Matt Charboneau on MSU's win at Florida The Detroit News
When it comes to recruiting, there’s no time sit back and wallow in the fact you finished second in the race for a commitment from one of the top-rated players in the country.
That’s the position Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and his staff found themselves in by last week as 6-foot-10 Vernon Carey Jr., ranked the No. 1 player in the nation by Rivals and No. 2 by the 247Sports Composite, spurned the Spartans and committed to Duke.
But with plenty of work still to do with just one player signed for 2019 and one more committed, Izzo and his assistants were busy on Saturday, beginning with a 63-59 victory at Florida, followed by some time following the next big-name recruit that has been a long-time target for the Spartans – 6-9 Isaiah Stewart.
The native of Rochester, N.Y., is the sixth-ranked player on the country, according to the composite rankings at 247Sports. Playing his final season at La Lumiere in La Porte, Ind., – the same school that produced former Spartan Jaren Jackson Jr. and employs Jaren Jackson Sr. as an assistant coach – Stewart and his teammates were taking part in the FORUM Tipoff Classic in Indianapolis.
And with Carey off the board, Izzo and Company were making it clear Stewart is the priority as La Lumiere knocked off Center Grove and recent Indiana commit Trayce Jackson-Davis, who had Michigan State among his finalists.
The question at this point is: Where does Michigan State stand with Stewart?
“I think they’re definitely top three,” said Corey Evans, a national basketball analyst at Rivals. “I’d say Washington and Duke are right there along with them. I think Isaiah is not far off from committing. I think he’s getting tired of the process.
“Do I think there’s a clear front-runner? I don’t. I also don’t think Vernon Carey and Isaiah Stewart will go and play college ball together, which definitely helps Michigan State. But I also think Washington is way in there, much further than people realize.”
There have been rumors that Carey and Stewart wouldn’t mind playing together, but it would seem the race is between Michigan State and Washington at this point, though Stewart has also taken visits to Kentucky and Syracuse.
The pull to Washington is the connection Stewart has with head coach Mike Hopkins. A longtime assistant at Syracuse, Hopkins has been recruiting Stewart since middle school, and Stewart values that relationship.
“Isaiah is kind of a different type of kid,” Evans said. “He’s a very relationship-driven kid and very, very mature. Mike Hopkins has known the kid since seventh, eighth grade. The first thing he did once he got the job at Washington was make Isaiah Stewart the priority. And Isaiah has always been about being different, as well, and you put two and two together and kind makes sense what Washington can offer.”
Stewart isn’t the only player left on Michigan State’s wish list. With 6-7 forward Malik Hall – rated the No. 53 player in the nation – signed and 6-2 guard Rocket Watts – ranked No. 32 – committed, the Spartans are also still in the hunt for 6-5 guard Anthony Edwards, the No. 4 player in the nation, and 6-7 forward Keion Brooks, the 22nd-ranked player in the country.
Brooks is a teammate of Stewart’s at La Lumiere, which made Saturday’s time in Indianapolis a two-for-one for the Spartans, though it seems Brooks has his sights set elsewhere.
Edwards just last month reclassified to the 2019 class and is planning to take an official visit to Michigan State, though Florida State might be the leader at this point. Edwards has a final list of eight that also includes Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, UCLA and Georgia.
“I think they might be better off with Anthony Edwards than Keion Brooks,” Evans said. “I think Keion is more Indiana, UNC right now than Michigan State. Anthony Edwards told me (Friday) night he wants to visit Michigan State so that definitely helps, at least. I would think he’s gonna visit there sometime toward the end of January or in February. So that’s a guy, you get him he can take you as far as he would want to.”
Land one or more of the final targets and Michigan State will have one of Izzo’s best classes, one that would clearly make losing out on Carey seem like nothing more than a bump in the road. Miss out on them all, and the next class could be a small one.
“Man, 2019 is really limited with most of these guys are already committed,” Evans said. “The best-case scenario is you’re looking at the coaching carousel, guys decommitting, and of course looking at the grad transfer route, which would be the best bet.”