When Kelvin Torbert, Alan Anderson and Chris Hill became MSUs 2001 recruiting class, another Big Ten title and another trip deep into the NCAA Tournament seemed within reach, if not certain.
Sure, the Spartans would lose five seniors, but the trio of recruits would help ease the blow.
Torbert, an electrifying scorer, was the 2001 Sporting News Player of the Year, Michigans Mr. Basketball and Flints second all-time leading scorer - behind ex-Spartan Charlie Bell - with his 1,978 career points at Flint Northwestern High.
Anderson, a silky and versatile slasher, rated the No. 19 player of the year by recruiting expert Bob Gibbons, was the 2001 Metro player of the year in Minneapolis in his senior year at DeLaSalle High.
At Lawrence High in Indianapolis, Hill excelled as a sweet-shooting combo guard and earned All-State honors.
Things looked good, but Zach Randolph and Jason Richardson depleted the MSU troops more, leaving the freshman class to prematurely take on more responsibility.
When a successful team, such as MSU, loses multiple players to graduation or the NBA, coaches are forced to ask their incoming players to make an impact, TheInsidersHoops.com recruiting analyst Dave Telep said.
Are guys playing more as freshmen? Absolutely, Telep said. Sometimes they play bigger roles at bigger schools because of the exodus to the NBA.
Thats just the way it is now.
Hill said he knew MSU would be thin in the backcourt, but he didnt expect to play the second-most minutes and become the Spartans second-leading scorer as a freshman.
Personally, my role would be a lot different with Jason still here, Hill said. Not to say I couldnt do what Im doing, but I dont think the opportunity wouldve presented itself.
MSUs freshmen scored 40.4 percent of the teams points and played 44.3 percent of the minutes during the 2001-02 season.
Spartan head coach Tom Izzo said its unfair to expect first-year players to shoulder such a burden.
The problem with college basketball right now is that we dont get to give the freshmen a fair shake, Izzo said. Its kind of what they want, but the negative side of that is you dont get a chance for guys to grow at a normal rate.
MSU associate head coach Brian Gregory said the Spartans have excelled in the past at improving players not as highly recruited such as Morris Peterson, A.J. Granger and Andre Hutson. With the stars of recruiting classes leaving early, he said thats only going to become more crucial.
Youll see more four-year players as guys who maybe werent as highly touted, but who developed as they went along, he said.
Telep said freshmen have much less time to settle in and adjust to the quicker and more aggressive playing style.
But todays freshmen are different than yesterdays. Top players are spotted at an early age and get loads of attention through Amateur Athletic Union teams, all-star camps and tournaments.
Gregory said all the exposure adds to the hype and expectations.
Thats difficult because the pressure is on those kids immediately, Gregory said. The Web sites, the scouting services, the stuff in the summer, the rankings - they all put an extreme amount of pressure on those guys to come in and perform and to perform at a higher level than normal.
But the all-star games, camps and AAU tournaments cannot masquerade as collegiate experience.
All those experiences add up and accelerate the process of being ready to play, but theres no greater way than to actually go out there and experience it, Gregory said.
Gregory said players are looking to make an immediate splash and not ease into the collegiate game.
Before, guys wanted to be on the team and getting some playing time as freshmen, he said. Now a lot of guys want to be instant starters as a freshman.
And instantly starting can turn to instantly starring as in the case of Memphis freshman phenom Dejuan Wagner - 2001s highest rated incoming freshman.
People expect results immediately, forcing coaches to get the most out of the highest-rated recruits while theyre in school.
You almost have to speed the process up because if hes one of your best players - your best players arent going to be seniors anymore the way things have gone, Izzo said.
Dan Woike can be reached at email@example.com.