What Separates Elite Tom Izzo, MSU Basketball Target From the Pack

Niko Bundalo is a five-star recruit and a top target for Michigan State's Tom Izzo. Bundalo has about everything going for him on the court, but one thing stands out about him, and it could carry him all the way.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo talks to players at a timeout against Purdue during the second half of quarterfinal of Big Ten tournament at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minn. on Friday, March 15, 2024.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo talks to players at a timeout against Purdue during the second half of quarterfinal of Big Ten tournament at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minn. on Friday, March 15, 2024. / Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Forward Niko Bundalo is one of Michigan State coach Tom Izzo's top priorities in the 2025 class.

The five-star recruit recently helped lead Western Reserve Academy to the National Prep Championship, dropping 19 points in the championship game against the elite Newman School. Bundalo will play with the Serbian 18U National Team later this summer, competing for the European Basketball Championship.

Bundalo told me he stands 6-foot-9 and three quarters without shoes, he was measured while he was out in California training at the elite Meyer Institute of Sport. Bundalo is the 24th-ranked player in his class, per 247Sports Composite.

As one of the top players in the world at his age, Bundalo has a lot to offer on the court.

"I'm listed as a [power forward], but I would say I could play a [small forward] because I can handle the ball, I can shoot it. I can rebound, I can push the ball up the floor. I can pass the ball. I can guard, I can defend, I can be a shot blocker. I think my ability to affect the game in multiple ways is my strength."

For all of the ability he has, Bundalo told me his relentlessness is what defines him. More than any skill or measurable exhibited on the court. The late Kobe Bryant was Bundalo's idol growing up, and the mentality to compete is everything to Bundalo. Pushing himself to the brink is what he takes pride in.

Talking with Bundalo, I understood the sincerity of his belief in himself, his drive and his goals.

"There's no ifs, ands, or buts. From the day I was born, I've wanted to be in the NBA," Bundalo said. "I know this might be crazy to say as a 17-year-old kid, because a lot of kids might not be as bold-faced, but I'm working to become the best basketball player to ever touch the ball. For me, it's not about going to the NBA, I want to end up the greatest basketball player to ever play the game. So I hold myself to that standard. You think about guys, all the all-time greats, all that stuff is okay man, pressure builds diamonds ... I can't let it get to me, I won't let it get to me. This is what I've wanted my entire life. I don't care what the price is. I don't care I have to give up. I'll do whatever it takes."

Bundalo's heroes, Michael Jordan, Bryant -- they all held their teammates to a high standard on the court. Bundalo says he prefers to lead by example, but the intent is the same. He wants to elevate those around him.

"If they want to talk, we can talk. Thing is, I'm in the gym three times a day. If you're my teammate and you see that, and that doesn't ignite a fire in you to push yourself to be better, to try to find new ways to improve, then I don't know what else I can do, man," Bundalo said. "It hasn't not worked for me yet, I think our team at Reserve, we were a 15-seed at the national tournament, that we won the whole thing. A lot of that goes into holding people to a specific standard, but first of all holding yourself to that same exact standard."

Bundalo still has one more year of high school. Then he will likely play collegiately, for however long it takes before the NBA calls. Chances are, it could be sooner than later. Projecting how Bundalo would potentially perform at the NBA level would be unfair and irresponsible.

But when you think about the five-star ability, coupled with that mindset, you can't help but wonder.

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