBA draft.

On Tuesday, April 13, Thomas Kithier entered the transfer portal (Valparaiso).

On Monday, April 19, Joshua Langford confirmed his basketball career is over.

Also on Monday, April 19, Foster Loyer entered the transfer portal.

On Friday, April 30, Emoni Bates decommitted from Michigan State.

On Tuesday, July 20, Jason Whitens (WMU) and Michael Peterson (Ferris State) transferred to Michigan State as a preferred walk-ons.

On Saturday, August 7, Tre Holloman (2022) committed to Michigan State.

I (Sam) will offer my own thoughts on the season (my epic misreading of it, among them), the offseason, and the season to come in the next week or so. For now, I will make a few observations that I will update as developments occur:

  • I do not expect any more transfers to join Jack Hoiberg, Rocket Watts, Thomas Kithier, and Foster Loyer in the portal. These are bitter-sweet, but likely good moves for both the players and the program (I do not believe transfers are zero-sum games in most cases).
  • The staff has to make sure that some of the guys do stay on the team for the coming season — guys who were frustrated, disgruntled, or did not play up to their standards — among this group I would include (as core players on next season’s team): Marcus Bingham Jr., Gabe Brown, Malik Hall, Mady Sissoko, and A.J. Hoggard. These five guys appear to unequivocally be in-line to play huge and impactful roles on the team next season, so the staff needs to communicate that to them and their families. The other players on the team probably all need to have serious, open, and honest conversations with the staff to make sure that everyone moves forward on the same page regardless of the outcome.
  • The staff is bringing in three true freshmen — Max Christie, Jaden Akins, and Pierre Brooks II— and I do not expect to see any other unsigned high school recruits to join that trio.
  • I did not expect Bates to reclassify and play at Michigan State heading into the off-season, and I was increasingly skeptical that we would ever see him in Green and White. Now, with him re-opening his recruitment (and potential professional options), that suspicion has been confirmed. Bates remains a really exciting prospect with deep range on his jump-shot and the confidence of a future star.
  • The staff has finalized the 2021-22 roster with the additions of two preferred walk-ons—Whitens and Peterson—neither of whom figure to play a ton. Whitens is a solid player with a solid shooting and defensive track-record at WMU and Peterson is a veteran wing who can move the ball and play smart team-ball. Both should be excellent additions to the scout team with Whitens serving as a deep reserve along with Keon Coleman (should he follow through on joining the team after football season).

Tom Izzo and the staff appear to have finalized the roster for this coming season and have begun to build the 2022 recruiting class with Tre Holloman.

Michigan State players transferring out of the program (4):

  • Jack Hoiberg, (5’11” guard). Hoiberg joined the Michigan State program as a walk-on. Son of current Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg, Jack worked his way into a heck of a little player who, if not for some physical limitations, might have played even more minutes than he did for Tom Izzo. Over three seasons, Hoiberg saw action in 41 games, including one start (at Nebraska in the 2019-20 season), scoring 36 points in his Spartan career and amassing a terrific 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio (20 assists, 10 turnovers). Izzo and the staff will be working hard to get Jack to the best spot for him, and, depending on the team and conference he lands in, Hoiberg has a real chance to produce solid numbers as a senior. Jack can really play, is widely regarded as one of the most consistent and diligent workers on the team, and is a wonderful person. Jack will always be a Spartan, and we wish him the best in his next chapter!

Update: Hoiberg will join the University of Texas-Arlington and compete in the Sun Belt.

  • Rocket Watts, (6’0” guard). Rocket joined Michigan State as a highly-rated guard, with great expectations. Known for his ball-handling, scoring instincts, quick first step, and professed interest in becoming a tough-nosed defender, Rocket was expected to play alongside Cassius Winston as a freshman before taking over point guard duties later in his career as he likely needed to at least demonstrate the ability to lead a team to boost his NBA-stock.

His freshman season got off to a rocky start and it became apparent that Rocket had a lower-leg injury, which ended up keeping him out of the line-up for a few games. Once Rocket returned, he got increasingly comfortable in conference play to the point where, down the stretch of the regular season he looked absolutely primed for a starring turn in March and beyond. The abrupt end to the season denied Spartan fans what would have likely been a deep tournament run, and denied Watts the chance to further cement his confidence and place in the team. Heading into the summer the staff and Rocket agreed to shift him to the point with the expectation that while he might struggle somewhat to adjust to the positional demands that he could still provide the improved scoring efficiency and stout defense that he showcased in the closing stages of his freshman campaign.

Unfortunately, for all parties, Watts struggled tremendously this season, particularly on the defensive end. His scoring game sputtered somewhat, he played hesitantly on the offensive end, and he failed to get the team into sets or to really facilitate the offense despite finding his teammates for a decent number of assists in most outings. Rocket’s defensive struggles hurt most of all; as the staff struggled to justify playing him consistent minutes, they turned to Foster Loyer and A.J. Hoggard alternatively, neither of whom were up to the task sufficiently. Ultimately, Izzo and the staff decided to roll with Watts, and it just never quite clicked. Despite the frustrations of the season, Rocket’s talent remains undeniable: he helped solidify huge wins at Duke, versus Detroit, versus Rutgers, versus Illinois, and saved his best for last — a dominant inspirational performance against Michigan to secure Michigan State’s 23rd consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.

Over his two seasons, Rocket averaged 8.4 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game.

It is sad to consider the likely departure of Watts from the program, but it is apparent that he feels he needs a “reset” on his college career. Rocket always cared, he always tried his best, and he always wanted to win; it is a shame that he never quite got on track this year, but it is also clear that he has the tools and desire to be successful. This is a clear case of a transfer likely being in the best interest of both parties, and I know that the Michigan State community, the staff, and his teammates will wish Rocket, a Spartan for life, nothing but the best in his future endeavors. Rocket will always be a Spartan!

Update: Watts is transferring to Mississippi State and will compete in the SEC

  • Thomas Kithier (6’8” (forward/center). Kithier started 14 games as a junior for Michigan State, but fell out of the rotation toward the end of the 2020-2021 season. Kithier was a hustler, always giving 100 percent effort, and had a knack for getting open under the basket. He played an integral role as a freshman in the home win over Ohio State (the game Nick Ward broke his hand), and had solid performances in plenty of other important wins in his three seasons. However, his lack of athleticism and development limited his role. That he was never able to reach double figures scoring against a high major opponent indicates that he may find a bit more confidence and a better fit in a conference with a different caliber of athlete. Thomas will always be a Spartan.

Update: Kithier is headed to Valparaiso University in Indiana, and will compete in the Missouri Valley Conference.

  • Foster Loyer, (6’0” guard). Loyer, a former Michigan Mr. Basketball award winner, never quite panned out at Michigan State, but he was absolutely a leader (his teammates voted him as captain) and much like Kithier, he was always all effort and willing to do the dirty work like taking charges. Unfortunately, the Big Ten may have just been too physical of a conference for Loyer at 6-foot-even, 175 pounds. After backing up Cassius Winston for two years, Loyer started seven games as a junior, but inconsistent play and an eventual shoulder injury ended Loyer’s season abruptly. Loyer can shoot the ball and lead a team, but his size and lack of athleticism ultimately placed a hard ceiling on his contributions on the court at Michigan State. His on-court leadership and off-court leadership and work ethic are widely lauded by his coaches and teammates. Loyer averaged 4.2 points, 2.3 assists and 1.6 assists per game as a junior, but, like the rest of the young men who have transferred from the program this summer, Loyer should find a level of competition that suits his game and with some added confidence will doubtless have a positive impact on his next team. Foster will always be a Spartan.

Update: Loyer is headed to Davidson College in North Carolina, and will compete in the Atlantic-10 Conference.

Transfer portal players coming to Michigan State (3):

Walk-ons Transfers:

Note on walk-ons: In addition to Peterson and Whitens, Michigan State is expected to add three freshmen walk-ons: Keon Coleman and Maliq Carr (Carr played three games for Purdue football last season) from the Michigan State football program, as well as Peter Nwoke. Steven Izzo and Davis Smith are also expected to return, giving MSU a potential of seven walk-on players and 11 scholarship players. Whether or not all of these players actually end up on the roster — especially Coleman and Carr — remains to be seen.

Players graduating or entering NBA Draft (2):

  • Joshua Langford, guard: 6’5,” averaged 28.0 minutes, 9.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.6 steals per in 2020-2021, and 10.1 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game throughout his career (110 games).
  • Aaron Henry, guard/forward: 6’6,” averaged 32.5 minutes 15.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.3 steals in 2020-2021, and 10.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 0.9 steals per game for his career.

This post will be updated as more news comes in.

Go Green!!!