Xavier Tillman is no longer the rookie 18 year old that came to MSU. Instead, Tillman said men's basketball Head Coach Tom Izzo turned him into a “monster” during his three years on the team, and one who is fully equipped to take on the next level: the NBA Draft.
Tillman's decision to enter the draft and forgo his final season of eligibility at Michigan State wasn’t clean cut. He didn’t make the final call until about three or four days before his Aug. 2 announcement, and he went back and forth between an NBA pursuit or a senior season at MSU many times throughout the summer.
Tillman cited both his family and the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 as small factors in his life-changing decision.
“Me and my wife had this dream for these last two years about starting our family for real and having our own house, being independent from our family and supporting our family our way,” Tillman said. “COVID kind of impacted a little bit just with that unknown. … To watch the NBA bubble and see that it was successful, that they know what they’re doing and that even leading into next year they are going to have a better grasp on it and know how to handle it. With college, I don’t know how you’re going to keep college kids from interacting with other college kids, it’s just kind of what you do.”
Tillman will leave the Spartans after three years in the lineup, and although his final season was cut short when the NCAA Tournament was canceled — ironically just as him and his team picked up their pace — the 6-foot-8 powerhouse defender said said he won't be leaving with any unfinished business.
“I have this tattoo right here, ‘Redemption,’ so that’s what it (junior year) was all about, coming back and finishing the job,” Tillman said referencing the tattoo that stretches along his forearm. “With COVID, it kind of made everything uncertain as far as if I was even going to have a senior season. … I could go back and say I want to finish it and go for a national championship, but there’s a chance I might not even get the opportunity to go for a national championship.”
However, above all else, it was the overwhelming amount of interest NBA teams had in him that ultimately prompted Tillman to take the leap. This interest was magnified greatest when long-time NBA analyst Dick Vitale tweeted that he heard word Tillman would be returning to MSU and pulling out of the draft.
As the rumor circulated, Tillman said one team in particular called him in concern, expressing their desire for him to keep his name in the draft.
“Right away I got calls saying ‘You’re leaving? ... How are you going to leave without calling us? We really want you,'" Tillman said. “That kind of gave me a lot of confidence because (I realized) this team is willing to stick their neck out for me if I put my name in the draft and keep it in the draft.”
Tillman said all meetings with NBA teams he has had have been virtual. He said he is not confident an NBA Combine will take place, but what he does know is that he wants a team who can help him develop as a player.
“I don’t really care so much about where I go. I just hope I land in the right organization that is going to help me flourish,” Tillman said, citing former MSU player Draymond Green and his success with the Golden State Warriors. “My hope is to go to a team that is willing to let me develop and let me make mistakes without losing games if I can and go from there. (They can) watch me grow and help me develop into a great player.”
Tillman, who now resides in Grand Rapids, Michigan, said his days are packed from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. with workouts, interviews with teams, media or his agency and balancing his six class course-load to fulfill his degree before the summer semester ends.
But there is one thing he has had more time for: family.
“(This summer) opened my eyes to how parenting really is, and it’s been great getting to watch him (Xavier Tillman Jr.) develop and watch him grow and then getting to see my daughter and interact with her (too)," Tillman said. “We definitely took advantage of this time spending a lot of time together watching TV shows together, movies (and) talking about what to prepare for and stuff like that.”
As for his wife Tamia, Tillman said they've appreciated time together after spending so much time apart while he traveled for games with MSU.
“It’s been a blessing," Tillman said. "Obviously you feel bad about not playing but then in my situation I’m like 'Well hey, I get the chance to see my wife every day.'”
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