Tom Izzo: Michigan State basketball lands 'crafty' point guard in transfer Tyson Walker

Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press
·5 min read

Tyson Walker is officially a Spartan.

Michigan State basketball welcomed the Northeastern transfer Wednesday, and coach Tom Izzo gave a glowing review of his new point guard.

“In watching Tyson play, he’s a guy who can get his teammates open looks, he can get into the lane and he’s a crafty finisher because of his speed,” Izzo said in a statement. “He was named his league’s defensive player of the year and he’s got a good feel and vision for the game. He brings two years of college experience with him and we’re looking forward to having him join the Spartan Family.”

Northeastern guard Tyson Walker passes against Georgia on Dec. 22, 2020.
Northeastern guard Tyson Walker passes against Georgia on Dec. 22, 2020.

The 6-foot, 170-pound native of Westbury, New York, averaged 18.8 points, 4.8 assists and 2.4 steals per game this season at Northeastern. He earned the Colonial Athletic Association defensive player of the year and all-conference first-team honors, and was a finalist for two national awards – the Lou Henson Award, which is given to the top mid-major player in college basketball, and the Lefty Driesell National Player of the Year, given annually to the top defensive player in Division I.

As a freshman for coach Bill Coen at Northeastern, Walker averaged 10.4 points, 3.4 assists and 1.8 steals en route to CAA all-rookie honors in 2019-20. He played at legendary high school basketball power Christ the King in Queens before taking a prep year in New Hampton School in New Hampshire, where he became a three-star recruit rated the nation's 70th-best point guard in the 2019 recruiting class, according to 247Sports.com’s composite rankings.

Walker picked MSU over Maryland, Kansas, Texas, Miami and Vanderbilt.

“I’m really excited to come to Michigan State and can’t wait to get on campus,” Walker said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to meeting the team and I just can’t wait to start playing. I had two really good years at Northeastern, and I appreciate coach Coen and his staff for giving me a chance.

More: Michigan State basketball's 2020-21 woes a tale of bad defense and missed development

More: Dane Fife leaving Michigan State basketball for assistant coaching job at Indiana

“I was really impressed with the coaching staff at MSU, felt a good connection with coach Izzo and his staff, and the history of the program was a big part of it. Getting the chance to play in the Big Ten is exciting, and I’m very eager for the opportunity to play at Michigan State.”

The failed conversion of sophomore Rocket Watts from shooting guard to point guard left Izzo struggling to find an answer to run his offense and scanning the transfer portal for options. The Detroit native entered the transfer portal last week.

For left, Michigan State's Rocket Watts, Foster Loyer and Aaron Henry joke around on the bench late during the second half of the game against  Eastern Michigan on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.
For left, Michigan State's Rocket Watts, Foster Loyer and Aaron Henry joke around on the bench late during the second half of the game against Eastern Michigan on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

MSU opened the season with Foster Loyer there, but the junior captain struggled defensively against bigger guards and then suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in February. Freshman A.J. Hoggard started eight games but battled inconsistency and turnovers. Eventually, veteran shooting guards Aaron Henry and Joshua Langford took turns bringing the ball up and getting the Spartans in and out of sets to help them on a late-season run, winning five of their final seven regular-season games and upsetting top-5 Ohio State, Illinois and Michigan in the process, to reach Izzo’s 23rd straight NCAA tournament.

Izzo rarely has taken inbound transfers during his first 26 Hall of Fame seasons, and even fewer at point guard. He brought in Anthony Mull from Indian Hills Community College in 1995, Brandon Smith from Coastal Carolina in 1998 and Rashi Johnson from Mott Community College in 2002.

More: Michigan State basketball's Rocket Watts enters NCAA transfer portal

More: Michigan State basketball's Jack Hoiberg enters transfer portal; could more follow him?

The Spartans’ most recent Division I transfers have included current junior Joey Hauser (Marquette), Eron Harris (West Virginia), Bryn Forbes (Cleveland State) and Brandon Wood (Valparaiso).

Typically, Walker would be required to sit out next season under NCAA transfer rules. However, the Division I Council reportedly will meet April 15 and is expected to pass a one-time exception for 2021-22 to allow transfers immediate eligibility without restrictions due to the pandemic.

Walker’s arrival means the Spartans are currently one over the scholarship limit for next season, assuming Watts does not withdraw from the NCAA transfer portal and return to MSU. Izzo has three incoming freshmen signed for this fall in five-star shooting guard Max Christie and a pair of four-stars in point guard Jaden Akins and combo guard Pierre Brooks II.

The other two scholarships for the freshman class come with the departure of Langford and redshirt junior Jack Hoiberg, a former walk-on who received a one-year scholarship after Xavier Tillman left after his junior season for the NBA. Langford announced after the Spartans’ 86-80 overtime loss to UCLA in the NCAA tournament’s First Four he did not plan to return to MSU for a sixth season, which would not count against the limit of 13 scholarships. Hoiberg transferred to Texas-Arlington.

Another is expected to free up if Henry enters the NBA draft and does not return like he did before this season. It is unclear if the junior guard plans to declare for the draft and what may happen with the other 10 Spartans who have remaining eligibility.

And if Izzo plans to make any more additions for next season, he would need more current players to leave the program and free up scholarship spots. That includes both potential transfers as well as Ypsilanti Prep junior phenom Emoni Bates. The five-star forward and No. 1 player in the 2022 class, who committed to MSU in June, has yet to announce if he plans to reclassify into the 2021 class and join the Spartans or wait out potential professional options.

Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Tom Izzo: Michigan State basketball lands 'crafty' guard Tyson Walker