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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Xavier Tillman had his mind made up Sunday when he left his official visit at Marquette.
He would commit to Michigan State, and he made it official with an announcement Friday at Grand Rapids Christian High School.
For a little while throughout the process, he thought Marquette might be the program for him. But after completing those visits and weighing Marquette, Michigan State and Purdue against one another, he knew MSU was the place for him.
Still, only four people knew between that point and his announcement: his mother, his girlfriend, his trainer and himself.
Not his coaches, his future coaches or the coaches left disappointed by his decision. It was airtight. Kind of.
“At first I was skeptical about my mom and my trainer …” Tillman began, then thought better of it.
Tillman said it was extremely difficult to turn down Marquette and Purdue, but ultimately, Michigan State proved the easiest choice.
“I chose the Spartans because I feel that is the best fit to achieve my goals and become a successful student-athlete in a great basketball program,” he said in his statement. “The idea of being a part of their program literally gives me the chills.”
Tillman cited two members of the Michigan State program as key in his decision. First, coach Tom Izzo because of his Hall of Fame resume and reputation for developing players.
Second, junior guard Tum Tum Nairn, who he met early in the process and has grown closer to over time.
“I’ve known him for about a year, but he’s a mentor to me,” Tillman said of Nairn. “He says a lot of real stuff. He’s been through a lot of tough things. But he’s a good guy, and he’s one of my best friends.”
Going to the Breslin Center and watching a game didn’t convince Tillman to choose Michigan State; neither did visits from the coaches.
What sold him on the Spartans was time spent with the team, whether at Spartan Stadium for a football game or out bowling. He enjoyed a camaraderie among the players that went unmatched elsewhere.
“(It’s been my dream) ever since I came on my first football visit, and I saw the atmosphere, and I saw how the fans reacted to the players,” Tillman said. “And then I saw how much the players and the staff love watching football, and they love being together. I was like, ‘I want to be there.’ ”
What he brings
Tillman said he’s 6-foot-9, 270 pounds. To put that in perspective, Michigan State’s next biggest player is Nick Ward at 250 pounds.
Tillman is a bruiser who will play with his back to the basket, fight for rebounds and wear down opponents. He’s a work in progress physically, losing fat and building muscle, but he describes himself as light on his feet and able to push the pace.
“I’ve got great footwork in the paint,” Tillman said. “I’m a tenacious rebounder. I can also push the ball. That’s why the four spot is open. When I get the ball, I can push it. I pass well, and I’m an improving shooter.”
That’s where he’ll need to improve the most. Playing the four spot at Michigan State requires more of a post game than at other programs, but Tillman still needs to get better on offense outside of his back-to-the-basket game.
“He’s got to improve his face-up game and knock some jumpers down, and I have no reason to think he’s not going to improve that,” Grand Rapids Christian coach Mark Warners said. “He just hasn’t needed to.”
Tillman said he’s relieved to have the decision made so he can focus on his senior season “instead of trying to focus on getting more scholarships.”
But the job isn’t done completely. Michigan State has two spots filled in the 2017 class with Tillman and his AAU teammate, 5-star forward Jaren Jackson. With five players set to graduate, the Spartans have at least three spots still available.
Tillman intends to be active in recruiting other players.
“I’m a guy that likes to talk to other players, likes to see what other players think, what other players do, how other players train,” Tillman said with a coy smile. “I feel like I could be a good recruiter.”
He’s good friends with 4-star guard Nojel Eastern, who he’s played against since childhood. Will he be in Eastern’s ear directing him to East Lansing?
“Yes and no,” Tillman said. “Yes, because I would love to play with him. He’s a great guard. But no, because he let me relax as well and let me decide on what I wanted to do. So I’m going to let him take his time.”
Tillman isn’t particularly close with 5-star wing Brian Bowen, who recently put the Spartans on his reduced list, but he said Bowen will be one of the first people he talks to following his decision.
Five-star forward Brandon McCoy has also been a top Michigan State target. He’s another big man, but with the Spartans losing Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter it wouldn’t be surprising for them to continue pursuing McCoy.
And looking way, way ahead, 4-star 2019 guard Tyger Campbell posted an interesting tweet after seeing the news. Jackson and McCoy are teammates of his with the Spiece Indy Heat, and he seemed intrigued.
— Tyger Campbell (@tygercampbell15) September 30, 2016
All ratings are from the 247Sports composite rankings unless otherwise noted.