EAST LANSING - When pundits discuss Michigan State’s basketball talent pool for the 2017-18 season, they often forget about the only guy in the Big Ten who has started in a Final Four game.
That would be Gavin Schilling, Michigan State’s 6-foot-9, 245-pound center/forward.
He won’t be asked to be a primary scorer, with Miles Bridges, Nick Ward, Josh Langford, Cassius Winston, Jaren Jackson and others possessing high-end skill on the offensive end of the floor.
But Schilling’s experience, brawn, agility and defensive skills bring value.
“I don’t know if there is anybody in college, pro or high school that can play those ball screens like he can and guard positions one through five like he can,” said assistant coach Mike Garland.
“The other thing he does extremely well is he is an unbelievable screener, offensively. He gets guys open and he is so quick and athletic that once he sets a screen he can slip or roll to the basket.
“It’s invaluable what he gives you in those two particular areas. If he doesn’t score two points a game for us, his value to the overall success of the team is unmatched.”
Schilling missed last season with a knee injury. The Spartans missed his defensive presence all year. His absence lowered the team’s ceiling of potential in March.
“He would have made a tremendous difference last year if he would have played,” Garland said “Tremendous difference.”
“I know what we were missing when he went down last year, now,” Bridges said. “If I’m in the game, having Gavin on the defensive end is like a sigh of relief for us.”
As a junior in 2016, he missed 11 games with a turf toe injury - an ailment he never completely overcame all season.
He averaged 3.8 points, and 3.1 rebounds per game that year. In early January of that season, he started four straight games in Big Ten play and averaged 8.3 points and 4.3 rebounds while shooting .737 (14-19) from the field. But the toe injury never completely healed.
“He probably needed a redshirt year earlier,” Garland said. “You didn’t want to see the injury happen to him last year but I think it’s going to be good for Gavin and it’s going to be good for us.”
Now, Schilling is 100 percent healthy. With Bridges moving to the three, there is competition for playing time, starting duties and finishing duties at the four and five.
True freshman Jaren Jackson is one of the most talented players in the Big Ten. With a 7-foot-4 wingspan, good timing and athleticism, Jackson has great defensive potential. But he has a lot to learn in terms of the intricacies of team defense. Schilling will be a sterling example for Jackson in that area.
Ward, Jackson, Schilling, Kenny Goins, freshman Xavier Tillman and UNLV transfer Ben Carter give Michigan State six bodies to play the two interior positions.
But when it comes to defense and screening, Schilling is the best of the bunch - which continues to endear him to Tom Izzo.
“One of our weaknesses last year was we struggled defensively guarding ball screens,” Izzo said. “I think he's going to give that a big lift.
“Right now Schilling is moving around pretty well, considering the time he was out. He's improved a lot. I promise you this, when I say it, I think he'll be one of the best ball screen defenders not only in Michigan State history but in the country.”