Head of the class: A look at the top UM, MSU recruits in the rankings era
The coronavirus pandemic has allowed for plenty of time to dive into the past, especially in the sports world.
With basketball recruiting heating up and Michigan and Michigan State both scoring major wins in recent years, we figured now was as good a time as any to look back at the Wolverines’ and Spartans’ top all-time recruits in the 247Sports era, which dates to 2003.
For this piece, we broke down the top 15 at each program and excluded recruits who have yet to play a game in college. For Michigan, that means incoming freshmen Hunter Dickinson (ranked No. 9 all-time) and Zeb Jackson (No. 17) and 2021 commit Kobe Bufkin (No. 16) weren’t included. For Michigan State, 2022 commit Emoni Bates (No. 1) and 2021 commit Max Christie (No. 5) weren’t listed either.
Players ranked below those five moved up a spot to make up each list, which features some who lived up to their billing and others who didn’t quite live up to the hype.
From numerous NBA Draft picks to two recent graduates and a few players who are in the midst of their college career, here’s a look at how the top 15 recruits in the modern recruiting era have panned out at Michigan and Michigan State (note: all rankings are from the 247Sports composite).
1. GLENN ROBINSON III
Rating: Five stars (0.9934 on 1.0000 scale)
National ranking: No. 17 overall recruit in 2012 class
How he fared: The 6-foot-6 wing out of Indiana started all 76 games during his two years at Michigan and averaged 12 points and 4.9 rebounds for his career. After being named to the Big Ten’s All-Freshman Team, he helped the Wolverines reach the national title game in 2013, win their first outright conference regular-season title in 28 years as a sophomore and advance to the Elite Eight in 2014. He was drafted in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft – No. 40 overall – by the Minnesota Timberwolves, who waived him after 35 games during his rookie year. He was picked up by the Philadelphia 76ers, spent three seasons with the Indiana Pacers, one year with the Detroit Pistons and was averaging a career-best 12.9 points and 4.7 rebounds this season with the Golden State Warriors before he was traded to the 76ers. He has averaged six points and 2.6 rebounds over 279 NBA games, with 103 starts.
2. DION HARRIS
Rating: Five stars (0.9902)
National ranking: No. 25 in 2003 class
How he fared: The Detroit Redford product helped Michigan finish 23-11 and win the NIT title his freshman year, which was the most successful season of Tommy Amaker’s six-year tenure. He followed that up by guiding the Wolverines to back-to-back 22-win seasons and consecutive NIT appearances as a junior and senior. Harris’ best year came as a sophomore when he averaged a career-high 14.3 points, 3.5 assists and 2.8 rebounds. The 6-3 guard averaged 12.2 points for his career and ranks in top 15 in program history in made 3-pointers (268; second) and scoring (1,599 points; 15th). After going undrafted in 2007, he played professionally overseas with stops in Poland, Cyprus, Germany, Venezuela, Japan, Colombia and New Zealand.
3. MITCH MCGARY
Rating: Four stars (0.9897)
National ranking: No. 28 in 2012 class
How he fared: As a freshman, the 6-10 big from Indiana served as a key bench piece and was the team’s leading rebounder during Michigan’s run to the 2013 national title game. He played just eight games his sophomore season before electing to have back surgery, then tested positive for marijuana after an NCAA Tournament game and faced a year-long suspension, which prompted him to enter the 2014 NBA Draft. After being selected in the first round with the No. 21 pick by the Oklahoma City Thunder, McGary’s stay in the NBA didn’t last long. He saw action in 52 games, primarily as a reserve, over his first two seasons before he was waived in October 2016 after facing a 15-game suspension for two failed drug tests. He averaged 7.8 points and 6.6 rebounds at Michigan and 4.4 points and 3.5 rebounds in the NBA.
4. KAMERON CHATMAN
Rating: Four stars (0.9896)
National ranking: No. 27 in 2014 class
How he fared: The 6-8 forward averaged 3.2 points and two rebounds in 60 career games at Michigan. As a sophomore, he hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer against top-seeded Indiana in the Big Ten tournament that helped the Wolverines secure their spot in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. After two years in Ann Arbor, he transferred to Detroit Mercy, sat out a year and averaged 17.8 points and 8.3 rebounds in 29 games in 2017-18. He passed on using his final season of eligibility and entered the 2018 NBA Draft but didn’t hear his name called. His professional career has taken him to Turkey, the NBA’s G League and, most recently, Belgium, where he averaged 6.5 points and 3.2 rebounds this past season with Limburg United.
5. DESHAWN SIMS
Rating: Four stars (0.9878)
National ranking: No. 30 in 2006 class
How he fared: The former Detroit Pershing star got better and better throughout his time at Michigan. He was a two-time All-Big Ten selection after averaging 15.4 points and 6.8 rebounds as a junior and 16.8 points and 7.6 rebounds as a senior. Sims, a 6-8 forward, still ranks in the top 20 in program history in made field goals (633; ninth), scoring (1,584 points; 17th) and rebounds (728; 13th). After going undrafted in 2010, he was an All-Star and won Rookie of the Year honors in the NBA Development League — now known as the G League — in 2011. Since then, his lengthy professional career has taken him to Puerto Rico, South Korea, Lebanon and Israel. His latest stop was Italy, where he played in the Serie A2 league and averaged a team-best 16 points and 9.2 rebounds with Novipiu Casale Monferrato this past season.
6. ZAK IRVIN
Rating: Four stars (0.9876)
National ranking: No. 28 in 2013 class
How he fared: The 6-6 wing made over 100 starts, logged over 4,000 minutes and put up plenty of shots throughout his four-year career. By the time his run was over in Ann Arbor, he racked up 1,610 points (13th most in program history), made 241 3-pointers (third most) and helped the Wolverines hang a pair of banners for winning the Big Ten regular-season championship in 2014 and conference tournament title in 2017. After going undrafted, he has bounced around from the G League, Mexico and Dominican Republic, where he won a championship with Mauricio Baez in 2018. He spent this past season with the Westchester Knicks — his second stint with the New York Knicks’ G League affiliate — and averaged 9.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 41 games.
7. MANNY HARRIS
Rating: Four stars (0.9861)
National ranking: No. 37 in 2007 class
How he fared: The former Detroit Redford standout and three-time All-Big Ten guard averaged 17 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 98 games. As a sophomore, he became the first Big Ten player to finish in the top six in scoring (16.9), rebounds (6.8) and assists (4.4) since assists became an official stat in 1983. He led his team in scoring all three years and finished with 1,668 career points, which ranks 10th in program history. He opted to forgo his senior year to enter the 2010 draft, but he went unselected. His professional career has included NBA stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks and stops with three G League squads. He has experienced success all over the world, winning a National Basketball League title in China with the Anhui Dragons in 2016 as well as the Greek Cup and FIBA Champions League in Greece with AEK Athens in 2018. He spent time playing in the Philippines and Israel during the 2019-20 season.
8. IGNAS BRAZDEIKIS
Rating: Four stars (0.9859)
National ranking: No. 40 in 2018 class
How he fared: The 6-7 wing from Canada made an immediate impact in Ann Arbor. As a full-time starter, he averaged a team-high 14.8 points and 5.4 rebounds, powered Michigan to the Sweet 16 and became the seventh Wolverine to win the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year award. His stay didn’t last long as he became former coach John Beilein’s first one-and-done player and was selected in the second round with the No. 47 overall pick in the 2019 draft. He appeared in nine games with the New York Knicks this past season but spent much of his rookie year in the G League, where he averaged 20.9 points and 7.1 rebounds in 24 games with the Westchester Knicks.
9. COURTNEY SIMS
Rating: Four stars (0.9845)
National ranking: No. 38 in 2003 class
How he fared: The 6-11 big man out of Massachusetts made 111 starts and didn’t miss a single game in his four-year career. He averaged 9.8 points and 5.3 rebounds in 133 contests and shot 58.6% from the field, the seventh-best career mark in program history. He’s also one of two Wolverines — Roy Tarpley is the other — to record at least 200 blocked shots. After going undrafted in 2007, Sims was named G League MVP in 2009 — he’s still the only center to win the award — and had a cup of coffee in the NBA with the Indiana Pacers, Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks. He spent much of past decade playing professionally in places like Puerto Rico, Belgium, China, Latvia, South Korea and Japan.
10. DERRICK WALTON JR.
Rating: Four stars (0.9833)
National ranking: No. 45 in 2013 class
How he fared: The Detroit native was a four-year starter, but his play reached a whole different level his senior year when he led Michigan on a memorable postseason run that culminated in a Big Ten tournament title and trip to the Sweet 16. He earned All-Big Ten honors his final two seasons and is the only player program history to record at least 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 400 assists. Since going undrafted in 2017, he has appeared in 42 NBA games with the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Clippers and Detroit Pistons. His professional journey has also taken him to the G League, Lithuania and Germany.
11. ZAVIER SIMPSON
Rating: Four stars (0.9748)
National ranking: No. 67 in 2016 class
How he fared: The feisty point guard from Ohio was part of one of the most successful stretches in program history. He helped the Wolverines to three consecutive Sweet 16s, two Big Ten tournament titles, back-to-back 30-win seasons and a national championship game appearance in 2018. A two-time All-Big Ten second-team honoree, he spearheaded a defense that ranked among the nation’s best in 2017-18 and 2018-19 and was one of the nation’s top facilitators as a senior this past season. He wrapped up his four-year career with a program-record 108 victories and 667 assists, which ranks second in program history.
12. BRANDON JOHNS JR.
Rating: Four stars (0.9743)
National ranking: No. 70 in 2018 class
How he fared: After playing a limited role as a freshman, the 6-8 forward from East Lansing was a key piece of the rotation and made 11 starts when Isaiah Livers was injured last season. He averaged six points and 3.9 rebounds in 19.5 minutes, ranked second on the team with 21 blocks, displayed his expanded range by shooting a team-best 38% (19-for-50) from 3-point range during Big Ten play, and showed he can impact the game in a variety of ways, from his energy and effort to his offensive rebounding. He’s in line to play a bigger role and will be relied upon to provide more than occasional sparks as a junior.
13. BRENT PETWAY
Rating: Four stars (0.9725)
National ranking: No. 61 in 2003 class
How he fared: A 6-8 forward from Georgia, Petway played in 119 games and made 37 starts during his four years in Ann Arbor. He primarily came off the bench until his senior year when he started 32 games and averaged 6.8 points and 5.9 rebounds in 23.1 minutes. He was best known for his leaping ability — 185 dunks in 286 made field goals — and finished with a career field goal percentage of 60.2%, a mark that ranks fifth in program history. After going undrafted in 2007, he played in the G League and overseas in France, Czech Republic, Italy and Greece, where he won the FIBA Intercontinental Cup in 2013 and Greek League title in 2015 with Olympiacos. Thanks to his dunking skills, spent time as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters. He last played in Turkey in 2018 and began an esports career earlier this year.
14. EVAN SMOTRYCZ
Rating: Four stars (0.9700)
National ranking: No. 77 in 2010 class
How he fared: The 6-9 forward began his college career in Ann Arbor, where he spent two seasons before transferring to Maryland. Smotrycz averaged seven points and 3.6 rebounds in 69 games (42 starts) and helped the Wolverines win a share of their first Big Ten regular-season title in 26 years as a sophomore. Following his time with the Terrapins, he has gone on to play professionally in Cyprus, Germany, Argentina and the G League.
15. CARLTON BRUNDIDGE
Rating: Four stars (0.9646)
National ranking: No. 87 in 2011 class
How he fared: The Southfield product, who was part of the same recruiting class as Trey Burke, didn’t stick around for long. After sparsely playing as a freshman and tallying six points, eight rebounds and two assists in 44 minutes, the 6-1 guard transferred to Detroit Mercy, citing his unhappiness at Michigan. Brundidge played in 96 games, made 31 starts and averaged 6.8 points and 2.6 rebounds in 17.7 minutes during his three years with the Titans.
1. SHANNON BROWN
Rating: Five stars (0.9988)
National ranking: No. 4 in 2003 class
How he fared: A McDonald’s All-American out of Illinois, Brown was a high-flyer and one of the most explosive players to ever put on a Spartans jersey. He helped Michigan State reach the Final Four as a sophomore, but it wasn’t until his junior and final year when his production matched his billing. During the 2005-06 season, he averaged 17.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and hit 39% of his 3-point shots en route to earning All-Big Ten second-team and All-Big Ten defensive team honors. He was selected by the Cavaliers with the 25th pick in the 2006 draft and became a two-time champion with the Lakers (2009, 2010) during his nine-year career in the NBA. He averaged 7.6 points and 1.9 rebounds in 408 career games, and most recently was competing in the BIG3, the 3-on-3 basketball league founded by Ice Cube.
2. JAREN JACKSON JR.
Rating: Five stars (0.9977)
National ranking: No. 8 in 2017 class
How he fared: The 6-11 big man from Indiana didn’t take long to leave his mark. He was named the Big Ten’s freshman and defensive player of the year after recording a program-record 106 blocks. He also averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds in 35 games to help Michigan State capture the Big Ten regular-season title. Jackson left after one year and was selected by the Memphis Grizzlies with the No. 4 pick in the 2018 draft. He became the first rookie in NBA history to record at least 50 made 3-pointers, 50 steals and 50 blocks while shooting at least 50% from the field. So far in his young pro career, he has averaged 15.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 112 games.
3. MILES BRIDGES
Rating: Five stars (0.9962)
National ranking: No. 12 in 2016 class
How he fared: The Flint native led Michigan State in scoring in each of his two seasons, averaging 16.9 points as a freshman and 17.1 points as a sophomore. In 2017, he was named the Big Ten’s freshman of the year and earned an All-Big Ten second-team nod. Then after making a surprise return, he was a unanimous All-Big Ten first-team selection and a second-team All-American as the Spartans went 30-5 and finished atop the conference standings. He was taken with the No. 12 overall pick in the 2018 draft and has averaged 9.9 points and 4.7 rebounds over his first two seasons with the Charlotte Hornets.
4. DELVON ROE
Rating: Five stars (0.9940)
National ranking: No. 15 in 2008 class
How he fared: The rugged 6-8 forward led Michigan State in field-goal percentage and blocked shots each of his three seasons. He started for a Spartans squad that reached the national championship game in 2009, returned to the Final Four in 2010 and won back-to-back Big Ten regular-season titles. He was named to the Big Ten’s All-Freshman team, earned All-Big Ten defensive team honors in 2011 and ranks in top 10 in program history with 106 blocked shots. After dealing with knee pain throughout his career, he retired from basketball before his senior season.
5. BRANDEN DAWSON
Rating: Five stars (0.9931)
National ranking: No. 16 in 2011 class
How he fared: A 6-6 forward from Indiana, Dawson was a four-year starter who helped the Spartans sweep the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles in 2012, snag the conference tournament crown in 2014, and advance to four straight Sweet 16s. His best season was his senior year when he averaged 11.9 points and 9.1 rebounds, was named All-Big Ten second team and Big Ten All-Defensive team and reached the Final Four. He ranks in the top 10 in program history in blocked shots (142; fourth), steals (163; sixth) and rebounds (902; seventh). Dawson was selected with the No. 56 overall pick in the 2015 draft, but much of his professional career has been spent in the G League and overseas in places like Israel, Japan and Mexico.
6. GARY HARRIS
Rating: Five stars (0.9928)
National ranking: No. 19 in 2012 class
How he fared: The 6-4 guard from Indiana averaged 14.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and two assists over his two seasons. During his time in East Lansing, the Spartans won the Big Ten tournament title, reached the Sweet 16 and made a trip to the Elite Eight. One year after he became the first Spartan to be named Big Ten freshman of the year, he earned All-Big Ten first-team honors and was the No. 19 pick in the 2014 draft. Harris has spent his entire six-year NBA career with the Denver Nuggets and has been a full-time starter the last five years, averaging 13.6 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 313 games. His best season to date was in 2017-18 when he averaged a career-high 17.5 points, 2.9 assists and 1.8 steals.
7. JOSHUA LANGFORD
Rating: Five stars (0.9923)
National ranking: No. 19 in 2016 class
How he fared: Langford, a 6-5 guard from Alabama, started much of his freshman year and all 35 games his sophomore year as Michigan State took home the Big Ten regular-season crown. He was having a career year as a junior before his season was cut short after 13 games due to a foot injury. He was expected to return to the starting lineup in 2019-20, but he suffered a setback that required surgery and shelved him the entire season. The hope is Langford, a career 40.7% 3-point shooter who has averaged 10.2 points in 83 games, still has one final chapter to write with the Spartans.
8. ADREIAN PAYNE
Rating: Five stars (0.9911)
National ranking: No. 22 in 2010 class
How he fared: After playing a reserve role his first year, the Spartans made three consecutive Sweet 16 trips, won two Big Ten tournament titles, claimed a regular-season conference title and went 85-26 with the 6-10 big in the starting lineup his final three years. Payne earned All-Big Ten second-team honors twice, when he averaged 10.5 points and 7.6 rebounds as a junior and 16.4 points and 7.3 rebounds as a senior. He’s also one of 10 Spartans to record 1,200 points and 700 rebounds. He was the No. 15 pick in the 2014 draft and averaged four points and 2.9 rebounds in 107 games over four NBA seasons, much of it spent with the Minnesota Timberwolves. While playing overseas the past two years, he has won the Greek Cup and Greek League title with Panathinaikos as well as the French Cup and Pro A league title with ASVEL.
9. DEYONTA DAVIS
Rating: Four stars (0.9891)
National ranking: No. 26 in 2015 class
How he fared: The Muskegon product and McDonald’s All-American was part of a Michigan State team that went 29-6, finished second in the Big Ten and won the conference tournament. But his stay in East Lansing didn’t last long. After averaging 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds to go along with a team-high 64 blocks, the 6-10 big opted to enter the 2016 draft following his freshman season and was selected in the second round with the No. 31 pick. His professional career has been split between the NBA (107 games) and the G League (98 games), and he averaged 11.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 42 games this past season with the Santa Cruz Warriors.
10. MARQUISE GRAY
Rating: Four stars (0.9886)
National ranking: No. 26 in 2004 class
How he fared: The former Flint Beecher star averaged 4.4 points and 3.9 rebounds in 138 games over his four-year career. His best season was his sophomore year when he started 22 of 35 games and averaged a career-high 6.8 points and 5.5 rebounds in 18.7 minutes. As a senior, he was a bench piece who helped the Spartans win the Big Ten regular-season title and reach the national championship game against North Carolina. Following a seven-year overseas career that took him to Israel, Turkey, Poland, Mexico and Japan, Gray transitioned into coaching and is an assistant basketball coach at his high school alma mater.
11. CASSIUS WINSTON
Rating: Four stars (0.9884)
National ranking: No. 31 in 2016 class
How he fared: The former University of Detroit Jesuit standout ranks among the program's greats. He capped his career with 1,969 points, a Big Ten-record 890 assists, three straight Big Ten championships, a conference tournament title and a trip to the Final Four. He was a two-time consensus All-American and was the Big Ten’s player of the year in 2019 when he averaged a career-high 18.8 points and 7.5 assists. Winston is projected to be a late first-round pick by CBS Sports and ESPN and an early second-round pick by The Athletic and Sports Illustrated in October’s draft.
12. RAYMAR MORGAN
Rating: Four stars (0.9869)
National ranking: No. 34 in 2006 class
How he fared: Morgan, a 6-8 forward from Ohio, was a four-year starter and averaged 11.8 points and 5.7 rebounds in 135 games. He was selected to the Big Ten’s All-Freshman team and earned All-Big Ten second-team honors as a sophomore when he averaged 14 points and 6.1 rebounds. He also played a key role as a junior and senior when Michigan State won back-to-back Big Ten titles and made back-to-back Final Four appearances. After going undrafted, Morgan has spent the past 10 years playing all over the world, with stops in Israel, Turkey, Germany, Greece and, most recently, Russia. In 2017, he was the top scorer and MVP of the Basketball Bundesliga, the top pro league in Germany.
13. KALIN LUCAS
Rating: Four stars (0.9866)
National ranking: No. 31 in 2007 class
How he fared: The Detroit native and former Orchard Lake St. Mary’s star guard was the leading scorer and driving force for a Spartans squad that repeated as Big Ten champions and made two consecutive trips to the Final Four. He was a two-time All-Big Ten first-team selection and was the Big Ten’s player of the year in 2009 when he averaged 14.7 points and 4.6 assists. He finished his four-year career with 1,996 points and 558 assists, marks that rank fifth and eighth in program history. Despite all his collegiate success, Lucas went undrafted in 2011 and has spent much of his pro career bouncing around the G League and overseas. He played with the Grand Rapids Drive — the Piston’s G League affiliate — in 2018-19 and averaged 21.6 points and 4.2 assists in 17 games.
14. ROCKET WATTS
Rating: Four stars (0.9865)
National ranking: No. 39 in 2019 class
How he fared: The Detroit native had his ups and downs during his first year in East Lansing, but he was still named to the Big Ten’s All-Freshman team after averaging nine points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 27 games, with 16 starts. He provided glimpses of his immense potential late last season – with 21-point outings against Illinois and Iowa and 19-point performance against Ohio State – to help the Spartans come away with their third straight Big Ten title. With Winston moving on, Watts is in line to play a major backcourt role and is a candidate to have a breakout year as a sophomore.
15. KEITH APPLING
Rating: Four stars (0.9863)
National ranking: No. 37 in 2010 class
How he fared: The former Detroit Pershing star and McDonald’s All-American racked up 1,509 points and 465 assists in 142 games over his four-year career. A two-time All-Big Ten selection, he led Michigan State to three Sweet 16s, two Big Ten tournament titles and one conference championship as the starting point guard. Appling went undrafted and played in the G League before having a brief NBA stint with the Magic in 2016. After serving jail time for gun and resisting-arrest charges, he played professionally with teams in the Dominican Republic and Mexico before he ran into more legal trouble and was charged with drug crimes in February.