Dimondale, Mich. — Before move-in day in East Lansing, Aaron Henry’s relationship with his classmates was mostly on the phone as the only out-of-state member of the incoming Michigan State freshman class.
But now, during sacred freshmen bonding movie time: No phones allowed.
“‘Zero dark thirty,’ we put our phones down,” Henry, of Indianapolis, said of the darkness policy during movie nights. “Nothing but the movie, no lights, no phones, just the TV screen.
“Just being around each other is fun. That’s how we build relationships and, hopefully, we keep doing that.”
The four-star quintet of Henry, Clarkston’s Foster Loyer and Thomas Kithier, Belleville’s Gabe Brown, and Marcus Bingham Jr. of Grand Rapids Catholic Central hope to make their marks on coach Tom Izzo’s program in their own ways.
But together, they have big goals.
“I really want to come out with a bang this year and I want us to go get the championship,” Brown said Tuesday at the Moneyball Pro-Am summer league in Lansing. “Coach Izzo is trying to push us, get that winning mentality in us.”
The No. 17-rated national recruiting class by the 247Sports.com composite list and No. 14 by Rivals.com, the Spartans freshmen hope to get used to the speed of the college game quickly, and bulk up in the cafeteria and weight room, the usual freshmen goals.
Loyer, who won Mr. Basketball after leading Clarkston to the Class A state championship last season, said he’s gained 10 pounds to get up to 166, and the 6-foot point guard brought his flair to his Moneyball debut, shooting from deep and making plays off the dribble.
“Moneyball is a time to come out here and have a little fun,” said Loyer, who saw style up close as a ballboy for Allen Iverson when his father, John, was an assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76ers. “They dunk, but I don’t.”
Elite athleticism seems to be the calling card for Brown, known as “Bubba,” as he was doing chin-ups with the rim at Moneyball, throwing seven dunks down for the fans, including one between the legs in the final minute, capping a 32-point night in a win.
He then danced at the buzzer, showing off his retirement plan.
“I feel like after basketball, I could be a dancer,” he said. “I wanted to show them my athleticism and wanted to give them a little sneak peek.”
Added Loyer: “We’ve seen that a lot in workouts and at practice. For him to come out here and throw it between the legs, I’m definitely getting out of the way, but it was fun.”
Despite Brown’s dancing and dunking, Henry said Bingham is the real clown of the group.
“I’m a funny guy,” Bingham said. “Just blazing them. Talking about them, Aaron has a big nose so I go in on him.”
Junior Nick Ward had fun with the 6-foot-10 Bingham on Tuesday, scoring 54 points on him, although Bingham’s team got the win.
“There wasn’t much defense, but I had fun,” Bingham said. “Nick’s always talking, it’s always fun to play against Nick. It’s getting me better and it’s getting him better too, playing against someone taller than him. It’s all good.”
The Spartans went 30-5 last season but were stunned in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, falling to 11th-seed Syracuse, a game Henry said he missed as he was working a basketball camp in Indianapolis, figuring his future teammates had it in the bag.
Without lottery picks Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges, there's a chance for the freshmen to make their mark early.
To take it another level and perhaps deliver Izzo’s second national championship, the youngsters hope to grow together.
“There’s just no separation, we talk every second of the day, going from class to workouts, just having fun,” Henry said. “Non-stop talking.”
Except during movie time.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.