EXCLUSIVE: MSU Basketball Target and One of the Best Players in the Country Has Eye-Opening Tom Izzo Story

Michigan State has been lucky to have legend and basketball Icon Tom Izzo at the helm for what will be almost 30 years. Niko Bundalo, a five-star Izzo target, shares an eye-opening story about the head coach in this Spartan Nation exclusive.
Michigan State's head coach Tom Izzo, left, hugs A.J. Hoggard during the senior night celebration after the game against Northwestern on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.
Michigan State's head coach Tom Izzo, left, hugs A.J. Hoggard during the senior night celebration after the game against Northwestern on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. / Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA

Niko Bundalo, a 6-11 forward in the 2025 class, is simply one of the best basketball players in the country. 247Sports Composite lists him as a five-star, with a near-perfect 99 player grade. He is the 24th-ranked player in the class.

Bundalo happens to be one of Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo's top priorities. Bundalo's coach at the elite Western Reserve Academy, Matt Garvey, told me that Izzo and the Spartans are the first team to come to mind when he thinks about his star pupil's recruitment.

"Coach Izzo has been a very, very active presence here on campus," Garvey told me. "Seeing him, he's very close with [Niko's] family. [Associate head coach Doug] Wojcik's done a terrific job. ... I think they're doing things, they're building a relationship with [Niko] that's very authentic."

Authenticity, sincerity, genuine -- none of these descriptors are new when it comes to detailing one of the greatest coaches to ever grace the game of college basketball.

When I talked with Bundalo, he was in the midst of training in California at elite the Meyer Institute of Sport. He will soon be leaving to go across the globe to play with Serbia's U18 National Team, something that will keep him busy all summer.

I asked Bundalo what he thought of Izzo beyond the Xs and Os and development of NBA talent. I asked him about Izzo, the person.

"He's one of the most down to earth, humble people that I've ever had the opportunity to be around," Bundalo told me. "I've been around a lot of NBA guys, high level coaches. I don't think anybody carries themselves with such a professional and a human being standard as he does."

And then, Bundalo told me a story about his unofficial visit he took to Michigan State last fall.

"It's crazy to me," he said. "We get to the hotel, and we go upstairs and get our room, we come downstairs and Coach Izzo just came from the banquet they had, where he was giving a speech. He just came and sit down. Within five minutes, there is literally a crowd of people around Coach Izzo, Coach [Doug] Wojcik, me, my parents, and like two or three of the other coaches. And we're just sitting down having a conversation and there's probably a crowd of 50, 60 people, like literally surrounding us. ... And people are all like 'Coach Izzo can we get a picture?' 'Get a picture?' And Coach Izzo did not deny one single person that asked him a picture. He took a picture with every single person that asked him for one.

"And then later on in that visit, I think the next morning, we went to the practice and I played a little bit, got a little workout in, and then we're getting ready for the football game, we get in a golf cart, and we're driving around. I'm driving the golf cart. There are people asking Coach Izzo to pull over and sign stuff, and he's getting out going within the groups of students that are tailgating and stuff like that, he's just acting like one of the guys. I don't think I've seen somebody so connected to the environment they're around. I think that the love Michigan State has for Coach Izzo, is just as much as he has toward it. It was really beautiful to see."

Bundalo considers the Spartans to "definitely" be among his top schools.

Michael France is Sports Illustrated's Michigan State recruiting beat writer, covering all things Big Ten recruiting for Spartan Nation. Be sure to follow him on Twitter/X@michaelfrancesi for exclusive Spartans recruiting coverage.

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Michael France