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Spartans Look Strong for Next Year

March 24, 1999

LANSING, Mich. (AP) _ Michigan State is hoping to beat Duke and then either Connecticut or Ohio State for the NCAA basketball championship.

But even if top-ranked Duke sends the Spartans packing Saturday night, Michigan State fans can take heart. With only three players graduating and some hot new prospects headed for campus, another NCAA run next year looks likely.

``A lot depends on who leaves from this team,″ said Bob Gibbons, who ranks college recruits at All Star Sports Publications in Lenoir, N.C. ``But from a talent standpoint, they could be even stronger next year than this year.″

Assistant athletic director John Farina said he’s upbeat about next year’s team, even as he’s hoping this year’s team wins the national title.

``The future does look pretty bright,″ he said. ``With the number of key players coming back and the incoming class rated in the top 10, it appears things will be good.″

Seniors Antonio Smith, Jason Klein and Thomas Kelley are the only three players who definitely won’t be returning. Junior Mateen Cleaves, the team’s first-team All American, has not decided whether to return for his senior year or go to the pros.

But even Cleaves’ defection would be partly offset by the strength of new recruits, Gibbons said.

He points to newcomers such as Jason Richardson, a 6-foot-6 forward at Saginaw Arthur Hill who received the Mr. Basketball award Monday and will join the Spartans next season. Last fall, Gibbons ranked Richardson eighth among recruits nationally.

Another new force next fall will be Mike Chappell, a 6-9 forward from Southfield Lathrup High who transferred to Michigan State last summer after playing for Duke two years. He’ll still have two years of eligibility left.

Also on the team next year will be freshmen Jason Andreas, a 6-10 center from Sugar Creek, Ohio, and Adam Wolfe, a 6-8 forward from Westerville South High School in Ohio. Redshirt David Thomas, a 6-7 swingman, will play as a junior next year.

And the Spartans will still have 3-point whiz A.J. Granger, bench star Morris Peterson and starters Andre Hutson and Charlie Bell on the roster.

Even if the Spartans don’t win any more games in the NCAA tournament, making it to the Final Four will help coach Tom Izzo and his staff recruit more top prospects, Gibbons said.

``You can’t put a market value on how that means in exposure and with future recruits. Every kid in Michigan has now got to be dreaming of being a Spartan,″ he said.

Michigan State is in the same position Michigan was in the early 1990s, when the Fab Five had every high school basketball player mimicking their baggy shorts and longing to wear maize and blue, Gibbons said.

``Michigan State was really unable to break through″ in recruiting those years, he said. ``Michigan had such a stranglehold on the top prospects in your state. It was a great imbalance there.″

All that has changed. The Wolverines finished 12-19, missing a postseason berth for the first time since 1983.

And Izzo’s years of recruiting in Michigan’s shadow are over, at least for now.

``It’s noteworthy that the Spartans are now the dominant recruiting school in Michigan,″ Gibbons said.

That could help them in future years pull in Marcus Taylor of Waverly High School near Lansing, now ranked among the top juniors in the country. Or young up-and-comers such as Robert Whaley of Benton Harbor and Kelvin Torbert of Flint Northwestern, he said.

``Michigan State has had an outstanding recruiting class this year,″ Gibbons said. ``It could be the beginning of not going every 20 years″ to the Final Four, but much more often.

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