Michigan State Basketball: Xavier Tillman’s return no longer a long-shot

Once thought to be a long shot, Xavier Tillman’s potential return to Michigan State basketball in 2020-21 is more likely than previously thought.

When Xavier Tillman declared for the NBA draft and maintained his eligibility, there was an overwhelming feeling that he wasn’t coming back. The fact that he graduated from Michigan State already was the nail in the coffin.

Why would he come back if he already has a degree and he has a family to feed?

Over the past couple of weeks, it seems as if the COVID-19 pandemic has muddied the draft process for a lot of borderline first-round prospects. That includes Tillman.

According to Graham Couch of the Lansing State Journal, Tom Izzo believes that another year at Michigan State will benefit Tillman and his quotes about the soon-to-be senior make it seem like there’s a good chance he comes back.

You look at some of the draft (projections) and some of them have him in the late first round and some of them have him in the late second or not drafted. He’s kind of learned those things matter none. It’s the NBA that matters. That’s been a little hard for him, because you kind of want to believe the good. It’s very difficult at 20 years old to be able to look at things like that.

Izzo went a step further and stated that he believes that Tillman has some improving to do if he wants to improve his stock to become a surefire first-rounder.

What some people have told me is it would really help him to really improve that shot, which I think he will. I mean it’s not broken, he just needs reps. And then improve his lateral quickness, which I think he can. Find the right weight — maybe it’s 240, 245 — be able to stay there in the best shape and be able to switch positions (between power forward and center). For his long-range (prospects), I think he is better staying another year (at MSU), because I don’t think there’s enough definitive answers yet.

Obviously the decision is ultimately up to Tillman and not Izzo, but there’s mutual trust between the two and if the Hall of Fame head coach believes he should return, his senior big man will take that into serious consideration.

The once-perceived long-shot of Tillman returning has turned into a real possibility.

Tillman’s Michigan State basketball legacy

Return or no return, Tillman doesn’t have to worry about improving his legacy at Michigan State because he accomplished more than most Spartans do throughout their careers.

He won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, was an All-Big Ten selection, averaged a double-double, won three straight Big Ten titles, went to a Final Four and broke the program’s all-time blocks record. Tillman did all of this in just three years.

If Tillman comes back, he’ll be celebrated as much as anyone in recent memory — Cassius Winston and Miles Bridges-like levels — and his senior day will be electric and emotional. If he stays in the draft, no one would blame him.

Tillman is in a good place, but the likelihood of a return improves daily.