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MSU's Loyer eager to prove, once again, he belongs

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Michigan State freshman Foster Loyer (1) has thrived as a playmaker in the Moneyball Pro-Am.

Dimondale, Mich. — Foster Loyer understands the big cheers won’t likely be coming for him over the next few weeks.

Those are usually saved for the high-flyers who produce windmill dunks while soaring through the air to the delight of the crowd during the Moneyball Pro-Am, a summer league of college and professional players now in its 15th season.

From the end of June to early August, three games a night are played twice a week at Aim High Sports in Dimondale, just west of Lansing. Each of the six teams features two current Michigan State players, the clear draw for the fans that crowd around Court Five.

There’s always buzz about the freshmen as fans are offered their first real glimpse of the newcomers. That excitement was higher the last two years with the likes of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. playing, and though it’s not quite the same this year, the interest has hardly waned.

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This summer, the athleticism of Gabe Brown and Aaron Henry has been impressive while the intrigue over 6-foot-11 Marcus Bingham Jr. has been high.

For Loyer, though, Moneyball is more of a warm-up for his first season at Michigan State. For a point guard that is listed generously at 6-foot, there are few chances to create oohs and ahhs.

“I’m not gonna win any layup lines,” Loyer said on Tuesday. “I’ve learned that pretty quickly.”

It’s nothing new for Loyer, the son of former college and NBA coach John Loyer. He has spent most of his days on the court quickly changing any preconceived notion of what sort of game he plays.

“At just about every level I’ve played at — the Peach Jam, any high school level, any tournament — wherever I’m at I’ve shown I belong and shown I can thrive in the situation,” Loyer said. “College is a big step. It’s not AAU. It’s not high school. I’ve learned that, but at the same time I’m expecting to go out there, play my game and help my team.”

Foster Loyer led Clarkston to back-to-back Class A state titles and finished his high school career with 2,323 points.

He’s done plenty of that at the high school level, leading Clarkston to back-to-back Class A state championships while being named Mr. Basketball as a senior. He scored 42 points in a semifinal victory over Warren De La Salle before pouring in 40 in the state title game win over Holland West Ottawa.

Loyer capped his prep career with 2,323 points, good for 11th all-time in MHSAA history.

It’s the sort of production that intrigued Tom Izzo and his staff and had them brushing aside any concerns about Loyer’s size. Instead, the Spartans focused on his production and were happy to lock up a player from the state who happened to be the son of a coach, something Izzo loves.

“You know, certain programs don’t like small guards,” Izzo said when Loyer signed. “Certain people like certain things. I don’t really care. He committed to us pretty early also, so that negates some of the recruiting attention you get. Some of these kids wait until the last second.

“I just know this — as a student and as a player, and back to the Jud Heathcote theory as a coach’s son — his dad coached in the NBA and in college — I feel very fortunate with what we got and I wouldn’t trade him.”

How Loyer fits in when the Spartans take the court in November will be figured out over the next few months. He’s a point guard who has relished the role as a playmaker during Moneyball, a trait that will no doubt earn him early playing time for Michigan State.

But Loyer is a scorer, too, which creates all sorts of interesting possibilities, including he and junior Cassius Winston playing together.

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“They can definitely play side by side just because Cash loves to score the ball, so he can slide over to the two and be a scorer for us,” sophomore Xavier Tillman said. “Foster is a great point guard, especially off the pick and roll, so I think they can play together.”

Loyer said the possibility has been discussed and he and Winston have played together some during the limited practices teams are allowed to have during the summer.

But Loyer also understands something it took Winston a while to figure out — he has to defend if he expects to play. That’s true everywhere, but especially at Michigan State and that’s where Loyer’s size could truly come into play.

“Me and Cassius have to guard,” Loyer said. “That side of the floor we have to take care of first.”

To that end, Loyer said a lot of his offseason focus has been on building strength while also spending more time watching film to get a better understanding of how to be a solid defender.

“I’ve been coming up to MSU games for a while, so it wasn’t new to me. It wasn’t a surprise,” Loyer said of the focus on defense. “The first time I get blown by in practice I get taken out. I expect that. I know that. … I just think it’s a learning process. Guys like Josh (Langford) and Matt McQuaid, who are great defenders, are continuing to talk to me about it and continuing to try and help me out.”

And when Loyer has problems on the defensive end, he hears about it from a coach who’s never afraid to get after his players. It turns out that’s exactly what Loyer wants.

“I came to MSU and that’s how expected to be coached,” Loyer said. “I expected the in your face. It’s something I wasn’t naïve to. I think (Izzo) does a great job during the recruiting process. He’s not lying to anybody. Everyone that comes here knows what they’re getting and that’s something I embrace and it fires me up a little bit.”

Michigan State fans are starting get a pretty good idea of what they’re getting, too, with Loyer. Moneyball gives a glimpse of the play-making and 3-point shooting.

By the time the Spartans hit the court for real, there seems little doubt Loyer will once again prove he belongs.