Meet the freshmen: Michigan State recruiting class ready to play a big role

Tom Izzo’s 2019 recruiting class stepping into the limelight ready to make immediate impact.

EAST LANSING — Going to a big school like Michigan State University can be intimidating, scary even for an 18-year-old – let alone a division one athlete at a school of almost 60,000 students.

To add to it, joining a historical basketball program that has housed players like Magic Johnson, Mateen Cleaves and Draymond Green can put on the pressure. Coming into a team that went on an exciting Final Four run last season is exciting, especially for younger athletes.

There’s a lot of emotions to feel when you think about MSU men’s basketball. But for the four new freshmen this 2019-20 season, they’re embracing it all.

Meet the freshmen: Julius Marble

The last to commit was three-star recruit Julius Marble. He’s a 6-foot-8-inch forward from Dallas, Texas who attended Jesuit College Prep. Coach Tom Izzo refers to him as an Andre Hutson type, who helped Izzo win his only national championship.

He has the ability to shoot threes and move well down low. He can use both hands and he’s strong on the block. While he had the talent to get to MSU, Marble had a different path than the other recruits.

“It started my junior year when I broke my foot. I was out for about 6 months and that kind of set me back as far as recruiting. Late my senior year, that’s when Michigan State started rolling in,” said Marble. “A couple of guys made calls for me and that just set it up. Coach Garland came out and saw me and he goes, ‘alright he’s a high-major player, he could play here at Michigan State’, and that was big for me because I didn’t think anyone would believe in me because I was hurt and it was probably too late for me to get those big offers. The fact that I’m here now is a blessing.”

Marble had to work extra hard to get to Michigan State. But even with the hardships of his injury and the pressure of vying for national attention from big schools, he never lost hope.

“I know you have to work for everything,” said Marble. “That’s what I had to do to get this scholarship so of course my mindset is a little bit different than some of the guys here. But I feel we’re all here wanting to work.”

Malik Hall

Like Marble, freshman Malik Hall is another hard-worker to look out for this season.

He already has some Spartan roots coming in since he played at Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas where former MSU player Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. went to high school.

He’s a 6-foot-7-inch forward and a versatile player. He has a high basketball IQ and the ability to play a variety of positions, which Izzo refers to him as an “OKG,” or “Our Kinda Guy.” He can handle the ball well and has the ability to shoot the three and play on the block. Izzo envisions him possibly taking over Kenny Goins’ spot.

“I feel like I pride myself on being one of those kids that’s gonna be tough and do whatever it takes to help my team win,” said Hall. “That’s something I want to pride myself on and I’ve gotten a lot better at it since I’ve been here… but I mean, just continue to grow in that aspect and bring that to everyone that also comes in that’s already here.”

Rocket “Speedy” Watts

Rocket Watts, or “Speedy” as Izzo likes to call him, is next. This solid guard from Detroit is the highest-rated of all this year’s recruits.

He is a tremendous athlete who can play multiple positions and could be a strong defender. He can shoot from long range, and he has the athleticism and size that any coach would want.

Watts was late to arrive at MSU. He arrived in early July, the reason he couldn’t arrive earlier was because his coach at SPIRE Academy in Ohio had left and for this reason, Watts decided to come back to Detroit to finish up academic requirements. He might be a little behind in that regard, but he’s already making impressions on the basketball court.

“He’s a terrific defender, like 94 feet. I think his strength and his speed… the way he can get over ball space naturally because he’s naturally just strong and quick laterally. It’s not hard for him to get over ball screens …” said MSU guard Joshua Langford.

“He’s adjusting well and I believe … I don’t believe, I know he’s going to be a great basketball player here at Michigan State. He’s going to do great things and this year he’s going to help us a lot. So I mean coming in, I think he kind of surprised a lot of people as well, so I’m excited.”

Steven Izzo

Last and certainly not least is Steven Izzo.

The son of head coach Tom Izzo, this one is a little special to the veteran coach. Being a head coach for 25 years and missing most of his son’s high school games took a toll on him and having his son Steven join the program as a walk-on is a great way for him to make up those memories and share his coaching life with his son.

“But what I really enjoy is every day I come to practice, I get to do something I didn’t do for 18 years and that’s the only thing I took a little offense on, and my apology for that because I understand how people feel and think,” Izzo said. “But once in a while, once in a while in this job — and I can’t tell you there’s been many times in this job that I have put my family before my job … And to be able to do a little bit of both, it’s pretty cool.”

These four all have a place somewhere on this team. They will fill in the gaps of the lost seniors from last season and complete Izzo’s puzzle pieces. As the team opens up the year with an exhibition game against Albion on Oct. 29, the freshmen are ready to make an impact despite the high expectations.

“He (Izzo) just told us like, you know embrace it of course. We’re number one. Yeah, let’s go in and show them, but… step by step we got other goals that we want to do as far as like beat Kentucky, beat Duke, all of that,” said Marble. “We got all of these little goals to lead up to the major goal of winning the national championship.”

Contact Natalie Kerwin at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @NatalieKerwin1.