MSU basketball freshmen lack hype but not talent
East Lansing — When Michigan State signed its current recruiting class last November, it didn’t come with the hype of many of Tom Izzo’s past groups.
Whether it was Jaren Jackson last year or the four-man group in 2016 that included Miles Bridges, Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford, the Spartans have had their share of blue-chip recruits in recent seasons.
But while the 2018 class might be missing a high school All-American, that hardly means its devoid of talent. In fact, the Spartans had the 17th-ranked class in the nation, according to 247Sports.com, while three players were ranked as four-star prospects.
Six-foot-10 Marcus Bingham Jr. was the highest-ranked of the group while 6-0 guard Foster Loyer and 6-8 forward Gabe Brown also drew four stars. Drawing three stars were 6-5 guard/forward Aaron Henry and 6-8 forward Thomas Kithier.
Rankings aside, Izzo will be counting on almost all of them to make an impact this season. And as Michigan State opened practice this week, the Spartans coach believes Henry has a chance to make an immediate difference.
“Probably Aaron Henry has surprised me the most,” Izzo said. “We thought we were getting a good player, and I think this kid has a chance to be great, to be honest with you — a pro some day.
“At 6-6, he’s tied for the best athlete, him and (Kyle Ahrens), on the team. Forty-inch verticals, he can jump, he can run, he’s shooting it better than I thought. He’s the most physically ready right now.”
Where Henry fits in the rotation is still being determined, but when Izzo decides to go small, it could be an effective lineup with Henry, Winston, Langford, Matt McQuaid and Ward.
As for the rest of the freshmen, Loyer will surely see time backing up Winston while Bingham and Brown keep getting stronger and will be vital parts of the rotation the frontcourt.
“We’re trying to get Gabe, Foster and Marcus Bingham to gain 20 pounds here,” Izzo said. “They’ve all gained at least 13, which is pretty good in a five-month period of time, it’s been good weight. But what separates Aaron, he’s physically ready right now and was that when he came in.”
Henry at the four would mean an athletic lineup, but it would be small. It’s just one of many options Izzo could use.
Six-foot-8 sophomore Xavier Tillman figures to see plenty of time at the four, as will 6-8 senior Kenny Goins while Brown will be in the mix, as well. Also keep an eye on Ahrens, who missed all of last season with a foot injury.
“I think that is the biggest question and whether we go real big with X, whether we go a little smaller with Kenny,” Izzo said. “We also have a freshman or two that has impressed us. The Aaron Henry kid and Gabe Brown have both been guys that have played real well. But the other guy that has kind of been a lost guy is Kyle Ahrens, and we’ve always loved his athletic ability. He’s got the highest vertical on the team, and he’s finally healthy, and he’s shooting the ball like he always did.
“So, we could go small, we could go big and we could go in between, and I think we’ll use all those at one point in time.”