Big Ten Premiere Basketball Recruiting Analyst Jeff Rabjohns Talks MSU Basketball Recruiting and All the Big Names!
Q: Jeff Rabjohns. How are you doing, my friend? It’s good to have you.
A: I’m outstanding. It’s great to be here with you.
Q: If I or anyone else ever says anything that disagrees with Jeff, listen to Jeff. When it comes to Big 10 basketball recruiting he is the preeminent authority.
A: I know you do and I really appreciate you saying that publicly. That’s really, really kind. I really appreciate that.
Q: From the 2014 class, Minnesota point guard, Tyus Jones. I told you I did not think that Tyus would come to Michigan State, although Izzo’s made a valiant effort. I still feel that way. Do you think Michigan State will get him, and if not where do you think he ends up?
A: I think I’d be a little surprised if Michigan Stage gets Tyus Jones at this point. I think some other schools maybe have kinda climbed a little higher. I do agree with you that Tom Izzo’s made terrific effort. I don’t know what else he can do as far as time put in, recruiting somebody and then watching him. I think at this point I hear several schools with Tyus. I don’t know if I’d come out and say that he’s got a clear leader at this point, but I would say I think there’s less than high percentage that he ends up at Michigan State this year.
Q: Now Illinois Center, Jahlil Okafor. I don’t think he’s coming either. I’m not saying with Tyus or Okafor is 100% certain, I’m just telling you what I’m hearing. Are you the same? What are you hearing?
A: Yeah, I agree. I’m not too sure everybody knows that Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor have talked about playing together. That talk has kind of grown a little bit at times, then it’s kinda dropped down at times. I really think two of the schools that right now are really making strong pushes and really involved with Okafor…well, there’s a number of schools, I shouldn’t say two…but I think Duke, Kentucky and Kansas are really making big, strong pushes for him. And I also think Carolina has done a good job of getting involved. They were out watching him during the second evaluation period. So I don’t know if I think that Michigan State’s on that top tier right now with Jahlil Okafor.
Q: What do you think about Tyus? I’m hearing Duke big, but you’re thoughts…what are you hearing?
A: Duke is the school that I hear the most because I think they’ve been really active and aggressive. I’m not gonna count Baylor out on that one. There have been some conversations there that maybe he’s had a little more with Baylor, a little longer with Baylor. Tyus I think, as most people know, is basically down to Baylor, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State, Minnesota and Ohio State. But I think I would probably… I guess in that situation I would probably say probably Duke for Tyus Jones as it looks like right now. Maybe it changes a little bit, but Duke is in a really good position.
Q: So you think there’s a good shot Duke could get Tyus and Jahlil possibly?
A: I think it’s possible. A lot of times when kids talk about wanting to go together it doesn’t turn out to be anything more than talk. These guys are awfully good friends. I was out there in Los Angeles for the opening of the Nike Elite Basketball League this year and even though Jahlil was injured, nothing serious but he was sitting out that game that weekend, as soon as games were over he and Tyus Jones are together. They’re eating together, they’re hanging out together. Certainly there’s a friendship there that leads me to believe it is possible that these two guys might make a decision like that.
Q: Now we go to an Illinois point guard from the 2014 class. I think Michigan State’s gonna get Tyler Ulis. Your thoughts?
A: I think they’ve got a really good shot there. They kinda came in a little bit later than a couple other people to the whole situation. He’s a little bit under size, so I think maybe some people wanted to be really sure about him. And Michigan State might be in that category. He was listed at 5’8”. I’ve stood next to him before and that’s about all I’d be willing to give him is 5’8”. But he does have an awful lot of skill. He’s very quick. He can do an awful lot with the ball in his hands, looks for other guys. He plays for the Chicago Mean Streets program, plays with other league players. He’s ranked among the top 70 players in his class. Really good player. I think Michigan State has a really good shot there. I really do. There’s some other schools that have been around maybe a little bit longer. Purdue’s been on him, Vanderbilt, Hall, Florida’s gotten involved, that might be interesting to see. But I think Michigan State’s got a really good shot there.
Q: Cliff Alexander…I hear Illinois and Michigan State are certainly in it, but Kentucky is his dream offer. He told me on this show that Kentucky was his dream offer. Do you agree that Kentucky is the school to beat and also, did I give my listeners bad information when I reported last year that his visit to Kentucky did not go well originally?
A: No, you gave very good information about that first Kentucky visit. That came last fall during Big Blue Madness. Kentucky had a whole lot of people down there, including 2013 prospects, because at that point in time they were in the early stages of that class. Cliff Alexander also made a visit down there. Basically what happened was John Calipari spent an incredible amount of time with the 2013 prospects who were there. Cliff Alexander left and basically told people Coach John isn’t even talking to him. What the heck’s going on? So that certainly was not a great visit from Kentucky standpoint. However, since that point in time, Kentucky’s gotten aggressive, got back in the mix, had a chance to sit down and talk to Cliff Alexander and say, Hey listen. The thing about Big Blue Madness, we didn’t have anybody in 2013 and we had to take care of those guys. We weren’t ignoring you, you’re important to us, etc, etc. That relationship I think from everything I hear has been repaired between Kentucky and Cliff Alexander. I think right now the schools you mentioned are the ones who are serious contenders. I talked to Cliff a couple times this spring and he did say he’s also planning to take an Indiana visit at some point before making his decision. That would be his second visit to Indiana. But the schools you mentioned are the schools that are serious contenders. I do think that Illinois and John Groce have made some pretty good inroads there and are seriously involved in this particular recruitment, which probably was not the case early on when Illinois first jumped in. But John Groce stayed right with it, so to speak. He was out there in Los Angeles, he was out there at Willams, he’s been following Cliff Alexander really, really carefully. I don’t know the final destination with the whole Kentucky situation, but Illinois is involved there.
Q: I was told by somebody who I trust that’s close to Cliff that Michigan State may be fourth behind Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana. Do you think that order is pretty accurate?
A: I might put Michigan State ahead of Indiana on that list. I do think Kentucky’s out front. I do think that Illinois has made up an awful lot of ground. Whether or not they’ve made a jump on Michigan State depends on who in Chicago you talk to. There are some people in Chicago who do feel that has happened. There’s some that don’t feel it has happened just yet. Indiana’s still involved there, but I think at this point I would put Michigan State ahead of Indiana on that list at this point.
Q: Staying in the class of ’14, Indiana shooting guard JaQuan Lyle.
A: JaQuan is just a terrific athlete, 6’5” shooting guard. I even hesitate to call him a shooting guard because at one point in time he was leading his AAU team based here in Indiana in steals, rebounding and assists, but he wasn’t the top scorer. They had players like Trevon Lewis, James Blackmon Jr., Trey Lyles who’s now healthy. So they’ve got an awful lot of talent on that time. JaQuan right now has already cut his list…well, he opened it back up a little bit. He’s got Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Louisville, Ohio State, Tennessee and UCLA on his list. I think right now I would say probably Louisville is a school that a lot of people think is probably on top. I would be surprised at the end of the day if he goes very far from home. He has a grandma who he’s incredibly close to, who has basically raised him for all intents and purposes. So I would be surprised if he goes too far. I think he ends up at either Louisville, Indiana, perhaps Illinois. But I think those are the three most likely places for JaQuan Lyle.
Q: Even though he opened it back up, you don’t see Michigan State in play there?
A: It doesn’t look like it. He cut his list about six weeks ago, maybe a little bit more, and then the only door that he kinda opened was he opened it back up and said UCLA’s gonna be added back on there. But other than that he hasn’t really done anything else. I don’t think Michigan State’s gonna have a chance to really get back in there with JaQuan Lyle.
Q: Kevon Looney from Wisconsin…what do you think?
A: Kevon Looney I think, number one, he’s a terrific player. He’s an absolutely wonderful player. He’s ranked in the top ten and I think he’s one of those guys who deserves it. 6’8”, awful lot of athletic ability. Just love the way he plays, love the way he moves, all the different things. I think he’s just a terrific, terrific prospect. He can do a lot of different things and do a lot of different things well. Plays good ball in his hands, can play without the ball in his hands. I don’t think Michigan State is among the schools that are seriously involved there. He’s another kid who’s got some pretty heavy Kentucky interest and Duke interest, and I think if either one of those really put on a hard press they might be able to seal the deal. But neither one of those have really pushed hard for a decision yet. Michigan State’s in there, Michigan is in there, there’s been a little bit of North Carolina interest. But I think that one’s a little more open than some of the others. I don’t know that Kevon Looney is to the point where you would call a clear leader or anything just yet.
Q: We just went over six guys from the class of ’14. It looks like there’s only one of them that Michigan State is even a clear leader for and that’s not even a slam dunk. That’s Ulis. Am I misrepresenting that?
A: No, no. That’s probably very fair. Like I said, I think Michigan State’s got a real shot at Tyler Ulis. But I would agree, in no way am I gonna go out and see that they’re his clear leader at this point.
Q: Gavin Schilling and Alvin Ellis, both good kids. Originally Michigan State wasn’t interested; they got in kinda late on them. I do not expect either will make a major impact next year. Do you agree?
A: Yeah, I don’t think either one of them are what you would call guys who are gonna come in and be instant impact guys. There’s certainly nobody on the level of a Gary Harris or Valentine or even Costello or anything like that coming in right away. I think they can be solid guys. I think they can help, they can contribute. But I don’t know that I would say you would expect them to do a lot right off the bat as freshmen. I do like Gavin Schilling’s size at 6’9”. And coming out of Findlay Prep, he played against some pretty good players and obviously with very good players. I like Ellis’s athletic ability at 6’5”. I like him playing at small forward. But again, I don’t think either one of them you expect to have a big time impact right away.
Q: Based on how ’13 went and how ’14 is shaping up, should Spartan fans be concerned?
A: I think there’s a little reason for concern. Certainly Michigan State’s got enough of a track record that you wouldn’t say it’s time to sound big alarms, but when you look at the fact that they took some big swings and they went after some really big name guys…Jabari Parker, guys like that, Jahlil Okafor the #1 player in the country in the 2014 class, Tyus Jones another top 10 kid. You’re talking about taking some really big swings. If you take big swings and miss on top 10 guys and land top 50-60 guys, or something like that, I don’t think it’s a big problem. When you take big swings and miss and really gotta kinda then scramble after that, that’s gonna become a problem. If this happens one year it’s not really a big deal. But when you look at Michigan State’s roster, certainly you gotta think Gary Harris goes to the NBA after sophomore year, could have left after his freshman year…you don’t have any instant impact guys in 2013, as we talked about Alvin Ellis and Gavin Schilling. If you don’t get some really top guys in the 2014 class, that’s when you can start to wonder if this is gonna be a down year. Are they gonna struggle? I think it’s certainly a cause for concern. I think Michigan State earned some benefit of the doubt, but when you look at who they were going after in ’13, who they didn’t get and who they were going after ’14, and if they don’t end up with a Tyus Jones or a Jahlil Okafor or somebody like that, certainly it would change that roster quite a bit. And I think it would be cause for a least a little bit of concern.
Q: Did you have Ellis or Schilling in the top 50?
A: In the top 50? I don’t have my notes in front of me right now, but I don’t think so. No.
Q: Class of 2014 point guard from Michigan, Eric Davis. Do you have any insight on him?
A: I’ve talked to some people about him a little bit and I got a chance to see him play a little bit. You and I have talked about this. I like to see kids play a minimum of three times before I really have an opinion, simply because if I watched you one time I don’t know… I wanna see you at your best. Did I see you at your middle and can you repeat that level of performance against the quality competition? I really like to see somebody three times before I have a pretty solid opinion. I’ve seen Eric Davis play with the Family program. I think he’s got an incredible amount of potential. He’s 6’3” and at a point guard you can do an awful lot of things…I should say I saw him do an awful lot of things. I’m kind of assuming that the couple times that I’ve seen him this is what he can do. But I really like what I see. I think we’re talking about a guy who’s gonna be a top 30-35 guy in his class. He’s ranked 25th right now. We got some time left in 2015 to see how things shake out, but I think he’s a terrific prospect. From what I’ve seen from him, again a limited amount from only a couple games. But with that size, quickness, ability with ball in his hands, ability to score, ability to get to spaces with the ball…not just create something from self, but to get the ball to a space to suck in a defender so he can create something for another teammate. I think he looks like’s gonna be a pretty good prospect.
Q: Are there guys on the radar that you’re hearing Michigan State has interest in for ’14 or ’15 that maybe haven’t been discussed? If not, can you give us some guys that you think down the road State could be interested in?
A: I think you hit all the main guys. I think there’s some younger guys in the Midwest who Michigan State can get involved in. One really interesting name that I know there’s interest in is a kid named Caleb Swanigan out of the Ft. Wayne, Indiana area. He’s 6’8”, about 280 lbs or so. He was an offensive tackle in football. He’s playing two years with the 2014 group of the Spiece Indy Heat, which is the JaQuan Lyle, Trevon Bluiett, James Blackmon, Trey Lyles, that level of a player. He’s really starting to come on. He’s rebounding well. He’s still gotta get himself into basketball shape. He still hasn’t decided if he’s gonna be football or basketball, but he’s really physical. He can do an awful lot around the rim. He’s not a runner by any means as you can guess by his size, but he’s athletic. He’s nimble. He’s got balance. He’s got good hands, those kinds of things. Even though he’s a big time high riser he’s not gonna jump up and dunk on everybody. He knows how to use that big body pretty well. Playing around, cleaning a little space… That’s a kid that Michigan State has shown some interest in. He’s a guy, I think from talking to him recently, he’s starting to get a lot more Big 10 attention and it sounds like Michigan State’s one of the teams that’s certainly gonna be there. I would put him at the top of the list as far as naming new names that are really emerging. Caleb Swanigan out of the Ft. Wayne area.