Success at What Price?: Michigan State Spartans


-Matt Magill


To say this Michigan State Spartans basketball season has been a disappointment so far is a bit of an understatement.  The Spartans currently sit at 16-11, firmly on the bubble for the NCAA tournament and with a stark possibility of giving Tom Izzo his first sub 20 win regular season since the 2010-2011 season when they went 19-15.  A huge boon to the Spartans chances at success this season would have been the presence of top recruit and player of the year candidate, and one-time Spartans commitment Caleb Swanigan.  Swanigan, now a sophomore at Purdue is averaging 19 points and 13 rebounds per game for the 22-5 Boilermakers.  What Tom Izzo could have done with Swanigan holding down the paint would have had him in the national coach of the year conversation, no doubt.

So why did Swanigan head to Purdue instead of playing for one of the best coaches in college basketball, for a program with a more storied history?  Well, it all came down to an eighteen year-old’s demands.  Apparently Swanigan and his guardian, Roosevelt Barnes, decided to de-commit from the Spartans because Michigan State has a policy that requires freshmen to live on campus, something that Swanigan and/or Branes did not like.  The other driving force was the fact that Swanigan did not want to play center, something he may have had to dabble in as a Spartan (though thinking Izzo wouldn’t have moved him around a bit if he was as athletically gifted as he has shown seems silly).

The big question here is, should Izzo and Michigan State have moved heaven and earth to keep Swanigan and appease his guardian?  There is no doubt that the Spartans would be well positioned for the NCAA tournament right now if they had Swanigan (the only Spartan forward averaging more than four points a game is Nick Ward at twelve, and he’s only pulling down six boards a game).  On a guard-heavy team, Swanigan would have fit in perfectly.     Is nabbing that top recruit worth bending your rules, though?  Is it worth compromising what your program has been built on for years for the possibility of landing a game-changing player?  Should the inmates be allowed to run the asylum as long as it breeds success?

While I want to hear your thoughts, let me offer my own first.  As a long-time Michigan State fan, and an admitted Tom Izzo apologist, I say no.  No to all of it.  You can keep your recruit with his special requests.  You can keep your recruit that has a “guardian” that also happens to be a former agent.  You can keep all the trappings that come with entitlement.  If Izzo wanted to coach those kinds of players, he would have jumped ship and taken the Cleveland Cavaliers job all those years ago.  I will go to my grave saying that Tom Izzo is one of the best coaches of all time, primarily because he doesn’t have the top recruiting class each year.  Michigan State is not Duke or Kentucky that pulls in the best player year after year and spits them back out after a single season.  Tom Izzo creates basketball players at Michigan State.  Draymond Green would not be a perennial all star in the NBA right now if he went through the Calipari NBA-factory that is Kentucky.  Top recruits that think they are god’s gift to basketball would just serve to disrupt the basketball school that is Michigan State college hoops.  I would rather, as a fan, suffer through a down year here and there, then get to back to back final fours with a group of mature basketball players than have a team I find it hard to be proud of.

Spartan fans, what say you?  Duke and/or Kentucky fans, what about you?  Are you okay with how your team does business because it breeds success, even though the players coming through are only there for a cup of coffee, so to speak?


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