Schools from Michigan occupy a quarter of the 2014 Elite 8.
Both Michigan State and the University of Michigan have occupied the top 5 in College Basketball’s myriad rankings at some point this year and are slightly more likely than the field to make it to Dallas for next weekend’s Final Four.
I won’t say it’s great for the state—in the long run, kids playing for free for the major moneymaking entities attached to public research universities isn’t going to get GM hiring again or pull back generations of expats who left for Texas, the Bakken or places where you aren’t likely to find a dead body half-frozen into a pothole.
But, it’s a boost during an especially dreary winter, and who doesn’t like seeing home-state kids pound on southerners and effete coastal types?
Wait, even that narrative stands on shaky ground.
MSU and UM both lean heavily on out-of-state players to get the job done these days, with only two of five starters composing the teams’ starting lineups hailing from the Great Lakes State.
Under Big East-import John Beilein, Michigan has drastically veered away from its in-state recruiting: just three Wolverines call the eponymous state home. Michigan State’s Tom Izzo has kept the cupboard stocked with in-state players, but his main playing group consists heavily of Indiana and Ohio kids. Neither team’s stars—Michigan’s Nik Stauskas and MSU’s Adreian Payne and Gary Harris—hail from Michigan, a drastic departure from just 16 years ago.
You’re a national audience, so let’s run down Michigan’s Mr. Basketballs from 1997-2001: Shane Battier, Dane Fife, Jason Richardson, Marcus Taylor and Kelvin Torbert. It’s not the most auspicious list, true enough, but you’ve got two decade-plus NBA vets in Battier and Richardson and names familiar to national college hoops fans in Fife and Taylor.
The last five years… well: Keith Appling, Dwaun Anderson, Matt Costello, Monte Morris and Deshaun Thrower. Appling and Costello both play for MSU; Appling starts and is considered a potentially NBA draftee with flaws. Anderson is playing for somewhere called Wagner, Morris is serviceable for Iowa State and Thrower—this year’s Mr. Basketball, is headed to the august parquet at Stony Brook.
The fact is, the state which produced the Hall of Fame likes of Magic Johnson, George Gervin and Dave DeBusschere; the solid career likes of Steve Smith, Glen Rice, Chris Webber and Dan Majerle; the long-time vet likes of Kenyon Martin, Richardson and Morris Peterson, just doesn’t have a very full cupboard any more.
Even the in-state little brother in this year’s tournament—MAC Champion Western Michigan, bounced in the first round—features a roster less than half-loaded with Michigan-born talent.
It’s not like in-state kids are flocking in droves for other top-flight universities. There are five Michiganders playing elsewhere in the Sweet 16—Kentucky’s James Young is probably the only one who could crack a starting lineup at either of the Great Lakes state schools. It’s a far cry from the year 1999-when five state schools—MSU, UM, Western, Eastern and the University of Detroit—made the tournament almost solely on the backs of in-state talent.
Exported, future-NBA Michigan guys were everywhere—Battier at Duke, Udonis Haslem at Florida and Ira Newble at Miami (Ohio).
Maybe the state is in an athletic downswing—these things can ebb and flow, and good athletes tend to push each other to greatness, as the core of Michigan’s Fab-5 did as Detroit schoolboys and the heart of Michigan State’s 2000 title team did as prep competitors in Flint.
Michigan’s population has continued to grow at well below the national average, and certainly below the average of those states in the Sun Belt.
It’s in a definite ebb right now—at one point talent was imported to complement rosters, now it’s there to fill them out.