Spartan basketball gets glimpse of A-list future

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — State-championship trophies were handed out at Breslin Center on Saturday, but under the watchful eyes of Tom Izzo and his staff, what happened on Michigan State’s home court over the course of two days was much more.

That’s because in the Class A championship game, Izzo and every Michigan State fan in attendance was greeted to a glimpse of what’s to come, or at least, what they hope is to come.

As Clarkston and Grand Rapids Christian squared off for the title, each team was led by a future Spartan. For Clarkston, it was junior guard Foster Loyer, who has verbally committed to Michigan State.

For Grand Rapids Christian, it was senior forward Xavier Tillman, the runner-up from Mr. Basketball who has already signed with Michigan State.

And while each was focused on winning — Clarkston won its first state championship, beating Grand Rapids Christian, 75-69 — it was hard to not think about life down the road as teammates.

“I’m very excited with what the future holds,” Loyer said. “Xavier is such a dominant force and is a great passer, so we can play a little two-man game. We play pretty well together and have pretty good chemistry from the past, so I’m very excited to see what future holds.”

That past was as AAU teammates two summers ago, and it was then that Tillman became convinced how good Loyer, who stands just 6-foot, can be. It had him already imagining how they’d attack offensively two season from now.

“Yeah, think about off the pick and roll,” Tillman said. “They step up on him then he’s gonna pass it to me down low for a slip, or if they focus on me he’s gonna pull up for a three. We’re gonna be a deadly duo.”

Both proved how deadly they could be on their own in two days at the Breslin.

The 6-8 Tillman, who will be a welcomed sight for a Michigan State team desperate for bigs, was little more than a facilitator in Grand Rapids Christian’s win over Romulus in the semifinals on Friday. He was nearly unstoppable in the championship game, scoring 25 on 12-for-15 shooting and grabbing seven rebounds.

“We wanted to front him as best we could and get help from the back side,” Clarkston coach Dan Fife said of defending Tillman. “But he uses his body so well. You think you got him and he spins and seals the back side and uses his rear end for the right reason and does a good job with that.”

Tillman was understandably disappointed to be holding the runner-up trophy, but his eyes lit up when talking about playing on his soon-to-be home court.

“Anytime I come here, the fan atmosphere is amazing,” Tillman said. “I just love being here.”

He’ll love it all that much more when Loyer arrives.

The son of former Pistons coach John Loyer, Foster was the best player on the floor for two straight days. In a win over West Bloomfield in the semifinals, he scored 32 points on 10-for-17 shooting while handing out seven assists.

It the championship victory, Loyer scored 29 and was 8-for-16 from the field.

“That’s just his game. He can shoot the ball, handle the ball and pass the ball,” Tillman said of Loyer. “It’s kind of like pick your poison when it comes to Foster. When we tried to step up, he would drive by, give a pump fake and get the foul and make two free throws. It was hard to stop him. We couldn’t really stop him. He is going to be a great player for us later on when he comes to Michigan State because he is such a poised player and he can score, and that’s what we need.”

As good as he is scoring the ball, his ability to see the court and find the right teammate showed court awareness rarely seen at the high school level.

“Most kids don’t see that, they don’t see the game ahead of time,” Fife said.

It’s all part of what makes him an elite talent, even at his small stature.

“I think some people come in and scout him and say he may not be this, he may not be that, but I tell you, that kid is gonna play,” Fife said. “He’s so dang smart. He understands the game.

“He just never quits in the game. He always attacks the game, he doesn’t let the game attack him. I don’t know when I was that age if I could come into this surrounding and be not nervous. It was just another day at the office for him and that is just incredible.”

It’s an office Tillman is ready to join. He said he’ll take a couple days off, then it’s back to work. For Loyer, he’ll take one more shot at another championship before making Breslin his permanent home.

Each had a pretty good audition with nearly all of their future teammates watching from the stands.