November 10, 2010

Next In Flight: Izzo introduces '11 recruiting class

EAST LANSING - The latest step toward college basketball elitism? Tom Izzo says he sensed it this past recruiting cycle, when pursuing this year's group of recruits.

"I think for the first time - a little bit last year, but this year for sure - we started to reap the benefits of the Final Fours," Izzo said during Wednesday's basketball national letter of intent signing day press conference. "I thought we had kids that wanted to come (to Michigan State), wanted to come earlier, were excited about us. I think it really helped that we are playing in those Final Fours."

Michigan State's 2011 basketball recruiting class delivers versatility in skill, size and athleticism with three combo forwards and an underrated point guard whom Izzo fell in love with during summer evaluations.

"They all wanted to be here," Izzo said.

That's a change from the old days in the mid-1990s, when Izzo had to offer scholarships early and beg and plead and chase prospects all over the country in order to get signatures from top prospects. Now, Izzo has to be careful about the timing of his scholarship offers because there is a good chance that the recruit will commit on the spot.

"It seems like it has been a long time coming and maybe some of it back in 2000, a lot of these kids were 8- or 9-years-old, watching the Final Four with dad, and it is growing up," Izzo said. "It sure has capped off with the Final Four in Detroit and the Final Four in Indianapolis, when you look at the proximity and everything involved with it. I think it is starting to benefit us and that is a positive."

The class:

  • Wing guard Dwaun Anderson (6-3, 195), Suttons Bay (Mich.) High School.

    "He is a phenomenal athlete," said Izzo, allowed by the NCAA to talk about signed recruits from the class of 2011 for the first time today. "He's left-handed, can do a lot of different things and is constantly improving his shooting. That's the thing he has to do. He is more of a slasher right now, but his high school coach, Todd Hursey, has really worked on his shooting."

    Anderson was unranked at the time of his commitment and unknown nationally when Michigan State started getting serious about recruiting him. Today, Anderson is ranked the No. 89 player in the country, but Izzo agrees that Anderson's skill and athleticism are on the same echelon as former super All-America and Top 10 recruiting Shannon Brown.

    "If Dwaun were from a place where there is more exposure, he could be right up there (in the rankings)," said Izzo, who doesn't care much about such things. "Today they had over 600 people at the signing of his scholarship at his school. I told his coach that was what makes small town people impressive. Everybody turned out to be a part of it.

    "He's under the radar because when you are from Suttons Bay, you are just a stone's throw away from Iron Mountain, and maybe farther up north than a lot of basketball players."

    Anderson averaged 20 points 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks as a junior at Suttons Bay. He led Suttons Bay to a 25-2 record and a berth in the 2010 Class C state championship game.

    Anderson had 16 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks in the title game. He is a wing guard who can fill a highlight reel with powerful slam dunks, or fill it up from the perimeter with a steadily-improving jump shot. He has the frame and athleticism to meet Izzo's high standards as a rebounder and defender.

    Izzo told Anderson and Hursey he would be rooting for Suttons Bay in everything they ever do, other than this week's state playoff football game against Izzo's former high school, Iron Mountain. "I told them I have to root for the Mountaineers in that one," Izzo said.

    Anderson doesn't play on the football team. "But he probably should," Izzo said. "He's a great athlete."

  • Forward Branden Dawson (6-6, 205), Gary (Ind.) Lew Wallace High School.

    "He is maybe the highest-ranked player and is a combination of Raymar Morgan, body-wise, at 6-6 or 6-6 and a half, and very strong, extremely athletic, kind of Shannon Brown with his athletic ability and maybe - looking ahead - one of the best rebounders we have ever had and we have had a slew of good ones."

    "This kid's summer impressed me so much with his offensive rebounding ability. He led his team to the 3-A state championship game. He has an incredible amount of honors as far as being in every summer activity and ranking that there is. He has averaged 14 rebounds a game, which is just a ton, because he plays in a very competitive league."

    Dawson averaged 23.1 points, 14.7 rebounds, 4.8 steals and 3.1 blocks per game as a junior, shooting 62 percent from the field. Dawson was considered by many to be the best all-around rebounder at the LeBron James Skills Academy in Akron in July. He is an elite rebounder, with the shoulders and build of a college junior, and explosive leaping ability. Dawson needs to improve his ability to create offense for himself off the dribble.

    "He handles the ball well enough," Izzo said. "He has a left hand. He has post moves and a perimeter game. He has ball skills. It is just going to be repetition with his shooting, and he is a very good passer."

  • Wing Brandan Kearney (6-6, 182), Detroit Southeastern High School.

    "He is a guy that we started recruiting very early in his career," Izzo said. "He comes from a very good sports family, an athletic family. Kearney reminded me a lot of Steve Smith at the same age when I started recruiting him as a sophomore. He is skinny in nature but a little bit like Steve Smith, but his coach is tougher than nails and between his coach (George Ward) and his dad he will come in very ready for Big Ten basketball."

    Kearney averaged 15.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 3 steals at Detroit Southeastern. He shot 51 percent from the field and led Southeastern to the Class A regional semifinal.

    Izzo likes Kearney's ability to see the court as a wing guard, and deliver scoring, ball handling and passing with terrific versatility.

    "I think at 6-6, he is versatile enough to play maybe three positions," Izzo said. "He has some point guard skills, like Steve. He is a perimeter guy in general, where Dwaun Anderson is a powerful athlete, more in the Kelvin Torbert way, as far as a strong, athletic guy.

    "Kearney has a great understanding of the game and a great feel for the game. He has to get stronger, a little bit better defensively, like most of them. He can shoot but I would like him to keep improving his shooting range.

  • Point Guard Travis Trice (6-0, 168), Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne High School.

    Trice was the surprising relative unknown of the recruiting class. He was lightly-recruited and largely unranked when Izzo noticed Trice as the super-effective point guard on Dawson's summer AAU team. By the time Michigan State offered and received a commitment from Trice on Aug. 4, he had offers from Dayton, Minnesota, Northwestern and Butler.

    "Trice just has a knack," Izzo said. "He can shoot, he can see the court. He has a real feel. He can change speeds. You can tell he has been well-coached. He has great leadership qualities but a little quiet for me, but young yet. You can see a quick release and he is even a better passer.

    "Maybe on paper, he's a guy that people don't know as much about, but thank goodness that I got a chance to see Brandon Dawson during the year because Travis was on his team and I kept asking my assistants, 'Who is getting him the ball at the right time?' And it kept being Travis Trice.

    "I think this kid has as good an understanding of the game as any point guard I have recruited in a lot of years. I thought he was a decent athlete, and I have decided he is a much better athlete, after watching him for quite a while.

    "He is a terrific 3-point shooter with a great understanding of the game. That combination, to be an assist guy, a shooter, and have a great understanding of the game, is really important.

    "He is a little light at 168. He is going to have to keep getting stronger." ranks Michigan State's class No. 16 in the nation and No. 3 in the Big Ten. Some would argue that Kearney and Anderson are vastly underrated. All that Izzo knows is that the incoming group meets the standard that has helped him take six Spartan teams to the Final Four since 1999.

    "We have won in the past when we have had that great mixture of versatility," Izzo said. "We have a lot of versatility in guys like Kearney, Anderson and Dawson. And we bring in a good, smart point guard who can pass and shoot. Most true point guards aren't always real good shooters, but he can do both and that's what excited me about him.

    "When you combine this year's class with last year's class - which everyone can see looks pretty good with Keith Appling, Adreian Payne, Alex Gauna and Russell Byrd - I would say we have gone back-to-back really, really well with some good parts that fit the puzzle."

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