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If you’re trying to take a picture of Michigan State’s 2018 basketball recruiting class, don’t stand too close. You won’t be able to fit them all in the shot.
Part of that is because of their height. On average, the recruits who signed their letters of intent with the Spartans on Wednesday stand 6-foot-6. They range from 6-foot to 6-10. But it’s more about the sheer number. You’ll often see five-player classes at Duke and Kentucky these days, but not at Michigan State.
With three seniors slated to graduate and several more likely considering early exits, Michigan State projects to have plenty of openings for the 2018-19 season. And on Wednesday, the Spartans officially filled five of them.
You can find background information and AAU stats for each signee in our earlier post. Here, we’ll discuss what each player brings to the program and where on the floor you can expect to see him down the road.
So let’s run down the list in order from first to last to verbally commit. Click on each player’s name to see highlights courtesy of Michigan State Athletics.
Thomas Kithier stayed verbally committed to Michigan State longer than any other player, and you can expect him to be a mainstay for the Spartans. Coach Tom Izzo compared him to Matt Costello — a versatile big who’s all in with the program (Kithier grew up a Spartans fan) and will do whatever is asked of him.
“We look at Thomas as a 6-8, 225-pounder that every time we see him, we think he’s improved some,” Izzo said. “The game is important to him. He’s a good student. He’s a guy that can shoot the ball up to 15-16 feet, maybe longer.”
Watch him at the AAU or high school level, and Kithier will quietly fill up the stat sheet. He finishes strong around the rim, boxes out hard and runs the floor. Should his range extend and his ball-handling continue to improve at the rate it has, he might see a bit of action on the wing. Think Kenny Goins’ progression in college.
Kithier thrives in the pick-and-roll game on both sides of the ball. Offensively he can roll to the rim or pop out for a jumper, keeping defenders on their toes. On defense, he brings solid lateral mobility and toughness. He doesn’t have the length of many of the bigs Michigan State has recently recruited, but he will finish strong above the rim.
If Kithier sees the floor early in his career, it will be because of his motor. He doesn’t fall behind the play and will give the same effort from the time he checks in to the time he steps out. Michigan State will be able to push the pace with him in the game.
Izzo brought up sophomore point guard Cassius Winston in describing Foster Loyer, and it’s tough to argue. He excels on the offensive end, not with a particularly lethal first step or jaw-dropping vertical but because he seems to see the game a step ahead of everyone else on the floor — just like Winston.
“I guess he’s got a little Scott Skiles in him, a little Drew Neitzel in him, a little Cassius Winston in him,” Izzo said. “He can do a lot of things.”
Loyer controls the offense, can find teammates on the move and absolutely lights it up from outside. As a junior, he shot 46.9 percent from 3-point range. And don’t expect him to bail you out for fouling him. He shot 95.7 percent from the free throw line, hitting 135 of 141.
At 6-0, Loyer doesn’t possess great size but knows how to use his strength to his advantage. He’ll jump into taller defenders, draw fouls and find a way to finish over outstretched arms. Defensively he stays positioned well and is a good communicator.
Asked what he plans to bring to the table early, Loyer said leadership. Don’t expect his youth to keep him from being vocal on the practice floor and in games.
Gabe Brown might feel a little slighted when he sees that Michigan State listed him at 6-7. He said he stands 6-8 1/2 and has a 7-3 wingspan. He said he would like to take over Miles Bridges’ role once the sophomore star moves on, but don’t expect him to play the 4 like Bridges did as a freshman.
“We’ve got a couple of guys that have to gain some weight,” Izzo said. “He’s one of them. He grew from 6’ 3” to 6’ 7” in one year and I think he’s still growing after I saw him a couple of weeks ago. We think Gabe, even though he missed with a little slight knee injury most of the summer, he’s got a chance to be one of the more versatile guys.”
Brown will likely step in at the 2 or 3, and he will be a pain on defense. His long arms and active hands get in passing lanes on the wing and block shots around the rim. When he’s not getting deflections, he’s affecting shots with just his presence.
On offense, he likes to emulate Kevin Durant. His range extends beyond the arc, but he also likes to get the ball 15 feet or so from the basket and go to work, either finding his way to the rim or hitting a turnaround jumper. He’s a creative offensive player who likes to find different ways to score.
As is the case with Kithier, Brown likes to run the floor and get easy buckets in transition. With his size and long arms, he finishes high above the rim with thunderous dunks.
Watch him play, and the comparison is obvious. Marcus Bingham Jr. will bring to the table next season what Jaren Jackson Jr. brings to the Spartans this season as a freshman.
“He probably shoots the ball as good as any big guy we’ve had,” Izzo said. “He’s grown 8 inches in the last couple of years, so he actually has guard skills where he can handle the ball, dribble the ball. He’s gained some All-State honors, and yet there’s a guy that’s just kind of in the making. If you look at him on potential, you might say he’s the best player potentially, because he has great potential.”
To realize that potential, Bingham needs to put on weight — 30 pounds, Izzo said. He’s also just learning how to play with his size, having long been a wing. That helps him in terms of being able to take the ball off the rim and push it up the floor himself.
Bingham has tremendous length and mobility, making him an extremely tough cover. His release is high and difficult to block, and on the other end of the floor, he gets his hands on a whole lot of shots.
Which of these players will be the first to make it to the NBA? It would be unwise to bet against Bingham.
Aaron Henry looks like a joy to play basketball with. A consummate team player, he works his butt off on defense and doesn’t force shots on offense. He finds his points within the flow of the game without needing to go one-on-one too often.
“He’s a player that we think is multi-skilled, can do a lot of different things,” Izzo said. “He’s a winner that does the little things. The word ‘winner’ is how his coach at Ben Davis [High School in Indianapolis] — who has had a lot of players over the years — talked about him, and I’d have to agree.”
The records tell the same story. As a junior, the 6-6 Henry led Ben Davis to a state championship, knocking off 5-star Spartans target Keion Brooks and Fort Wayne (Ind.) North Side in the process.
Because Henry plays within himself on offense, he puts up very efficient numbers. He shot 42 percent from long range as a junior. He also stuffs the stat sheet by playing hard on defense, getting his hands on passes and finishing possessions by crashing the boards.
Henry is the kind of player every team needs. He doesn’t demand the spotlight, and his play shows someone who cares a lot more about winning games than padding his own stats.
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