Michigan State men’s basketball is back and so are many familiar faces. The green and white will return an outstanding graduate and senior class for the upcoming season.
“With our seniors, we should have great leadership,” Izzo said. “But leadership doesn’t come from age and doesn’t always come from experience, it comes from who you are and what you are and I’ve really been pleased.”
Tyson Walker is ranked 10th in the preseason top-100 and expected to be All-American this year. He was second-team Big 10 last year in his second season with the Spartans after transferring from Northeastern University. Walker led the team, averaging 14.8 points per game and starting in all 34 games.
Graduate student forward Malik Hall brings a lot of experience to the team and is a versatile player that can be utilized as a guard, three point shooter, or scraper for rebounds. He appeared in 23 games after missing a few early-season games due to injury.
“Tyson, I mean, you look at those guys and the things they could have done — him and Malik [had] options to go somewhere else or do something else and, you know, there’s something there that’s special and I think they know there’s something here that’s special,” Izzo said.
Senior guard A.J. Hoggard spent the summer honing his skill set and is ready for the season.
“If he’s done what he’s done this summer and he can sustain that not only are we going to be better but he’s going to be better,” Izzo said.
Hoggard is the assist maker, getting his team involved with his exceptional passing ability. Hr averaged 12.9 points, 5.9 assists, and 3.7 rebounds per game over his 34 appearances last season, starting in all but one of them.
“They are going to be the staple of what we are,” Izzo said.
The junior class also has strong returners, like Jaden Akins. Akins spent the summer training at two camps out on the west coast and is expected to take on a larger role this year. He played in 30 games last year, only missing four early on due to an injury. He was second on the team for three-point percentage behind, only Joey Hauser.
Adding to the team this year is a phenomenal freshman class. Maybe one of the best recruiting classes in recent years, it is ranked 7th in the nation by 247 Sports. The class’s potential success has often been compared to “The Flintstones”– the group of former players consisting of Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, and Charlie Bell that led the Spartans to the 2000 NCAA Division I Men’s National Championship. Izzo compared the depth of his current team to that of his ‘05 squad.
“I don’t call them the fabulous freshmen,” Izzo said. “But they’re damn good.”
Freshman Jeremy Fears out of Illinois was player of the year as a senior, was ranked 27th on the ESPN top-100, and number nine for point guards. He comes from a legacy of college basketball players; his father played for Ohio University earning All-MAC Honors.
“Fears is my Mateen Cleaves, 20 some years later. He’s a leader, he’s vocal, he’s helpful, [he] has all the qualities to be one hell of a guard here,” Izzo said. “Jeremy Fears has it.”
Freshman Gehrig Normand out of North Richland Hills, Texas was also an ESPN top-100 and a four-star recruit.
“[Normand is] the least rated and might be the best shooter,” Izzo said.
He shot 44% from the floor in high school and is expected to be a key player in the guard rotation.
Freshman Xavier Booker is arguably the best out of the freshman class. He was ranked 11th in the nation and was a finalist for the Naismith High School Boys Basketball Player of the year award. At 6’11” and with an over-7-foot wingspan, he will be an integral part of post play this season.
“He’s got a ways to go, he’s got to get stronger, he’s got to get more aggressive,” Izzo said. “But since school started he’s really started to take a step in the right direction.”
Rounding out the freshman class is Coen Carr from East Point, Georgia. Carr was ranked 25th in the ESPN top-100, and the top recruit coming out of Georgia. He was invited to the USA Basketball Junior National Team mini-camp last year and was a member of the 3×3 U-18 USA World Cup Team.
“Coen has been interesting, he’s got to continue to work on his shot but he plays so hard and he’s such a good kid and he just keeps getting better,” Izzo said. “Phenomenal athlete.”
When asked about the national championship, Izzo did not directly address it. Rather, he went into details about the confidence he has in his team to be very successful.
“I like this team because I like the makeup of the personalities,” Izzo said. “I like the fact we have young talent and old guys that have been through the wars. I like the fact that we have depth. I like the fact that we have size. I like the fact that we can play small or big. I like a lot of things right now but games haven’t started yet.”
With games just around the corner, the season fun will begin with Michigan State Madness on Friday, October 13. The doors will open at 8 p.m. for autograph signing and trick-or-treating. It kicks off with the women’s basketball team’s introductions under first year coach Robyn Fralick, followed by Tom Izzo and the Men’s basketball introductions. For Izzo, this event goes far beyond the basketball court.
“What we want to do is get our community back engaged along with our fans,” Izzo said. “The community is important here and it’s also important that we re-engage after a lot of the things we’ve been through in the last couple years.”