Big Ten

Tom Izzo ranks Spartans' 2016 class as 'best we've had'


Tom Izzo ranks Spartans' 2016 class as 'best we've had'

They're hailing it as potentially the best recruiting class ever for Tom Izzo, the guy who's been to seven Final Fours. So yeah, it's kind of a big deal.

College basketball teams from across the country announced their 2016 recruiting classes on Wednesday, signing day, and the Spartans led the Big Ten with one of the best recruiting classes in the nation.

Izzo welcomed in four players ranked in the top 45 by Rivals: Miles Bridges (No. 11), Joshua Langford (No. 18), Cassius Winston (No. 28) and Nick Ward (No. 45). That was enough to make it the No. 2 recruiting class in college basketball, according to Rivals' rankings.

"I'd say in our basketball program, days don't get much better than this as far as a recruiting class," Izzo said in a video on the Michigan State website. "I give my assistants all the credit. Each one of them had something to do with each guy, and they did an incredible job. I think we've shored up some weaknesses we had. I think we've gotten some depth. I think we've added a class that will definitely be ranked in the top one, two or three when it's all said and done and I think, for once, deserving of all the rankings.

"You want to get guys that are great players, play-makers, that fit a position — and right now we feel we have somebody in each position — but maybe most of all, that get along. I think chemistry, we learned last year in our Final Four run, is one of the more important ingredients in a successful team. These four guys, as they all demonstrated on the Oregon weekend, they get along well together, they like each other, they know each other and they get along with our current players that are here today."

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Bridges is a Michigan native currently attending Huntington Prep in West Virginia. A 6-foot-6 small forward, he's a five-star prospect, as ranked by Rivals. Izzo paid him some ultimate compliments Wednesday, talking about Bridges in the same light as past Michigan State greats.

"Bridges, he's just an all-everything player. He's got as much versatility as anybody we've had in a while," Izzo said during a Wednesday press conference. "He can do some things like a (Morris) Peterson, he can do somethings like an Alan Anderson, he's aggressive like a Shannon Brown, Maurice Ager. He's kind of the jack of all trades."

Langford is from Madison, Ala., and another five-star recruit. Another 6-foot-6 athletic player like Bridges, Izzo talked about versatility and a do-it-all style with Langford, as well.

"Joshua Langford, a top-20 player. He's already a four-time Class 3A Player of the Year, and to do that means you were pretty good in eighth, ninth grade," Izzo said. "What I like most about Langford is he's got versatility beyond. He can play a lot of different positions, he can shoot the ball, he can rebound the ball. His dad tells me he's got to work on his defense a little bit, but I saw some clips, he looked pretty good defensively. Athletic enough to be a good rebounder, very long and a very, very good student."

[MORE BIG TEN: Northwestern announces three-man 2016 signing class]

Winston is a Detroiter, currently playing at UD-Jesuit High School. He's a 6-foot-0 point guard, and Izzo is happy to have a classic point guard in the fold for the future.

"Cassius Winston, kind of the straw that stirs the drink," Izzo said. "Twenty two points, seven assists is a pretty good stat. It means you can score it, you can still get some assists. He's had game-winners, he's had clutch free throws his sophomore year. He's a winner. I watched him over in Chicago this summer. He kind of just let things happen, and then when it was late, he took over a couple games, scored 30 and did a lot of good things. He is the consummate point guard because he can make other people around him better."

Ward, from Ohio, is a former high school teammate of current Spartan forward Javon Bess. The 6-foot-9 big man has impressed Michigan State coaches with his improvement in recent years.

"Nick Ward, he moved from a top-100 player to a top-40 and -50 player," Izzo said. "If you looked at him two years ago when he started recruiting him till now, he might've taken the biggest jump as a player, losing some weight, getting in better shape."

All those top talents, big stats and high rankings make for a recruiting class that almost all the recruiting rankers have rated near the top.

"This is a No. 1 class for me. I'm not sure it's No. 1 overall. But for what we need, how we play, with what we can do. To get a point guard the quality of Winston and a center that beats up people, and then I think we got two athletes that can run and jump and do a lot of different things. So I think it's perfect for our system. Some of the rankings always depend on: Did you get a collection of good players, or did you get guys that fit in? And I think we got some guys that fit in. Who knows where it will end up being ranked? And it really doesn't matter. All I know is it's a top class in everybody's (opinion)."

[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Spartans gear right here]

So after seeing the type of players Izzo brought aboard this recruiting cycle, it's easy to see why people are calling it his best ever.

But you don't reach seven Final Fours without a lot of good recruiting classes. So what does Izzo think? Is this his best ever?

"I think when you look at four top-39 kids (per ESPN rankings), that would have to be the best class ever (at Michigan State). No. 1, in numbers, you usually don't sign four, and No. 2, in talent level and the kind of kids they are," he said. "It's got to rank as maybe the best class that we've had, and we've had some good ones. But if you look at depth, positions, the fact that you've got a quarterback and a middle linebacker and then you got some players in between."

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately


Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal


Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.