East Lansing – As Michigan State gets set to begin one of its most anticipated seasons under coach Tom Izzo, the Spartans took a minute to lock up some key parts to the future.
All five members of the 2018 recruiting class signed their national letters of intent on Wednesday, giving the Spartans a class that ranks No. 10 in the nation, according to 247sports, as well as a No. 2 ranking from Rivals.com
But Izzo wasn’t focused on the rankings. He was more worried about getting the right players.
“Coach (Mark) Dantonio and I have talked about it over the years, you win with people that want to be here, you do not win with rankings,” Izzo said. “You win with performance and I think I had a year or two when I got caught up in the higher recruiting class sometimes. I’ve gotten lucky lately that there’s been some high classes with incredible kids.”
He expects the same from this group, one that has a local feel as four the five are from the state of Michigan.
Leading the local contingent is 6-foot-10 Marcus Bingham of Grand Rapids Catholic Central, the top-ranked player in the state. He’s joined by 6-8 forward Gabe Brown of Belleville, 6-0 point guard Foster Loyer of Clarkston and 6-8 forward Thomas Kithier, also of Clarkston.
Aaron Henry, a 6-5 guard from Ben Davis High in Indianapolis, rounds out the class.
“We had a couple of kids in this state that were dying to be here," Izzo said. "That's what happens when you grow up in a state and you've won. We get a few benefits from 20 straight years in the tournament. Most of these kids grew up with us, and that's helped us some.”
It’s been the norm for Izzo over the years to stay close to home, though there have been times in recent classes when that hasn’t been available as talent in-state has waned in some years. But the Spartans have hit the state hard the last few years, grabbing the top player in each of the last four seasons.
“The talent level in the state has definitely improved,” Izzo said. “They say it’s cyclical but this class and the next class or two have some very good players. So my theory has been to build a fence around the state and that is very, very important. It hasn’t changed since I got here, the only thing that changes is the availability of some of those players.”
Bingham might have the highest upside of the group. A four-star recruit, he’s grown quickly in the last couple of years and at 195 pounds has to get stronger.
"He’s a lot like Jaren Jackson,” Izzo said. “He probably shoots the ball as good as any big guy we’ve had. … He’s a guy that’s kind of in the making. If you look at him on potential, you might say he’s our best player based on potential. He’s got to gain 30 pounds, but the kid has been very well-coached in high school and has great skill to develop into something special.”
Brown and Henry both bring plenty of athleticism, something Izzo is excited about.
For Brown, the focus this season will be coming back from a knee injury that kept him out most of the summer. But Izzo said he’s full-go at this point and shouldn’t be limited at all for his senior season.
As for Henry, the Spartans were in on him late and were impressed with his approach to the game.
“He won a state championship at the best school in the state of Indiana,” Izzo said. “He is a player that we think is multi-skilled and can do a lot of different things. He’s a winner that does a lot of the little things.”
Izzo likened Kithier, the first member of the class, to former Spartan Matt Costello while his high school teammate, Loyer, brings with him a state title and a better than 95 percent free-throw shooting ability.
“Each one brings something different and each one gives us something that will blend in with what we have,” Izzo said. “Foster will start as a great backup to Cassius (Winston), Henry and Brown are great athletes and with Bingham, you have a guy who has incredible potential as long as he keeps getting bigger and stronger.”