Tom Izzo: Newly signed recruiting class fits Michigan State mold
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has spent his share of time chasing the blue-chip recruits.
Over the years, the Spartans have landed their share, but more often, the pursuit of the elite of the elite has ended in frustration as Michigan State has seen those players grab a different hat on signing day.
It’s led to a gradual shift over the years. Yes, Izzo and his staff are still in the mix for the best players every year, but a new phrase has started to be repeated around the Breslin Center: “Our kind of guy.”
Getting talent still matters, of course, but the Spartans have focused on getting their guy over the last few years, and on Wednesday they signed a three-player class that epitomizes their approach. Led by five-star shooting guard Max Christie along with four-star guards Jaden Akins and Pierre Brooks II, Michigan State’s class ranks No. 6 in the nation.
“I think one of the things you’ve got to do is you’ve got to have people that want to be here,” Izzo said. “That's the part of the culture. It started way back with the (Mateen) Cleaves and (Charlie) Bells and (Morris) Petersons and (Steve) Smiths and those guys. Then it kind of moved into the (Jason) Richardson era and there were so many guys. I just talked to Chris Hill over in France and I think of that era, and then of course Travis Walton, and Draymond (Green’s) era and Gary Harris.
“You want to get highly ranked players, but it's really good when you got very good-ranked players that are highly ranked people and want to be here.”
Christie is the biggest prize of the bunch as the 6-foot-6 wing from Rolling Meadows, Illinois, is the No. 1 ranked player in the country at his position and checks in at No. 15 overall.
“I think I’ll bring a really good scoring mentality and a mentality that whatever role Coach Izzo and the staff need me to be in to make sure we win,” Christie said in a video posted by Michigan State. “I am very committed. I will take any criticism that comes my way and make sure I’m doing whatever I can to improve, not only for myself and my benefit, but of course for the team. I want us to win and I think that’s what I’ll bring.”
Christie made it clear how much he wanted to be at Michigan State after his official visit on March 8, when the Spartans beat Ohio State on the final day of the regular season to clinch a share of the Big Ten title.
“That was a magical night,” Izzo said. “He told me that day riding home, ‘This is where I want to be.’”
When Christie does arrive, he’ll bring a dynamic game that could remind some of Smith, the second-leading scorer in program history.
“He’s got length and he's got the ability to play different positions,” Izzo said. “He’s like Gary because he can really shoot it and like 'Zell (Denzel Valentine) because for a bigger guard, he can shoot it and pass it and I think he has a high basketball IQ.”
Akins is a 6-3 Farmington native who is playing his senior season at Ypsilanti Prep with fellow Michigan State commit Emoni Bates. He’s ranked the No. 11 point guard in the nation, but Izzo has been wowed by Akins’ athleticism.
“Jaden, I think, is one of the better athletes we've had here, kind of in the Keith Appling mold,” Izzo said. “The more I’ve seen him and some of his dunks I haven’t seen for a while, Miles Bridges-ish.
“I think he's gonna be able to play more than one position, which is always good. I like guys that are multi-skilled, and as important, I think he's going to be able to guard more than one position. I’m just excited to have him here.”
Brooks, the 6-5 guard from Detroit Douglass Academy who is the No. 13 shooting guard in the country, was the first member of the class to commit. He’s steadily moved up the national rankings and now checks in at No. 68 overall.
Some believe he could be the steal of the class.
“I think when (Brooks committed) he was ranked 100 or something and we said, ‘Wow, what a joke,’” Izzo said. “At least, in our humble opinion. … I think you're gonna see him just constantly moving up, but even if he moves nowhere, his strength, his long-range shooting and his passion are enough for me. If I do my job, we can make him a hell of a player.”
Whether the class grows by the time they arrive on campus remains to be seen as two members of the 2022 class could jump ahead a year.
Bates, the top-rated player in the nation regardless of class, has left open the door to potentially reclassify to the 2021 class. However, there’s always a chance Bates opts to take the professional route and bypass college. Also, 6-10 center Enoch Boakye, a five-star according to 247sports, has entertained the idea of reclassifying to 2021.
For now, though, the three-man class that signed on Wednesday is exactly what the Spartans want.
“I think each one of them brings something different,” Izzo said. “They’re all good students, but we’ve got great families, too. They've all been very involved with their sons, and so having them all on board, they're all part of the family.”