As Ryan O’Bleness noted in his initial announcement piece, Tre Holloman became the first actual committed member of the 2022 men’s basketball recruiting class for Michigan State, ultimately choosing Tom Izzo and the Spartans over other finalists Minnesota, Marquette and Oklahoma State. Spartans fans who may greet this news with some perplexity — a fourth lead guard on the roster for the 2022-23 season? — should ramp up their excitement post-haste. If all goes to plan, Holloman is going to be an amazing Spartan and he can really play.
But let me delve into this claim a bit more. In my last recruiting update, back in June, I discussed Izzo’s clear shift in recruiting strategy from the last few cycles back to his emphasis on dual-point guard lineups. In that discussion, I clarified the value from a roster-building perspective and from an on-court strategic and tactical perspective.
In short, having two to three point guards in development at all times guarantees that Izzo will never again have a dearth of quality play at that position in the way that we saw last season. It also ensures that the team always has at least two perimeter shot-creators on the court at any time — this has become an NBA credo in the last decade, and Izzo, himself, has modeled this strategy to great effect for two decades (beginning with the Mateen Cleaves-Charlie Bell back-court). The only reason he got away from dual-lead-guard lineups was because Cassius Winston’s superlative talent demanded as much of a high-usage role as he could handle, and, at times, even more than he could handle.
I doubt we ever see another player match Winston’s usage on an Izzo team for the rest of his tenure — having a big-two or a big-three on the perimeter is simply a better winning strategy and broadens the win-condition options in any given one-and-done scenario. With four lead guards on the roster, Izzo can always have two lead guards on the court if he so chooses in addition to any bigger wings, forwards, or even bigs that have perimeter shot-creation ability (think of Jaren Jackson Jr. or Miles Bridges, for example). But why add this lead guard to the roster? Why did Izzo only ever recruit one point guard for this class?
What makes Tre Holloman special:
Let me count the ways...to begin with, Holloman has the physical profile of not only a high-major point guard, but even for an NBA lead guard. Holloman, at about 6-feet-2-inches, is not overly tall, or physically built, nor is he exceedingly quick. But he does have two essential qualities for a high-performing lead guard: he is long and he can change pace terrifically.
Holloman appears to have a wingspan that I would estimate to be between plus-three and plus-five inches. If he falls squarely into the middle, at a plus-four inch wingspan, that would give him nearly identical length measurements to a certain NBA guard who will be my top stylistic comparison for Holloman: Jrue Holiday of the Milwaukee Bucks. But let me first return to his change-of-pace.
Holloman does not have blazing end-to-end speed, but he has a quick first step, and, just as importantly for a lead guard, he has terrific deceleration. Holloman can stop on a dime, maintain his balance exceedingly well, and can change directions or speed back up immediately. This vital ability allows him to shed defenders and helps him control the pace of any single offensive sequence when he handles the ball.
Holloman’s length, agility and core-strength also benefit him tremendously on the defensive end, where he has become adept at picking the pocket of ball-handlers without excessive gambling or reaching — he can sit in his stance, keep an arm extended without becoming unbalanced, and can harass a dribbler. Even when he does not steal the ball he makes his man think about his dribble and not the pass or action that is supposed to be run.
For his own part, Holloman proves unbothered by ball-pressure precisely because of his excellent handle, terrific core-strength that allows him to sit down in his cross-over and long-arms, which allow him to handle the ball behind his back, away from his defender with either hand, and, therefore, to maximize his acceleration and deceleration ability. The impact of this, in contrast to his oft-frustrated opponents, is that Tre Holloman always has his head up. This is one of the most promising traits you can find in a point-guard — and one that truly does evoke not only Holiday, but also Winston. Holloman has the ball on a string, knows where his teammates are, and can pass the ball off the live-dribble, with either hand, at the highest level.
As a passer, Holloman will at times evoke Winston with his terrific vision, passing touch (Holloman is actually a better lob-passer than Winston) and creative angle generation off of the dribble. As a finisher around the basket, his length and core strength help him adjust to body bumps, but, unlike Winston, he still has work to do on his perimeter scoring game. Simply put, his three-point stroke, and jump-shot in general, need more reps. Holloman’s shooting form is fine enough (a little quirky, largely due to his longer arms, which means it will never be a picture-perfect, compact stroke), but beyond getting more reps, his shot preparation needs to improve: particularly in his hands, where tends to catch the ball with a stiff-wrist and then snap his wrist back in a bit of an abrupt motion after his dip, which can affect his follow-through consistency at times off the dribble. While I have some small critiques about his shooting, Holloman should be a solid shooter as soon as he steps on campus — as I said, I believe he just needs repetitions for consistency. In fact, he has taken significant strides as a shooter in just the last year, which provides some indication of his dedication to his craft.
Holloman, like all young players, still has a number of other facets of his game to improve on both ends of the court — he has to improve his on-ball and off-ball consistency on defense, as well as his ability to shoot off of movement off-ball — and while he must continue to build out his physique, which will help him add a bit of explosiveness, there are some near-complete aspects of his game, and they are some of the most important ones.
Firstly, Holloman’s basketball instincts are terrific. He has a knack for the sport (very reminiscent of Winston, again): how and when to pass, attack, assert himself, and pressure the opposition. Relatedly, his understanding of pacing and general command of the offensive flow of a game is also quite strong.
Secondly, Holloman’s self-belief and confidence bodes very well for his future on the court. This is a kid who believes in himself, has a Spartan-sized chip on his shoulder (as he should: the fact that other bigger programs didn’t get involved in his recruitment was quite odd to me), and knows that he not only belongs, but also demands to be taken seriously. Holloman has found success at every youth event that he has participated in, and simply does not play on losing teams.
Finally, Holloman is a gritty and tough-minded competitor. As a dual-sport athlete (Ryan mentioned his football acumen in the initial commitment piece), Holloman has the mental toughness to handle contact, and aggressively attack at all times. His competitiveness shines through every time you watch him, even as other players may have smoother or more aesthetically traditional games. Holloman just pursues winning with a doggedness that he wears on his sleeve.
I mentioned Jrue Holiday earlier, and I want to return to that comparison. Holiday, who is 6-foot-3-inches with a plus-four wingspan, most recently won an Olympic gold-medal and NBA championship with Team USA and the Milwaukee Bucks, respectively, and though that comparison may seem outlandish on its face, I am very serious about it. Obviously, Holloman has a long way to go to actually get to Holiday’s level, but it is easy to see that trajectory playing out.
As a high school player, Holiday was an excellent point guard with scoring instincts, dogged defense, and a calm competitive and killer instinct. He played a single season at UCLA where he averaged eight points, nearly four rebounds, nearly four assists, and two “stocks” (steals plus blocks) per game as a freshman guard on a team led by seniors Darren Collison and Josh Shipp. It was a striking season, though not an other-worldly one.
While I am not sure that Holloman will even have an opportunity to put up such numbers as a freshman (Holiday played 27 minutes per game), I expect him to grow into a player that similarly impacts every part of each game for the Spartans. Take a look at some grainy highlights of Holiday from that 2008-09 season.
As with Holiday, here, Holloman has poise, length, an elongated, but pretty effective stroke, and a level of savvy, instinctual play that belies his youth. Pair him with some other high-level defenders, ball-handlers, and shooters, and this kid will make other teams’ lives miserable. The thought of lineups with AJ Hoggard, Jaden Akins and Holloman all on the perimeter (against smaller, guard-heavy teams that have given the Spartans trouble in some recent years) would terrify me as an opposing coach — that is a defensive trio that simply will not get scored on often by guards and wings.
I also brought up Cassius Winston when discussing Holloman’s instincts and passing ability, and I do not think the comparison is hubristic. Holloman is a better athlete, and will step on campus with a better physique than Winston had (possibly even as effective a physique as Winston had even as an upperclassman). But neither Winston or Holloman are great athletes; rather, their intelligence, feel for the game, instincts, and competitive fire help them see the game differently and impact the game in subtle and dramatic ways that explosive athletes simply cannot — the sport is about the ball itself, not necessarily about what you do with your body. Always remember that, in basketball, athleticism is purely instrumental — ball-skills, ball-handling, shooting and passing are the intrinsically valuable traits and skills.
It will be fascinating to see how the depth chart shapes up for the 2022-2023 season because there are a ton of variations still on the table. One thing we know for certain, however, is that Izzo is done recruiting lead guards for the class of 2022 cycle and he can turn his focus to wings, forwards and bigs.
Depth chart update and implications:
After this season, Joey Hauser, Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham Jr. will all (likely) move on to play professional basketball in some domestic or foreign league — make no mistake all three have professional skills and will earn a lot of money playing basketball if they choose to pursue the sport professionally. My guess is that Brown and Bingham will have strong chances to end the season on NBA radars to some degree.
The big question, then, is Max Christie. I view Christie as a pretty-sure lock to get drafted in the 2022 NBA Draft, if he decides to only spend one year in college ball. But Christie is the kind of kid, like Gary Harris and Miles Bridges before him, who may ultimately decide to come back for a second year in the Green and White. Barring attrition via transfer, which I do not expect, there are two main scenarios, then, as the roster stands right now:
(Note: I am not including the walk-on transfers or the potential dual-sport guys outside of Holloman in this depth-chart discussion.)
Max Christie does not return in 2022-2023:
1 - AJ Hoggard, Tyson Walker
2 - Jaden Akins, Tre Holloman
3 - Pierre Brooks II
4 - Malik Hall
5 - Mady Sissoko, Julius Marble
In this scenario, the team would return eight high-level college players, including five upperclassmen. The team would have at least four good-to-great three-point shooters, four shot-creators, and at least four or five excellent defenders with Sissoko as the primary rim-protecting big.
The concerns would be the lack of depth at the forward positions, and the need for at least one more big man, with a reasonable argument to be made for adding both a graduate transfer and a developmental big man, who could even redshirt.
Max Christie does return in 2022-2023:
1 - AJ Hoggard, Tyson Walker
2 - Jaden Akins, Tre Holloman
3 - Max Christie, Pierre Brooks II
4 - Malik Hall
5 - Mady Sissoko, Julius Marble
If Christie does return, the ceiling for the team would be shockingly high — Christie would likely be on preseason All-America lists, and would provide the team with another lights-out shooter, shot-creator, distributor and a longer body on the wing, defensively.
The needs in the front-court would still remain, and you can bet that graduate transfers would view Michigan State as an excellent opportunity for a high-profile role on a championship-level team.
Regardless of Christie’s decision, Izzo clearly needs to address the front-court and to find some successors for both shooting and defensive roles on the wings and at the forward position.
The targets for this class remain the same, largely, with one key addition.
- Isaac Traudt (6’9” forward from Nebraska) has maintained and even improved his sterling reputation as one of the best shooting forwards in the class. Traudt’s recruitment appears to be a battle between Michigan State, Virginia, Creighton and Gonzaga, with Kansas and Texas appearing ready to make late attempts to get into the picture. All three of those competitor schools have things to offer Traudt, but Michigan State will, in all likelihood, be the team best-poised to make a run at a national title. UVA and Creighton are in the midst of mini-rebuilds, and Gonzaga will lose all of its upperclassmen and program culture-setters after this coming season before something of a mini-rebuild of its own starting in 2022. I feel good about Izzo’s chances here given Traudt’s positional versatility and shooting ability that will allow Izzo to utilize him in many of the same ways he did with Jaren Jackson Jr.
- Jaden Schutt (6’5” shooting guard from Illinois), whose stock has absolutely exploded this summer after winning the Under Armor Association AAU league tournament title with his club, the Illinois Wolves, remains a plan-A recruit. Izzo has been recruiting Schutt for a long time as a terrific shooter, with a solid frame, good athleticism, and ball-handling and passing upside. The challenge now is that Duke, Florida and Gonzaga have all begun to recruit Schutt. I do not know how this recruitment will turn out, but I do know that Schutt, Traudt and Holloman are all familiar with each other and with each other’s games. In fact, Schutt and Traudt both took their official visits to East Lansing together, and all three were participants at the ultra-elite NBPA top-100 camp in Orlando, Florida in the last week of July. With all of the big names involved in Schutt’s recruitment, Izzo has spent the longest time recruiting him (before he “blew up”) and has the inside track on having the best relationship with him, which often proves decisive. Will that be enough to keep him away from the lure of schools like Duke or Gonzaga? Only time will tell.
- Ty Rodgers (6’6” forward from Michigan) and Tom Izzo have continued their will-they-won’t-they dance in the past two months, with Izzo beginning to turn up the heat as Rodgers had a terrific July at the Peach Jam Nike AAU tournament. Rodgers’ defense remains near the top of the class, and his ability to make glue-plays, get important rebounds, steals, and blocks, and to finish terrifically in traffic, should keep him right at the top of Tom Izzo’s wish-list. The fit with player and program is near-perfect, and he and Malik Hall would form a dynamic duo as smaller-forwards that stitch play together on both ends. But the fact that Rodgers has remained so elusive for Michigan State maybe indicates that he wants to head elsewhere. In some ways, Rodgers recruitment may evoke Draymond Green’s — Izzo somewhat slow-played recruiting Green, who committed to Kentucky before de-committing from the Wildcats after Tubby Smith left for Minnesota, and then ultimately becoming a legend in East Lansing, after a raucous and bombastic set of calls and visits with Izzo — but to land this talented player in Rodgers, Izzo will have to beat out Alabama, Michigan, Texas A&M and Connecticut.
- Braden Huff (6’9” big from Illinois), a teammate of Schutt’s on the Illinois Wolves, is a new face in the recruiting cycle. A smaller big, whose game is predicated on technical skill, ball-handling, perimeter shooting skill, and advanced post-moves and footwork. Huff is not an explosive athlete, nor does he possess prototypical size, length, or a chiseled physique. But Huff is a heady offensive player and a solid defender whose intelligence, nuance, and technical skill shines through in every game. The real weapons to highlight are his ball-handling, passing, and his sweet lefty stroke that stretches comfortably beyond the three-point arc. These are legitimate perimeter-player skills that he has and that ensure match-up problems for traditional bigs he faces. The top-100 big is being recruited by most of the Big Ten, with Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa as the biggest concerns at this point. Huff would really fit nicely as a stretch-big who can play at the forward spot or at center depending on lineups.
(Note: these are the names that the staff is currently prioritizing — it appears that the Kijani Wright recruitment has stalled out a bit, for example)
Tre Holloman’s commitment has jump-started this class, and he will now be ready and able to help with the recruitments of his fellow 2022 prospects, while continuing to improve his game before getting on campus. Recruiting has a kind of momentum to it, as we all know, so we can hope that more of these young men decide to end their recruitments before their senior seasons so that they do not have to worry about the decision heading into the spring—a nd hopefully they find their way to East Lansing.