East Lansing — Xavier Tillman has decided to see where he stands in the eyes of the NBA.
In a move many expected after the Michigan State junior center had a breakout 2019-20 season, Tillman announced on Tuesday that he will enter the NBA Draft but will retain his college eligibility throughout the process. That decision allows Tillman the option of returning to Michigan State for his senior season.
“With the support of my family and coaches I have decided to test the waters and will enter my name in the 2020 NBA Draft,” Tillman said in a post on Twitter. “It is important for me to gather as much information as possible before making this decision. Throughout the process I will be keeping my college eligibility.”
In his first full season as a starter, Tillman made the most of the opportunity. He averaged 13.7 points and 10.3 rebounds a game while blocking 2.1 shots a game. He was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in a conference loaded with elite big men, including first-team All-American Luka Garza of Iowa. Tillman recorded 14 double-doubles and with 65 blocks became Michigan State’s all-time leader with 153, surpassing the 146 by Matt Costello.
Tillman also earned second-team All-Big Ten honors while also excelling off the court, being named a second-team Academic All-American by the College Sports Information Directors of America.
Changes in recent years to the rules regarding early entry to the NBA Draft allow Tillman to hire an agent from an approved list, take part in team and individual workouts and attend the NBA Draft Combine while leaving open the option of returning to Michigan State.
Tillman would have to make that decision by the NCAA deadline of 10 days after the conclusion of the Combine, which is scheduled for May 21-24. That would mean a decision would have to be made by June 3. However, with the NBA’s season currently suspended because of the spread of COVID-19, it’s unclear how that will affect the dates of the Combine and the Draft, which is slated to be held on June 25.
If Tillman remained in the Draft and was not selected, he would still have the option of returning to Michigan State. That seems like the most unlikely of any scenario considering Tillman appears on most mock draft boards anywhere from late in the first round to toward the end of the second round. In the latest mock draft from The Sporting News, Tillman was projected to go 28th overall to Toronto.
The decision likely won’t simply be just about basketball for Tillman. He and his wife, Tamia, welcomed their second child in February with the birth of Xavier Jr. They also have a 3-year-old daughter, Ayanna.
Tillman’s progression during his time at Michigan State has been impressive.
At Grand Rapids Christian, Tillman helped lead his team to the state championship game in 2017 before losing to Clarkston and future teammate Foster Loyer. A dominant player in Grand Rapids, Tillman arrived at Michigan State with plenty of work to do and spent his freshman season cutting weight while earning the team’s Most Improved Player Award and becoming co-recipient of the Unsung Player Award.
After appearing in all 35 games as a freshman, Tillman saw his role continue to increase as a sophomore and the primary backup to junior Nick Ward. After Ward injured his hand late in the season, Tillman started the final 14 games and helped spark Michigan State’s run to the Big Ten championship, conference tournament title and Final Four berth.
He was named the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year and was named to the NCAA East Region All-Tournament team while averaging 13.6 points and 8.4 rebounds and shooting 61% in five tournament games.
Tillman continued his progression this season, starting all 31 games and helping Michigan State win a share of its third straight Big Ten championship. He grabbed 10 or more rebounds in 20 games while scoring in double figures 22 times, shooting 55% from the field.
If Tillman opts to stay in the draft, it would create a significant hole in the Spartans’ frontcourt. Michigan State would need to see quick progression from junior-to-be Marcus Bingham as well as Julius Marble, who played sparingly as a freshman. The Spartans will also welcome 6-foot-9 incoming freshman Mady Sissoko.