Last summer, about three months after reaching another Elite Eight, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo expressed frustration over recent recruiting misses. The Spartans had failed to land Jabari Parker in the class of 2013, and elite class of 2014 players Cliff Alexander, Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor and Tyler Ulis all rebuffed the Spartans in favor of other programs.
“We had two tough years,” Izzo said at an Associated Press sports editors’ meeting last June. “When I say tough years the one year we recruited Jabari (Parker) and put a lot into that and we only needed one guy that year and didn’t get him and then the way we started out last year with the six or seven guys that we lost to Kansas, Kentucky and Duke. That’s a bummer in some ways.”
Every program loses recruiting battles, but the recent run of losses—combined with the departure of starters Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne—left the Spartans low on top-end talent entering 2014-15. Yet after a rocky regular season that included a series of baffling defeats, Michigan State rallied to notch the seventh Final Four appearance of Izzo’s tenure.
More good news for Michigan State came last week, when Caleb Swanigan, a center from Fort Wayne, Ind., verbally committed to the Spartans. Rivals.com pegs Swanigan the No. 17 player in the class of 2015, the highest-rated recruit for the Spartans since Shannon Brown in 2003.
As a senior at Homestead (Ind.) High, Swanigan averaged 22.7 points and 13.7 rebounds per game, led his school to a 29-2 record and a state championship in March and was named Indiana’s Mr. Basketball. He also set school career records with 1,649 points and 1,048 rebounds.
The Spartans had been considered one of the top contenders to land Swanigan, but multiple analysts indicated in the hours before he announced his decision that they believed he would pick Cal. “Next year I will be going Michigan State university," Swanigan wrote on Twitter. "Once a spartan. Always a Spartan."
In explaining his choice, Swanigan praised Izzo for his ability to deploy players in ways that accentuate their strengths.
"He just puts his guys in places they can succeed," Swanigan told reporters at the Nike Hoop Summit. "That's the greatest thing about him, he doesn't strap anyone to a place where they can't do anything. He gives them the freedom that allows them to go out and produce."
What should Michigan State expect from Swanigan? At 6'9" and 270 pounds, Swanigan was able to use his size to overwhelm most high school competition. Still, his coach at Homestead High, Chris Johnson, praised Swanigan for his high basketball IQ, his understanding of space and positioning, and his footwork.
Johnson also said Swanigan has improved his physical condition since he began high school and that he excels at drawing defensive attention to himself and creating for his teammates. “Once he gets it at the 15-to-17-foot range, he sees the floor well and is able to get other people involved,” Johnson said.
He added, “You can just tell that he understands the game of basketball.”
Those traits will serve Swanigan well at the next level, where he’ll face longer and more athletic frontcourt players that can more easily contest his shots around the basket. How will Swanigan match up? Consider the two clips embedded below that took place in the third quarter of the Nike Hoop Summit on Saturday.
With around five minutes remaining, USA guard Allonzo Trier missed a floater off the back of the rim. Swanigan established position on the block, held off World Team forward Nedim Buza with his right arm and grabbed a rebound with the other. He secured the ball, took one dribble and attempted to clear space around the basket.
Swanigan bumped World Team forward Skal Labissiere back a few feet, but as he rose to attempt a layup, Labissiere and teammates Buza and Zhou Qi recovered to contest the shot.
[Hover to play; source: ESPN]
In this sequence, which takes place with less than two minutes remaining in the quarter, Swanigan stepped in front of World Team forward Cheick Diallo on the right block and called for the ball. USA guard Malik Newman delivered it, and Swanigan maneuvered his way out of a double team.
He dribbled into the restricted area and pulled up for jump hook, only to have Diallo deflect the ball soon after it left Swanigan’s hand.
[Hover to play; source: ESPN]
Even if Swanigan may struggle at times against certain post players—on both ends of the floor—because of his relative lack of height, athleticism and quickness, his aforementioned attributes help him project as an elite college big man that can score and rebound effectively against Big Ten defenses.
Swanigan joins a Spartans recruiting class that also includes five-star power forward Deyonta Davis, four-star shooting guard Matt McQuaid and three-star shooting guard Kyle Ahrens. There’s a good chance the group will finish ranked in the nation’s top 10.
Even though the Spartans lose power forward Branden Dawson and guard Travis Trice from this season’s Final Four squad, they return guards Denzel Valentine, Lourawls Nairn and Bryn Forbes, forwards Matt Costello, Gavin Schilling, Javon Bess and Marvin Clark Jr. and welcome in guard Eron Harris, a transfer from West Virginia.
The mix of returnees and a strong recruiting class highlighted by Swanigan should put Michigan State on the short list of national title contenders heading into 2015-16.
• Swanigan may not have chosen Cal, but coach Cuonzo Martin scored a major recruiting victory for the Golden Bears when Ivan Rabb, a five-star power forward, committed to the Golden Bears on Monday night. He made the announcement at his mother’s restaurant in Oakland, Calif. Rabb had identified a list of top five schools last fall—Arizona, Cal, Kansas, Kentucky and UCLA—but reportedly narrowed his choices to the Golden Bears and Wildcats.
Arizona has out-recruited—and outplayed—the rest of the Pac-12 over the last two years, and the Wildcats recently had landed several players from Rabb’s grassroots program, the Oakland Soldiers. In the end, however, Rabb chose a nearby school that has enjoyed less success on the court and the recruiting trail. In explaining his decision, Rabb noted his relationship with Martin, who called him soon after he was introduced as Cal’s head coach last spring.
"Everything he said sounded so sincere. I'm a person who gets vibes from people," Rabb told the San Jose Mercury News. "Coach Martin brought so much energy, so much hunger to the campus." College coaches are prohibited from commenting publicly about prospects until they sign their National Letters of Intent, but Cal assistant Yanni Hufnagel did not hold back his excitement after Rabb made his decision public.
California, STAND UP and tell the whole damn world this is BEAR TERRITORY!!!!!— Yanni Hufnagel (@yhufnagel) April 14, 2015
In the days leading up to Swanigan’s commitment to Michigan State, some had speculated over whether Swanigan, Rabb and five-star forward Jaylen Brown would all pick the Golden Bears. That possibility was scuttled when Swanigan surprisingly picked the Spartans, but Rabb indicated on Monday that he still intends to try to persuade Brown to join him in Berkeley. "I'm going to step outside and talk to him right now to be honest," Rabb said on Monday.
Even if Cal doesn’t land Brown, Martin already has put together a strong recruiting class that also includes three-star small forward Davon Dillard and three-star shooting guard Tyson Jolly.
• Will Jamal Murray play college basketball next season? The Orangeville Prep (Ont.) standout said at the Nike Hoop Summit this weekend that he’s considering reclassifying to the class of 2015. If that happens, Murray looks capable of anchoring a team’s backcourt right away. Against some of the top American high school players in the country on Saturday, he distinguished himself by scoring in a variety of ways. The 6'5" guard connected on 12 of his 23 field-goal attempts for a team-high 30 points with five assists (and three turnovers). Indiana, Michigan State and Oregon are among the schools that reportedly are recruiting Murray.
• Another player reportedly considering reclassifying to the class of 2015 is point guard Derryck Thornton. Currently ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 9 player in the class of 2016, Thornton reportedly is set to meet with Duke’s coaching staff and visit Louisville later this month. Of those two programs, the Blue Devils likely will have a greater need for help at Thornton’s position. With Tyus Jones leaving for the NBA, Duke could offer Thornton the opportunity to play major minutes as a freshman. He potentially would join a backcourt featuring rising sophomore Grayson Allen and five-star shooting guard Luke Kennard.
Below is a clip of Thornton dropping Ben Simmons, the top-ranked player in the class of 2015, with a crossover.
[via Vine user NJSportsScene]
• VCU’s three signees in the class of 2015 have been granted their releases. Four-star small-forward Tevin Mack, four-star shooting guard Kenny Williams and three-star small forward Jordan Murphy elected to leave the Rams after former coach Shaka Smart took the same position at Texas. (Mack reportedly is considering the Longhorns.) Freshman forward Justin Tillman also was granted his release and intends to transfer, according to ESPN. Earlier this month, VCU hired Will Wade, a former Rams assistant who coached two seasons at Chattanooga, to replace Smart.
• Federico Mussini is open to possibly playing in college next season. The 6'3", 160-pound point guard is renowned for his offensive polish. He averaged 22.6 points per game and shot 43% from three-point range with Italy at the FIBA U18 European Championship last summer and drew positive reviews during Nike Hoop Summit practices this week. Mussini told DraftExpress that former Ohio State guard Amadeo Della Valle, a native of Italy who turned pro after two seasons with the Buckeyes, described college to Mussini as an “amazing experience.” Mussini visited St. John’s on Sunday and is also being recruited by Gonzaga and Virginia, among other programs.