MSU hits 'jackpot' as Jackson, Tillman officially join program

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Jaren Jackson Jr.

While the Michigan State basketball team is in Hawaii preparing for its season opener on Friday against Arizona, the program got some good news back at home on Wednesday.

That’s because the Spartans received two signed National Letters of Intent from their first two recruits of the 2017 class – forwards 6-11 Jaren Jackson Jr. of La Lumiere Academy in La Porte, Ind., and 6-8 Xavier Tillman of Grand Rapids Christian.

“I think we hit the jackpot,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “We love both guys. We needed size and we got two guys with size, two guys with heart, two guys that care about winning and two guys that I think will have very successful collegiate careers.”

Jackson is a five-star recruit that played last season at Park Tudor High in Indianapolis. He was named to the All-USA Preseason Boys Basketball team by USA TODAY and was a member of the 2016 USA Basketball U17 team that won a gold medal in Spain. He averaged 16.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.4 blocks and 1.1 steals as a junior at Park Tudor.

“I think in Jaren Jackson we got one of the more multi-dimensional human beings,” Izzo said. “He’s 6-10, 11 with a 7-4 wingspan, shot 40-something from three, can post up and maybe his strongest attribute is he’s a great shot-blocker. Then he moves off the court and is a better student and better person.”

Tillman is a four-star recruit and was first-team All-State last season after averaging 16 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists as a junior, shooting 62 percent from the field while playing for Grand Rapids Christian.

“I think in Xavier we got a guy who kind of loves his teammates,” Izzo said. “He’s kind of a vocal guy where maybe Jaren is maybe a little more quieter, X is a very vocal guy and always pushes his teammates. Everyone it as his school appreciated him.

“Xavier can play the 4 or 5. Jaren can play the 3, 4 or 5 because of his shooting ability though Xavier is getting better at expanding his game and with his work ethic who knows by the time we get him where he’ll be.”

Michigan State is still in the mix for several top prospects forward Brian Bowen of La Lumiere, forward Brandon McCoy of Cathedral Catholic in San Diego, guard Nojel Eastern of Evanston, Ill., and guard Gary Trent Jr. of Prolific Prep in Napa, Calif. Trent is announcing his school choice on Thursday.

“No, we’re not done,” Izzo said. “Hopefully we can add one or two or even three more, but probably two more. We have a great base and we have a base where people want to play with guys like this, unselfish guys that put team first.

“I think our staff has done an incredible job. D.J. (Dwayne Stephens), Dane (Fife) and Mike (Garland) have really deserved all the credit with what we’ve gotten so far. I think we’ll have more to come and the cool part about it is I think these two kids will recruit other great players here along with Tum Tum (Nairn) and guys that are coming back.

"Cassius (Winston) has been great, Josh (Langford), Miles (Bridges), those young guys and (Matt) McQauid and (Kyle) Ahrens. We have a good mixture now and I’m just excited to get this season underway.”