Over the course of the past couple of months, much has been made about the players that Michigan State basketball will lose from last year’s team, and rightfully so. Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges both decided to enter the NBA draft and are locks to be taken in the lottery, and Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn, the team’s unquestioned leader the past two seasons has graduated.
But Nairn recently joined Spartan Nation for a conversation to talk all things #11 Michigan State basketball and his time with the program and explained why the future is still very much bright for the Spartans.
When it comes to filling the leadership role that he held as a captain for the past three years, Nairn said that he wouldn’t be surprised to see Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford be captains for next season and feels that the two would work well together in that role.
“I think they can do it, especially together because being a leader is lonely,” he said. “When I was a sophomore, it was me, Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello and we’re all different leaders so we can all give a different perspective on different things. Those two, the way they have the respect from the players, because of their ability to play and the type of people they are, I think they’ll make a good combination if those two are the captains.”
Michigan State recently got a bit of good news as Nick Ward announced on Tuesday that he would be returning for his junior season after initially declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent. Ward will likely also assume a leadership role as one of a few players with two years experience next season.
Not only does Nairn envision a bigger leadership role for both Langford and Winston, he also told Spartan Nation that he believes both will take a step up in their games after strong sophomore seasons a season ago.
“I think both of them are going to take huge steps with their games,” he said. “I’m so excited for them because playing with them for the last two years, being with them all of the time, they’re unbelievable kids and I just can’t wait to see what they do.”
In his first full season as a starter last year, Winston averaged 12.6 points and 6.9 assists per game, while Langford averaged 11.7 points per game.
Nairn spoke highly of several other returning players for the Spartans next season, including Kyle Ahrens, Matt McQuaid, and Xavier Tillman.
Ahrens, who missed last season due to a foot injury is someone that Nairn said he enjoyed playing with him in recent years and expects a bounce-back season this year.
“I love the kid, he works hard, he plays with a lot of energy and toughness,” he said. “He’s one of the best communicators I’ve been around, you feel comfortable with him on the floor when you’re playing with him. He’s an unbelievable kid and I’m excited to see what happens with him too.”
McQuaid will be one of Michigan State’s most experienced players when the Spartans take the court next season and Nairn spoke glowingly of the type of teammate McQuaid was right from the start.
“I think he’s going to have a great senior year,” he said. “McQuaid is one of the best teammates I’ve ever played with. I remember him as a freshman and he came in that summer and told me ‘I will run through a wall for you’ that, that line right there, I will always remember. He’s a competitor, he can shoot the lights out and I think he’s going to have a great senior year.”
While Nairn only had the opportunity to play alongside Tillman for just one year, the former Michigan State point guard said that Tillman made a big impression on him on and off of the hardwood.
“He’s already special,” he said. “You respect Xavier because he works extremely hard, he’s one of those guys where you tell him to do something and it’s going to get done, so you respect that as a basketball player. I understand the game of basketball, that kid has a basketball IQ that’s really, really high. But I respect him more as a man than I do as a player because I think X is 18 or 19 and has a daughter and has a fiance and the way he’s been able to balance his life between basketball and the way he takes care of his baby, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Michigan State may have several key contributors returning next winter, but the Spartans also have high expectations for their five incoming freshmen, point guard Foster Loyer, wing Aaron Henry and forwards Gabe Brown, Marcus Bingham and Thomas Kithier, all of whom, Nairn has gotten to know well recently.
During the podcast, Nairn said that he sees similarities between Loyer and Winston, specifically how each carries himself and never seem to thrive in big moments.
“That’s my guy man, anytime I get to watch him play, I love watching him play,” he said. “He’s so skilled, he’s so calm and under control and Cassius is the same way. Cassius came in as a freshman and you look at him and wonder how is this guy just able to be so calm at this level and I think Foster’s going to be the same way. Foster is going to be an amazing player here.”
Nairn also said that Bingham, a 6-foot-10 standout has many of the same qualities that Jaren Jackson Jr. showed in his time with the Spartans and added that what he likes most about this recruiting class is the high character personalities that all five players have.
“He’s another Jaren, a little smaller than Jaren coming into college, but he can shoot it, he has the skill, so I’m excited about him too,” he said. “I like everybody, I love Gabe and I like Thomas as well, but they’re all good kids. They’re all great kids and when you see them and they show you respect and I love them and I can’t wait to see what all of them do. My advice to them would be not to take anything for granted.”
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