The Spartan Nation is a family. The 2015 version of that family expanded to two recently. Tom Izzo’s Spartans form a particularly close, and highly successful, branch of that family.
Kyle Ahrens couldn’t resist the chance to become a part of this tightknit group.
The prized shooting guard from Versailles, Ohio committed to Michigan State on Friday, becoming the second member of Izzo’s 2015 recruiting class.
Ahrens spoke with Hondo S. Carpenter, Sr. on Spartan Nation Radio, talking about his skillset, how he overcame a major injury, and his family.
Some basketball players don’t realize their potential until high school, or even in college. This wasn’t the case for Kyle Ahrens.
“I started playing AAU at a really young age,” Ahrens said. “I’m thankful that my uncle John, who’s a really, really close uncle of mine, got me on this team, and that’s when this all started. I had a passion for the game that not many other kids have and I always wanted to go into the gym to work.”
Ahrens exploded onto the recruiting scene with a strong showing in his sophomore season at Versailles High School. Ahrens scored 549 points in 2012-13, good for third-best in school history and just 35 points from the school record.
Offers flowed in from big basketball programs such as Butler, Xavier, and Michigan State. Ahrens also received interest from major programs such as Michigan and Ohio State.
A major injury in December nearly brought his plans to a halt.
“I went up for an alley oop and it was a short pass, and I came down wrong,” Ahrens said. “I couldn’t feel up my leg and I just felt two snaps and I knew I broke my leg instantly. Going through my head, I didn’t know what to think going in the ambulance.
“My mom was in the car right behind me, and she was constantly sending me texts, ‘God has a plan, this is God’s way of showing you a new path, a new way of getting to the person you want to be.”
Ahrens received a great deal of support from his parents during a long recovery that lasted well into the spring.
“My mom is the most supportive person you could ever ask for. When I went down with my leg injury, she sent Bible quotes every single day I was out because I had to sit out and watch. I couldn’t do anything,” Ahrens said. “My dad was on the coaching staff, he was there to help me every single day. He always said, ‘Pick up a ball and do some ball handling.’ He’s always encouraged me to work harder and harder.”
Ahrens also relied heavily on his faith to make it through the long days and nights he was unable to pursue his passion.
“I’m really close to God. All of my supporters, we’re all close to Him, and I just want to play for Him,” Ahrens said.
The 6’5” prospect returned to his AAU team (the King James Shooting Stars) in late April. He tabbed 5.1 points per game in 14 appearances. He’s still on the comeback trail, though.
“I’m about 85% right now. I start a skiing clinic next week and I hope to get my vertical up better than ever,” Ahrens said. “My leg is feeling great. I have aches here and there, but the therapist told me that’s going to happen for a little longer.”
Even after the injury, the Spartan coaching staff was undeterred in its pursuit of Ahrens. Izzo and his staff invited Ahrens for an official visit, an invitation he gladly accepted.
Prior to the visit, Ahrens had some familiarity with MSU. He played with Travis Trice’s younger brother for a time and still has a sweatshirt he got after Trice committed to the Spartans.
Matt Costello hosted Ahrens, showing him the ropes and introducing him to many of the players.
“I got to know Matt and Denzel [Valentine] really well, they’re such great guys. They work so hard and they always like to have fun,” Ahrens said. “I got to know the whole team. When I went in the morning to watch them work out in the weight room with the strength coach, they were all there working. I can’t wait to play with them one day.”
Ahrens loves watching this team’s play, as he identifies closely with its style.
“They’re freaks on defense: they work so hard. They’re all so disciplined by Coach Izzo and the whole coaching staff,” Ahrens said. “If you play hard on D, your shots will come back on offense. They all share the ball really well. Playing in open gym with those guys was awesome. I got to play with Denzel and Matt Costello.”
The Ohio visitor also had a chance to get to talk with the coaching staff at length. Ahrens would not be disappointed.
“I love their staff,” he said. “They all have jokes, they’re all having fun, but they’re there to work hard and help you be the best person you can be, on and off the court.”
Ahrens loved the school, players, and coaches so much that he decided to commit that day.
“I just got finished with open gym and I walked up to his office. I wanted all the coaches to be in there, and they were,” Ahrens said. “Coach Izzo talked, and right after him I said, ‘Coach, this is home for me. I want to commit to Michigan State. He got out of his chair and went nuts.”
“It shows me that they really want me. They really want me to be a winner at Michigan State.”
Ahrens fits in perfectly at Michigan State. His desire to give back mirrors that of many other Spartans.
“I’m just always here to help. I’m always in the community helping others,” he said. “With the way I was as a kid, I always wanted kids to help me, especially the older kids on the varsity team. Now I’m going to be that guy to help the little kids.”
Having been generously granted this outstanding opportunity, Ahrens hopes to return the favor by achieving his life-long goals.
“My dream has always been to go to the NBA and become a pro, and I know Coach Izzo can get me there,” Ahrens said. “But I will always have a [business] degree to fall back on and I will work hard in the classroom to get that degree. If my dreams don’t come true, I still have that dream of becoming successful in business.”
Ahrens picked the right place to pursue his dreams. He belongs in East Lansing.
“I’m so thankful for this opportunity to play for Coach Izzo and the whole Spartan Nation. I can’t thank God enough,” Ahrens said. “Every night I went to bed, I knew right away that Michigan State was the place for me. I’m just so blessed.”