Tom Izzo has spent his 21 years at Michigan State building the most bulletproof coaching résumé in the country. Nineteen consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament, seven Big Ten titles, seven Final Four appearances and a national championship in 2000. The way Izzo has done it makes his run in East Lansing even more impressive.
During a time when contemporaries like Duke, Kentucky and Kansas have served as direct prep-to-pro pipelines, Izzo has primarily found his success with four-year players. Zach Randolph is the only one-and-done he's ever coached. Since 2004, Izzo has recruited a McDonald's All-American as many times as he's gone to the Final Four (four).
But make no mistake: like every other coach in the country, Izzo is always willing to take the most talented players. He's just routinely come up a bit short. Jabari Parker, Cliff Alexander, Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis and Caleb Swanigan are among the recent five-star recruits MSU has finished second for.
Now that's starting to change.
Izzo has the best recruiting class of his career coming in next season, a group that only ranks behind Duke and Kentucky's monster classes and can still get better. Michigan State has four top-50 players signed, led by McDonald's All-Americans Miles Bridges and Josh Langford. It's the first time since 2003 Izzo has had multiple McDonald's All-Americans in the same class, and there could be another one on the way in star wing Josh Jackson, arguably the No. 1 player in the class.
How has Izzo reeled in his best recruiting class yet 20-plus years into his career? What's changed to suddenly make the Spartans a potential one-and-done destination?
"The Flintstones were before my time, but I always watched clips of them," Bridges, a Flint native, said when discussing how he became a Michigan State fan. "The Draymond Green era, I used to watch them all the time. I was a big fan of Draymond, and I still am. That's like a brother to me. I just became an instant fan."
There is perhaps no NBA player better at being an ambassador for his college program than Green is for Michigan State. He's given Izzo a perfect recent example of what MSU can do for you. Green stayed in school four years, went to two Final Fours and blossomed into an All-Star, max-contract player and NBA champion after being a second round pick in 2012.
And though Green just turned 26 years old, he's already become Michigan State's most important booster.
In September, only two months after signing his max contract with the Golden State Warriors, Green made a $3.1 million donation to the Michigan State athletic department to help build a new weight room. It was the largest donation in Michigan State history (consider: Magic Johnson is also an alum) and the second-largest known donation any athlete has ever given his college, trailing only the $5 million baseball player Curtis Granderson once gave UIC.
Green does more than give money, too. He has a group text message with every player at Michigan State this season, and has started playing an integral role in Izzo's recruiting efforts. Green is very close with Bridges and the rest of MSU's incoming class, accompanying them on their official visit last fall at an MSU-Oregon football game, when he was carrying the Larry O'Brien trophy all over campus.
"No one really has done what Draymond has done coming out of Michigan State," Bridges said. "He's created a path for the Michigan State Spartans."
How committed is Green to Michigan State's recruiting efforts? He even grabbed Steph Curry to Facetime Bridges from the Warriors' championship locker room when he was deciding between Kentucky and the Spartans. What teenager could say no to that?
"He's a great guy," Langford said after spending time with Green on the class' official visit. "He's just a normal guy. If you didn't know he made so much money, you wouldn't know he was an NBA star. He's such a likable guy, he likes being around everyone, he's just fun to be around."
Green's work isn't done yet. He's maintained a close relationship with Jackson, who is set to choose between Kansas, Arizona and Michigan State in April. Like Green, Jackson is a Michigan native.
"I've known Draymond for a while," Jackson said. "He feels like his experience at Michigan State was a pretty great one. Since we're so close, he wants me to have the same experience he had."
Bridges was quick to point out Green never pushed Michigan State too hard on any of Izzo's recruits, instead just trying to act like a big brother and provide guidance as someone who has been through the process before. Green is open about embracing a mentor role for younger players, and it has started to pay off in a big way for the Spartans, coincidentally or not.
When Bridges announced his decision to attend Michigan State, he wore a t-shirt that said #theclass and listed himself, Langford, Nick Ward and Cassius Winston on the back. The first name on the t-shirt was Jackson's.
With Jackson, Michigan State might have an even better recruiting class than Duke or Kentucky. It might be the No. 1 team in the preseason polls next year, too. There was a time when potential one-and-done NBA draft picks like Jackson and Bridges would have gone anywhere but Michigan State, but that's no longer the case.
Izzo's reputation and unparalleled success plays a big role. Having Draymond Green in your corner doesn't hurt, either.
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