With Max Christie on board, stars are aligning for Spartans on recruiting trail

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

It’s OK to dream, Spartan fans.

And considering there’s no guarantee when college basketball might be played again, what else is there?

After the last couple of weeks, it’s hard to blame a Michigan State fan for getting excited about the future, even if so much of it seems uncertain at this point.

It was just more than a week ago when Emoni Bates said he was committing to Michigan State. Forget for a second the notion of the Ypsilanti native ever playing college basketball is far from a certainty and dial in on the fact that arguably the highest-touted prep prospect in the last two decades said he was going to be a Spartan.

That, alone, is a massive deal. The guy has already been on the cover of Sports Illustrated and was the first sophomore to ever be named the Gatorade National Player of the Year.

Farmington guard Jaden Akins (in white) could be Michigan State's next top recruiting target.

But that announcement proved to be just the start of a wildly successful stretch for Tom Izzo and his staff, one the more tireless groups of recruiters in the country. That’s because on Tuesday, five-star shooting guard Max Christie said he was committing to Michigan State as part of the 2021 class, turning down the likes of Duke, Villanova and Virginia as well as Big Ten foes Purdue and Ohio State.

Not a bad nine days for the green and white, and not a single point has been scored nor has a game been played.

“Yeah, either way we're still talking about Michigan State basketball,” said Rivals recruiting analyst Corey Evans. “We’re talking about arguably the top recruit of all time that Tom Izzo’s ever landed (in Bates), which says a whole lot when we talk about the guys he's had in the past. So, it’s definitely a step in the right direction for the future either way.”

The “either way” part is where the dreaming comes into play. And, quite frankly, there’s a few ways things can go from this point, almost all involving the future of the 6-foot-8 Bates, the top-rated recruit in the nation regardless of class.

Currently, Bates is a rising junior that is part of the 2022 class. But there’s talk of him reclassifying to the 2021 class, which would result in him arriving on campus in 2021 with Christie, four-star guard Pierre Brooks II and whomever else the Spartans might add, with Farmington guard Jaden Akins at the top of that list.

Pull a four-person class like that, and it’s hard to go back and find one better under Izzo.

“We're talking about the most transcendent talent the prep game seen since LeBron (James) for some and three or four other four-star guys and Max Christie, a five-star guy,” Evans said. “For Izzo’s sake, talentwise and on paper, it's got to be the best.”

Bates is, of course, the wild card. He could remain in the 2022 class but there’s been talk of a change to the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement — it expires that season — that would eliminate the one-and-done rule, opening the door for Bates to head to the NBA. However, that’s far from a guarantee. Bates could also reclassify but opt for a G-League contract or head overseas to get paid. That, of course could change if the NCAA allows players to profit off their name, image and likeness, another shift that is far from a done deal.

It leaves all sorts of room for speculation.

“If you were to (press me) right now and make me guess, my answer is yes,” 247Sports recruiting analyst Brian Snow said when asked if Bates would play in college. “First of all, like, I just don't believe that the G-League setup is gonna be around in two years. ...Also, the CBA would have to change for Emoni to be eligible right out of high school, and there's no real momentum for that right now, either. Now, could it happen? Sure. We’ve got, what, 12 months or whatever it is until that has to be talked about? So at least right now, it seems like nothing's going to change. Then beyond that, when you have the name, image, likeness where Emoni and his father could find a way to sign with Nike, theoretically if they wanted to, it makes some marketing dollars that would make going to Europe or going to Australia or China less desirable.

“So I think it's kind of lining up for him to play college. But if any of those things change, then all of a sudden maybe it doesn't anymore.”

Regardless of how the Bates situation plays out, the commitment of Christie was further proof that Izzo and the Spartans are on a recruiting surge.

The slick-shooting guard from the suburbs of Chicago is the No. 13 recruit in the nation, according to the composite rankings at 247Sports, and had the nation’s top programs after him. One, in particular, had Michigan State fans worried — Duke.

The list is long of Spartan recruits that ultimately became Blue Devils, not to mention the number from the Chicago area, and it seemed Christie had the makeup of the prototypical Duke player.

“He always told people he wanted to stay closer to home, and you kind of never believed it,” Snow said. “He’s from roughly the same area as John Scheyer, the assistant from Duke, and Duke has done so well in that area. And then you hear the kid talk, and I always joked that he has a Duke tattoo on his forehead, he just doesn't even know it.

“But when they weren't involved at the end it became about staying closer to home, and that's a battle that Michigan State has done pretty well in in the past.”

With Christie on board along with Brooks, a 6-5 shooting guard from Detroit, the question is where Michigan State goes from here. The Spartans could add another big man, but most of the attention is on Akins, who will play this upcoming season at the newly formed Ypsilanti Prep Academy with Bates.

Michigan State has also shown interest in 6-8 Milwaukee forward James Graham and 6-10 center Enoch Boakye of Ontario, a 2022 player who is considering reclassifying to 2021.

“Akins is really the guy right now,” Evans said. “They’re involved with James Graham but I don't see it really in the cards. I would say Enoch Boakye, the big kid from Canada who is a potential reclassification candidate, is one route they could go if they need a big man.

“But if Emoni Bates does ultimately go to ‘21, that's three guys right there and Jaden Akins could be No. 4. I don’t know what else they’d need.”

They might not need anything else, and that would be just fine for most Spartan fans.

At this point, it’s only something to be speculated about. Still, considering the momentum built in the past two weeks, it’s likely not wise to bet against Izzo landing the dream class.

“It's definitely trending in the right direction on the recruiting front,” Evans said. “With Jaden Akins going to school now with Emoni, I think it only pushes Jaden to Michigan State even further, so we'll see. But I haven't seen Michigan State really this optimistic for things on the recruiting trails since I've been involved in the sport.”


Twitter: @mattcharboneau