May 2, 2011

Valpo senior to visit Izzo today, discuss possible transfer

EAST LANSING - Michigan State's basketball program will play host to a unique official visit today (Monday) when Valparaiso University's Brandon Wood tours campus.

Wood, a 6-foot-2 combo guard, was first-team All-Horizon League during the 2010-11 season while at Valparaiso. Michigan State is interested in possibly adding him to its current roster for immediate eligibility in the upcoming season.

"Brandon and his sister and his mother and myself will be making the three-hour drive to Michigan State (on Monday)," said Brandon's father, Anthony Wood, on Sunday night.

Wood has one year of eligibility remaining. Because he will graduate from Valparaiso in May, NCAA rules allow him the opportunity to transfer and retain immediate eligibility, provided that the school he transfers to has a graduate program that is not offered at his current school.

"It's definitely exciting," said Mr. Wood. "It gives Brandon an opportunity to push himself to the next level and be successful, and potentially be a part of a successful program and work and learn from a Hall of Fame coach and an historic program. We'll see how it works out."

Michigan State lost three guards to graduation after the 2011 season: Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers and Mike Kebler. MSU dismissed Korie Lucious from the team in January. He would have been a senior this upcoming season if he were still a Spartan.

Michigan State will return only one experienced guard, sophomore Keith Appling. Forward/guard Austin Thornton will also return, along with 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman wing shooter Russell Byrd. But MSU will largely rely on incoming freshmen Travis Trice, Dwaun Anderson, Brandan Kearney and Branden Dawson for extended minutes. The potential addition of Wood would add a dose of maturity and decrease MSU's pending reliance on rookies in the backcourt.

Wood has been in contact with Michigan State for nearly a month, beginning with an email that he sent to more than 30 schools, letting them know he was interested in possibly transferring for his senior year.

He has no other official visits scheduled at this time, although he initially reached out to Indiana, Purdue and Maryland as well.

Wood averaged 16.7 points on 52 percent shooting (36 percent from 3-point range) to go along with 4.3 rebounds and a team-high 3.1 assists per game.

He helped lead Valparaiso, a Division I program located in northern Indiana which has made seven appearances in the NCAA Tournament, to a 23-12 record.

What you need to know about this recruitment:

  • MSU has not yet offered a scholarship, and cannot offer until Wood officially asks for his official release from Valparaiso.

  • Wood declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft, but has not hired an agent. He is expected to withdraw his name from the NBA Draft pool on Sunday, May 8, the league's deadline.

  • Wood asked Valparaiso to send Permission to Contact letters on his behalf to Michigan State, Purdue, Indiana and Maryland. Wood's father said that Wood has had conversations with coaches from Michigan State and Purdue since then, but not Indiana and Maryland.

  • Wood has asked that Valparaiso send out additional Permission to Contact letters on his behalf to UConn, Providence and Florida State. Wood's father said those letters will go out today.

  • Wood has spoken with Tom Izzo at least twice, and with assistant coach Mike Garland, and current Michigan State senior Draymond Green. Wood's father has also spoken with Izzo once and Garland once. But today's official visit will mark the first face-to-face meeting between the parties.

  • Wood desires the opportunity to play against major conference talent in his senior season, develop his game, enhance his ability to play professionally after college and be a part of a high-major championship program. He was attracted to Michigan State due to the youthful nature of the Spartan backcourt and the opportunity to provide some experience and proven scoring ability. MSU is interested in him for the same reason, to potentially provide a boost of experienced talent.

  • Mr. Wood said they plan to ask Valparaiso for official release from his scholarship this week.

  • Wood's father said there is no preferred timeline or deadline on his family's behalf, or Valpo's, or Michigan State's, in attempting to reach a decision on this matter. It is likely, however, that something will be decided at least by the end of the month. Something could happen by the end of the week if Michigan State decides to move forward and aggressively recruit him with a scholarship offer after Valparaiso releases him from his scholarship.

  • Wood and Valpo played against Michigan State on Nov. 22, 2009, early in Wood's first season at Valpo, as a sophomore. Wood had a game-high 24 points at Breslin Center that day, going 7-of-18 from the floor, 9-of-10 from the foul line and 1-of-6 from 3-point range. Michigan State won, 90-60.

  • New Michigan State assistant coach Dane Fife recruited Wood when he was coming out of Kokomo (Ind.) High School. Wood signed with Southern Illinois, and then transferred to Highland (Ill.) Community College. Fife recruited Wood again when he was coming out the junior college ranks and eventually signed with Valpo. Fife coached against Wood the past two seasons when Fife was head coach at Indiana-Purdue/Fort Wayne.

    A transcript of's interview with Brandon Wood's father, Anthony Wood: did Brandon's involvement with Michigan State begin?
    Anthony Wood: "About two or three weeks ago, Brandon requested Permission to Contact letters from Valpo, and they had two options at that point. They could have either given him a blanket Permission to Contact order where he could have just sent out to any school that he was interested in talking to, or they could have given him a specific Permission to Contact letter, which is what Valpo chose to do. That means that they asked Brandon to give them a list of five to eight different schools that he may be interested in having a conversation with. Michigan State was on that list that Brandon submitted to Valpo. They proceeded to send out that letter to Michigan State. And they (Michigan State) reached out to contact Brandon, to talk about what his interests were and what they had to offer."

    Brandon sent one of those letters to Michigan State and Michigan State responded, basically?

    What other schools are you having dialogue with right now?
    "The only schools that he sent that Permission to Contact letter to are Purdue, Michigan State, Indiana and Maryland.

    "This is new: Monday, he is going to ask for three more letters, to be sent to UConn, Providence and Florida State."

    Brandon is graduating on May 15?
    "Yes, with a degree in sports marketing and business. I'm very proud of that, more proud of that than this whole basketball thing."

    When Michigan State showed interest, who from Michigan State called Brandon? And do you think Michigan State was surprised to get this type of contact from a Valparaiso senior?
    "Brandon heard from Coach (Mike) Garland first. I'm not quite sure if Michigan State was surprised or not."

    Did Michigan State have any idea the Permission to Contact letter was coming?
    "Brandon sent an email about a month ago. With the NCAA rules, he was allowed to send out an email to any program that he was interested in to let them know that he would like to have a conversation about transfer opportunities. He sent out an email to all of the Big Ten, Big East, SEC schools and few in the Big 12. At least 30 or 40 schools received an email from Brandon saying that he was exploring is options and would like to have a conversation with them.

    "When all the schools received that email, they obviously couldn't respond or call Brandon because they needed a Permission to Contact letter. So after he sent the emails, some time went by and then he requested the Permission to Contact letters from Valparaiso and had them fax the letters that were on his list. That is what began the conversation with Michigan State."

    Is the youthful nature of Michigan State's backcourt a main reason that Wood was interested in MSU?
    "That's absolutely correct. And actually before he even got to the point of reviewing the rosters, the thing that makes this work is finding the masters or graduate program that he is interested in that is not available at Valpo and then seeing if the studies that he is interested in is available at the school. After we did our due diligence in looking into that, then it came down to: Okay, here is a list of schools that have some graduate programs that I'm interested in that aren't offered at Valpo. And then we took a look at the rosters to see who is coming back, who is currently on scholarship, what type of incoming recruits are coming in at what positions.

    "It's pretty obvious at this point in his career that competing against seniors may not have been a good fit. So obviously with Michigan State's roster with what happened this past season and who is not with the program and who is coming in, he thought that it at least warranted an official visit and continued conversations with the program."

    What are your perceptions of Michigan State's program? What else attracted you to Michigan State?
    "Being from Indiana, we are obviously familiar with the Big Ten and the success of Michigan State. It's obviously exciting for Brandon to have the potential opportunity to play for what we believe is a future Hall of Fame coach with strong NBA ties, a disciplined, focused coach who demands respect and is very good at teaching young players both offense and defense and just being a part of a program that has been very successful in the immediate past."

    Have you set up official visits with Purdue, Indiana or Maryland, or other schools?
    "No official visits have been set up with any other schools. We have had conversations with the Purdue coaching staff. We have not had any conversations with any other schools that he has sent those Permission to Contact letters to. I'm assuming that that's going to change in the next couple of days because of the letters that he is going to have sent out. But as of right now he has only had conversations with Purdue and Michigan State."

    How much contact have you had with Izzo?
    "Brandon has talked to Coach Izzo two or three times. I have talked to Coach one time, a few days ago. I had one conversation with Coach Garland, and we have had a couple of conversations with Draymond Green."

    What were some of the details of your conversation with Izzo?
    "To begin the conversation, Coach Izzo wanted to get a little background on Brandon, and how we even arrived at the point that Brandon was considering not coming back to Valpo. He wanted to hear my point of view on how Brandon's career has progressed, leaving high school and going to Southern Illinois University, and it not quite working out so well there, and getting injured early, and then his experience in junior college.

    "And we went into a lot of detail on what Brandon's strengths and weaknesses are from my perspective, not just as his parent but as a basketball guy. He said, 'Anthony, before we even get into my recruiting spiel, why don't we just talk about Brandon, where he has been, how he ended up going where he has chosen to go to,' so that he could get a better feel on how we ended up having this conversation to begin with. So I kind of went through the last four or five years, both positive and negative.

    "Once I gave him a little bit of background, he pretty much went into the fact that he knows (Valparaiso) coach Homer Drew very well and he said as soon as he received the Permission to Contact letter from Brandon, instead of calling Brandon first, he called Coach Homer Drew first. They are friends. They know each other. So he wanted to do the right thing by talking to Coach Homer first and make sure that he knew what was going on, and after he got that green light, he talked to Brandon for a quick few minutes one day, and then he talked to me the next day.

    "I explained to him how Brandon got to this point. He explained to me that he has seen Brandon play quite a few times. He did quite well against them last year. He explained that due to some graduations and some personal issues there were some kids who weren't returning to the team this upcoming season and he explained that they did have some talented recruits coming in who were freshmen. He said, 'But there is a glaring hole in our quote-unquote 'experienced guard' position. He said they have Keith Appling coming back and he has done real well and they expect big things from him, but he said, 'We are just a young team, some through our own fault and some through no fault of our own, and we think that the skill set that Brandon has would fit well within our system, within our program.' He seemed like it was a good fit."

    When did MSU extend the invitation for the official visit?
    "They wanted us there this (past) weekend. But it was just too late in the week last week for us to put it together."

    They probably wanted you on campus for the spring football game?
    "That's correct."

    Has Michigan State offered a scholarship?
    "Michigan State cannot offer at this time. Brandon has not officially asked for a request to release from his scholarship from Valparaiso. We don't believe that a school can officially offer until Brandon officially requests his release from Valparaiso."

    Brandon has put his name in the NBA Draft pool. Is he still eligible for the draft?
    "It's still in there until Sunday, May 8, which is the deadline. We're working on getting him invited to team-sponsored workouts this week. He is tentative for the mass team workout that is being held by the Knicks and Nets next weekend. We will know more by the morning of the deadline on Sunday morning."

    What happened at Southern Illinois?
    "He played in the first six games and ended up with a stress fracture in his shin and it pretty much went downhill from there. Then he went to Highland Community College two years ago."

    So when Izzo spoke with Homer Drew, Coach Drew must have given his blessing to Izzo to go forward into this?
    "That's correct. The coaching staff at Valparaiso and Brandon have always had a very positive relationship. That has come up in quite a bit of conversations. When people here that Brandon is most likely leaving Valparaiso a lot of people assume that it is either because he got into trouble, or that there is a bad vibe, or it just wasn't a good situation between Brandon and the coaches, which is far from the truth. They have had nothing but a positive relationship for the last two years. And from day one, they have expressed to us and to Brandon that they were willing to do whatever they could for Brandon both on and off the court.

    "Brandon did everything he could as a student-athlete and they respect that. He did real well for the team individually, and with the team success, it was a win-win for both of them. Now are they happy that he is leaving? Absolutely not. But they have made it very clear that Brandon is graduating on time, which is positive for the program, and there were no off-court issues, so Brandon has been a positive for the program in general. So while they may not agree from a business standpoint that it is in Brandon's best interest, they have decided it is not in their best interest to handcuff him and try to keep him from at least exploring other options."

    What was your impression of Izzo after you talked to him once or twice and what was Brandon's impression of Izzo?
    "Well, for Brandon it was a little surreal, I guess. Coach Izzo is a pretty famous guy in this business. I know Brandon was very excited. I don't know if flattered is the right word but he was very flattered that a coach at that level would take time out of his schedule and be interested and believe that he had the potential to have a positive impact on the program.

    "What I got out of it is that I was very impressed with his straight-forwardness and his honesty. I was really, really impressed that he wanted to hear a little bit of history about Brandon before he started a recruiting conversation, which I was very impressed with. He is just a nice, overall general guy. He said to me, 'I already know Brandon's positives and his strengths. From you, being his dad and former coach, what do you think is his number one weakness on the court?' So I said I thought it was the ability to play defense against bigger, stronger two-guards at this level and the next level. That is something that Brandon probably needs to work out. Coach Izzo seemed like he was pretty impressed with that. So it was a great conversation.

    "To me, as a parent, Coach Izzo is very non-intimidating."

    Did you coach Brandon in high school?
    "No, I coached him in AAU, up until high school."

    So Monday when you are in East Lansing, that will be the first time you will be in the same room with Izzo for face-to-face discussions?

    If he decided he likes Michigan State and Michigan State likes him, what is the time table? Does he have to wait until after the May 15 graduation and then ask for the release of the scholarship? Not counting what could happen with UConn, Providence and Florida State, what kind of time table would it be?
    "Even if we didn't have any official visits for this week, I would suppose or I would guess that we were planning on asking for that release from his scholarship this week. We haven't given the Valpo staff a time deadline that he is going to decide by, and they haven't told us when they need to know. So there has been no deadline set but we are cognizant of Valpo's recruiting issues so we are trying to get this done as soon as possible, because they are going to have a free scholarship available, we believe, so the sooner we let them know, the better for them."

    So what is in store for the official visit?
    "We aren't quite sure what's in store, what they have scheduled for Brandon.

    "I can tell you with the brief conversations I've had with the coaching staff up there and talking to Brandon and getting some feedback from other friends and family, some in the business and some not in the business, that it seems like a great fit for Brandon, this is just my opinion, and it seems like a great fit for Michigan State. I haven't heard one thing that would lead me to believe that it would be a bad decision. Of course I don't have any control once Brandon were to get on campus and get onto the court, that's all up to him at that point, but from the outside looking in, it seems like a win-win."

    As you know, Izzo is not the type of guy to guarantee playing time, and with Brandon only having one year, there are no guarantees there, and you would just have to go in on your own merits, right?
    "Absolutely, and that's one of the things Coach Izzo explained to me. He said 'Anthony as much as I would like to be able to say that Brandon is going to be able to come in and start, I can't tell you that.' I said, 'Well, coach if you did tell me that, I think I would have a bigger issue with it,' because I know the competitiveness of it and I know he has some good, young strong players who up to this point were thinking that they were competing against each other for a starting position and some minutes and now they have another guy potentially coming in.

    "Brandon knows, and we have talked about this extensively, that it is up to him and once he gets on campus and in the gym it's up to him to compete and just to do what he has been doing for the last couple of years. He is pretty confident. And as a matter of fact, what Coach Izzo said to me was, 'Brandon is a fifth-year senior who has done wonderful things at the Division I level. If he decides or chooses and for some reason he doesn't win a starting over spot three or four incoming freshmen, then he probably shouldn't be here in the first place.' What he was saying was, and this is my interpretation, that it is his spot, it's his minutes to lose if he were to decide to come to Michigan State."

    You said Izzo spoke with you about a lot of other things before he got into his quote-unquote recruiting spiel. Well, did he ever get into his recruiting spiel. You mentioned that Izzo said that one thing that is lacking on the roster is experienced guard play. Beyond that, did he get into Brandon's specifics as a player and what he likes about Brandon?
    "He absolutely did. After he asked me what I thought Brandon's weaknesses were, he went into: 'This is what I see.' He said number one, Anthony, it is no secret that Anthony can put points on the board. He is a scorer. He is able to create shots off the bounce or off the spot up. He said he has shown that he can run a team from the point guard position, because he led Valpo in assists last year from the two. So he can distribute the ball. He saw Brandon as a potential leader for the team, one of the things that he said may have been lacking from last year's team was some leadership out there on the floor. So he thought that Brandon might be able to bring that to the table along with some scoring. He said, 'Defense, Anthony, we can work on that. We will teach Brandon our style of defense and from the tape I've watched of Brandon, that is not going to be a problem.' So his ability to score, his ability to get teammates involved, and his leadership are three things that he pointed out about Brandon that had him interested in at least having us come up for some additional conversations."

    Did you get the sense that Izzo had watched a few Valparaiso games on tape just prior to talking with you?
    "Actually, he told me he did. He said, 'My staff and I have spent the last couple of days watching tape of Brandon. Not just Valpo's game against Michigan State, but we have actually spent the last couple of days going over and watching tape of a few of Valpo's other games. 'That's why he is very aware of what Brandon can do."

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