EAST LANSING — As he prepares to ink the best recruiting class in his tenure, Tom Izzo isn’t taking much credit for himself.
Instead, he’s chalking up his program’s recent recruiting success to the success of Michigan State’s athletic department as a whole, for creating a desirable atmosphere for recruits.
“I just think that we’re doing some things at our place, facilities, football winning, there’s an aura of being a Spartan right now that I think that’s a value,” Izzo said last month at Big Ten media day. “…We’ve got things going from the top to the bottom right now. And whenever you have that, it’s infectious at all sports.”
Izzo isn’t allowed to talk about specific players until after they sign with the program, per NCAA rules. But he is allowed to express his overall excitement about a four-player class that is ranked No. 2 in the country in the 247sports team rankings, behind only Duke.
All four members of that class are expected to sign their letters of intent with Michigan State during the early signing period, which begins Wednesday.
The class is led by Flint native Miles Bridges, a five-star forward who is ranked the No. 12 player in the country. He is likely to become the program’s highest-rated signee since Shannon Brown in 2003.
Joshua Langford, a five-star guard from Alabama, gives the Spartans a pair of five-stars for the first time in the modern recruiting era, since 2002.
Four-star point guard Cassius Winston of Detroit UD Jesuit and four-star Ohio forward Nick Ward round out the class. All four players are ranked among the top 50 players in the country.
All four pledged their verbal commitments to Michigan State within the last seven months, making for a flurry of high-profile commitments that will lead to lofty expectations for the 2016-17 season.
And while Izzo said he doesn’t think the class marks a turnaround in recruiting, it comes soon after the Spartans went two years without landing a top 100 recruit, in 2013 and 2014, while missing out on several high-level targets.
“We lost some guys over the last couple of years that you’re going to lose when you’re messing in those waters,” Izzo said. “It’s higher stakes.”
Now, fresh off of a Final Four appearance, the Spartans are landing blue-chip recruits at a rate unprecedented in Izzo’s 20 years.
“I think as a staff, we’ve definitely learned a lot in the last three or four years,” MIchigan State assistant coach Dane Fife said. “We’ve been thrown in the gauntlet quite a few times.”
Fife said there are a host of factors that go into every recruit’s decision, and there’s no exact formula for how to approach the process.
One of those factors that was in Michigan State’s favor this cycle, though, is proximity. In producing Bridges and Winston, the state of Michigan bucked a downward trend in the overall caliber of its basketball recruits. Izzo was among the first coaches to start recruiting both of them, and in the end both cited staying close to home as a primary reason for choosing the Spartans.
Langford, meanwhile, broke the mold by becoming a blue chip Michigan State commit from outside the Midwest. A college basketball junkie growing up, he grew fond of Izzo’s style of play, and committed soon after enjoying the program’s family atmosphere on a visit over the summer.
Ward, the first commit of the class, pledged to the Spartans from Gahanna Lincoln high school near Columbus Ohio, the same school that produced current sophomore forward Javon Bess.
And while the four current members of the class fill every available Michigan State scholarship, the Spartans may need to make room for one more. Josh Jackson, the No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2016, is considering Michigan State, along with Arizona, Maryland, Kansas at others.
Izzo reportedly scouted Jackson, who played the first two seasons of high school basketball for Detroit Consortium, over the weekend at a tournament in Iowa. He isn’t expected to make a commitment until the spring.