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‘We have stability’: How Tom Izzo landed a top recruiting class amid college hoops chaos

MLive Ann Arbor 8/30/2022 Kyle Austin, mlive.com
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo walks onto the court after the 83-67 win over Michigan at the Breslin Center on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022 in East Lansing. © Jake May/mlive.com/TNS Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo walks onto the court after the 83-67 win over Michigan at the Breslin Center on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022 in East Lansing.

GRAND RAPIDS – College basketball keeps changing, but Tom Izzo hopes he can keep his program near the top of the sport by offering stability in the face of chaos around him.

That was the approach, the Hall of Fame Michigan State coach said, when he assembled one of the highest-rated recruiting classes in the program’s history over this past summer.

“I took a different approach, in this craziness of the NIL and the transfer rules and this and that, we tried to take a different way that we have stability,” Izzo said. “We’re not going around, we’re still looking for homegrown guys. I think that hit home with some of them.”

As Izzo spoke on Monday at the annual luncheon of the West Michigan Sports Commission, his 2023 recruiting class had recently risen to be ranked the second-best in the country. It’s likely to finish the cycle as one of the highest-rated classes he’s ever landed (Izzo is barred by NCAA rules from discussing specific prospects but can speak of recruiting in general).

While some of his coaching contemporaries like Jay Wright, Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski left the business amid seismic rule changes, Izzo decided to stay on the job despite his dislike for the new landscape — namely the transfer portal and immediate eligibility and NIL deals becoming recruiting inducements

And while he’s made some adjustments to the new era, his core message and tactics are remaining consistent: development and roster continuity.

“I think in the end, our approach to saying ‘We want to develop kids, we want to build them, we want them there,’” Izzo said.

This offseason has been a window into Izzo’s roster management in college basketball’s new era Michigan State has taken players from the transfer portal on occasion when it has an immediate need, most recently in 2021 with Tyson Walker. But it’s gone there far less often than most schools; in the 2022 offseason, the Spartans were one of just eight high-major programs not to add a transfer.

The Spartans have also had fewer players transfer out of the program than most, a trend Izzo hopes to maintain. One of his tactics in that area is to maintain a smaller roster to create more playing time for each player. Michigan State’s 2022-23 roster will feature just 10 scholarship players, the fewest in recent program history.

Izzo said he hopes the smaller number of players that are in the program take ownership of it.

“The loyalty, the camaraderie and the togetherness, it’s still important in successful organizations,” Izzo said. “It seems like the modern-day students, kids, young adults, it’s here today, gone tomorrow.”

The biggest prize of the class is Xavier Booker, the five-star center from Indianapolis. The Spartans offered him a scholarship nearly a year ago, when the center from Indianapolis was ranked near the bottom or outside of the top 100 players in the country by most recruiting services.

But Michigan State did what it’s always done under Izzo: go hard early after top players from within its region. That early interest paid off when Booker ascended to be a top-five national recruit and garnered interest from the likes of Duke and Kansas, but still committed to the Spartans in late August.

Booker joined four-star point guard Jeremy Fears Jr. in the class. And shortly after Booker committed, the Spartans added commitments from sharpshooting guard Gehrig Normand and athletic forward Coen Carr in the span of two weeks earlier this month to vault the class into the top three nationally.

The latter two committed soon after taking campus visits. Izzo said his staff changed their approach onto those visits and asked their current players to play a larger role in selling Michigan State to future prospects. The results were encouraging.

“The people are participating in things are your best salespeople,” Izzo said. “I thought my players did a phenomenal job.”

Izzo also credited his coaching staff, which changed significantly with the loss of longtime assistant Dwayne Stephens in April, with helping land the class.

Put it all together, and Izzo has navigated a new college basketball world to land a class that will likely end up among his best.

“I think a little bit of everything has really helped us,” Izzo said.

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