Wednesday, October 20, 2021

A.J. Hoggard finds himself and helps MSU hoops find its way in back-to-back wins

January 6, 2021
MSU guard A.J. drives in transition against Rutgers on Jan. 5, 2021 at the Breslin Center. The freshman guard started his second straight game at point guard, both culminating in wins for Michigan State.
MSU guard A.J. drives in transition against Rutgers on Jan. 5, 2021 at the Breslin Center. The freshman guard started his second straight game at point guard, both culminating in wins for Michigan State. —
Photo by Courtesy of MSU Athletic Communications | The State News

How often is it that you get to see a freshman start over upperclassmen, make his first career start in the two most important games of his team's season and help lead his AP-ranked team to wins?

Well, A.J. Hoggard, a first-year guard on the Michigan State men's basketball team, did all three. With MSU basketball losing it's way, Hoggard helped it find the keys and a path to success.

So maybe, he made it look easy. The freshman accumulated 11 assists, three turnovers, seven points, three blocks and two steals across his two starts. It isn't a crazy amount of production, yet, he has helped his team stabilize an otherwise rocky offense.

“I learned that I have to pace it differently than high school, that you have to bring it each and every night no matter who you’re playing, whether it’s conference or non-conference,” Hoggard said of his first start for the Spartans.

The 6-3, 220-pound Pennsylvania-native made an appearance in the starting five both Saturday night in the No. 23 Michigan State men’s basketball (8-3) game against unranked Nebraska (4-7) and Tuesday night against No. 15 Rutgers (7-3) after Head Coach Tom Izzo decided to shuffle in young players.

“I played solid, but there’s a lot of things I could improve and pick up on, … little things … like not getting caught relaxing or ball watching,” Hoggard said.

Could these statistics be a sign of expanding horizons as the heat of the season begins to pick up? Well, it seems the guard has allowed other players like Aaron Henry and Rocket Watts to take less ball-handling duties over his 49 total minutes in the past two games. This has enabled the pair of MSU scoring guards to take more leading roles off the ball, where they are more successful.

It's up to him to keep it going.

Who is Hoggard?

Hoggard played at Archbishop Carroll in Philadelphia for two years before transferring to his alma mater Huntington Prep for his upperclassmen moments. He comes from the same school as former MSU All-American Mile Bridges, who now plays as a forward for the Charlotte Hornets.

Hoggard was ranked No. 71 nationally by 247Sports.com, No. 13 among all point guards and he was a second-team all-state selection in West Virginia as a senior.

He averaged 17.7 points and 5.1 assists per game during his junior year in high school.

At Archbishop Carroll, he was a budding star during his sophomore year, when he averaged 15.6 points per game and led his team on a 20-8 record and the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Class 5A quarterfinals.

He’s described as a strong player, a tough point guard: At 220 pounds and less than 21-years old it maybe is available to the naked eye.

He’s someone who plays both below the rim and gets others involved. He creates opportunities for himself by driving or squaring up, and he can handle the ball effectively both on and off it.

In a pre-game press conference Monday, Hoggard said practicing with his teammates has been helpful in preparing him to hit the court in starting minutes calmly and collected and to expect more of it in the coming weeks.

His main concern isn’t the excitement or the disappointment of getting or not getting a position like one in the starting five. Instead, it’s more about competing each and every day and keeping the ball moving. It’s more about getting better and building on his current skills and emotions so he and his team can come out and do MSU proud no matter who they’re playing, Hoggard said Monday ahead of his second start.

“I’m pleased with what A.J. did, but it’s got to get better and better and more consistent if we’re going to be a real good team,” Izzo said postgame Tuesday. “I told Aaron (Henry) he’s got to take him now and mentor him.”

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