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Practice: First Look at the 2015-16 Michigan State Spartans

EAST LANSING, Mich.–It’s almost football season, but don’t tell that to Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo, because based on Wednesday’s media-invite practice–not to mention his 21 years at the Spartans’ helm–it’s always March at the Breslin Center.

Yesterday, Spartans freshmen, returning starters, walk-ons and the rest took to the floor in order to polish up before heading to Italy, where they’ll play at least four games versus all-star teams before returning Sept. 1.

For two hours, they dunked, stretched, shot, scrimmaged, listened and worked. And for two hours, Izzo critiqued, assisted, discussed and directed. They’re planning for Italy, but there’s another place they’d like to visit this spring…


They Were Only Freshmen(Right?)

Kyle Ahrens, SG/SF

Former Versailles (Ohio) star Kyle Ahrens looked ready for the Big Ten. Prior to his arrival to East Lansing, he was listed at 6’5.5″ and 195 pounds–and he’s every bit of that, if not more. He’s appears to be easily pushing 200. Physically, he doesn’t resemble a freshman; he should immediately contribute quality minutes. His shooting and ability to attack the rim make him a versatile inside-outside threat.

As long as his once-severely-broken left leg doesn’t become an issue, he should be a tremendous four-year asset on the court for Izzo.

Matt McQuaid, SG

Trunky legs and a nice release–that sums up former 4-star recruit and Duncanville (Texas) phenom Matt McQuaid, whose baby face screams “I was just in high school a few months ago!” Once his upper body catches up with lower body, he’ll fit well within the Spartans’ roster.

The 6’5″, 175-pound Texan admitted that it’ll take time to adapt to the speed of the college game, but he’s determined to find a way to get on the court. During the scrimmage, he made a couple of nice shots from the outside. There were times while he defended well, and there were times he didn’t.

He’s a freshman, so give him time to acclimate (Nik Stauskas, Nik Stauskas, Nik Stauskas)

Deyonta Davis, PF/C

Listed at 6’8″ and 205, Deyonta Davis enters East Lansing as the gem of the 2015 class. The former Muskegon star looked pretty good in the paint Wednesday; his rebounding should continue the Spartans’ traditional toughness on the boards.

After speaking with former player Austin Thornton, who is now a graduate assistant, tabbing Davis as the next Adreian Payne seems pretty easy. At first, it was hype-based. But Thornton played with Payne–and he said Davis arrived with a better build than Payne did back in 2010. Davis appears to be at least 235 pounds. Thornton confirmed.

Three years? Two years?! If Davis continues his development, he’ll likely play in the NBA. He’s sitting on the ideal pro-frame.


Returning Starters

Tum-Tum Nairn, PG

Sophomore point guard Lourawls “Tum-Tum” Nairn appears to be thicker than 170 pounds these days. Probably closer to 180. Physical transformations were everywhere, but Nairn’s development stood out to me. He’s bigger up top–shoulders, chest, back and arms–and just looks stronger (if that’s possible to determine by one practice).

Bryn Forbes, SG

According to Izzo, senior shooting guard Bryn Forbes no longer has “toothpicks” protruding from his shoulders. Once listed at 6’3″ and 175 pounds, Forbes–who reports eating four meals per day–appears closer to 185 or 190 pounds. In 2014-15, he made 42.7 percent of 3-pointers and averaged 8.5 points and 1.4 rebounds. Now that he’s stronger, look for those numbers to increase.

Forbes was the Spartans’ MVP throughout the summer, Izzo said.

Matt Costello, PF/C

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 14 Big Ten Tournament Ð Michigan State v Maryland

Clark and Costello will help shoulder the load up front.

Senior Matt Costello was high-gear, then low-gear, then mid-gear…

Again, it was only practice, so it’s hard to really judge a guy based on a couple of hours. But through three years, Costello has struggled to maintain the necessary edge. At 6’9″ and roughly 245 pounds, he could be a dominant force in the paint all of the time instead of every now and then.

While running full-tilt, he’s as emotional as they come. The Spartans will need more of that in order to make up for the losses of Travis Trice and Branden Dawson. This is the year for Costello, a former Mr. Basketball winner out of Bay City Western. Senior pants are required.

Marvin Clark, SF/PF

The 6’6,” 225-pounder appeared to be in great shape. He’s always been relatively muscular, but it’s plain to see that Clark, along with others, has taken advantage of the Spartans’ weight room and strength staff (and coach Mike Vorkapich). He dunked, like the rest, made some good defensive plays, like the rest, and just came off as a more mature and better prepared player.

Now a sophomore, he’ll be a valuable in-and-out option for a team in need of such skills.

Gavin Schilling, SF/PF

Back in March, Izzo questioned Schilling’s love for the game. The coach publicly challenged him, actually. Did he get the message? The 6’9″, 240-pound junior could be so much more with a little more focus. In 2014-15, he averaged a so-so five points, roughly four rebounds and about 17 minutes per game.

Multiply that by two and you’ll have what he could do–with “could” being the operative word.

Denzel Valentine, SF/PG/SG

The 6’5,” 22o-pounder looks like a senior in every way. He was calling the shots and directing the flow as Izzo stalked the court. In a sense, the Spartans are “his” this season. He’s a former Lansing Sexton star who has a deep-rooted desire to win a title for Izzo.

He’ll do everything this season, just as he has for the past three. The best version of Denzel Valentine will show itself this year.


Notes/Overall Appearance

Eron Harris is back. So is Alvin Ellis III. But the juniors won’t play in Italy. However, each one stands to have a respectable season–that’s if they get their affairs in order. Izzo doesn’t hate them, but he’s not very pleased with them right now. They’ll be on short leashes this season.

Javon Bess, a 6’5,” 205-pound sophomore–and wait for it…looked bigger. Everyone did, for the most part. That’s why they have all of that equipment, all of those treadmills and bags of weights. His ankle didn’t appear as bothersome.

Losing a pair of seniors, especially the likes of Trice and Dawson, doesn’t make for an easy rebound for a team coming off another run to the Final Four. It’s only August, but the Spartans looked like a legitimate Big Ten contender…and maybe more.

But that’s pretty standard for this time of year. Michigan State will show more of itself Nov. 17 versus the Kansas Jayhawks


Follow Adam Biggers of Today’s U on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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