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Rolling Meadows star Max Christie chooses Michigan State over Duke

Max Christie is the first local player to turn down an offer from Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Rolling Meadows’ Max Christie (12) shoots the ball against Fenwick.
Rolling Meadows’ Max Christie (12) shoots the ball against Fenwick.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Max Christie is unlike other high-profile Illinois basketball prospects in recent years.

As the No. 12 ranked prospect in the country, the Rolling Meadows star is the state’s highest ranked national prospect since the Class of 2014 boasted two top five players in the country: Young’s Jahlil Okafor and Curie’s Cliff Alexander.

Christie’s recruitment has also been unlike any other prospect who has been courted by high-major powers and Blue Blood programs.

Due to a pandemic that completely changed the landscape of recruiting, Christie was able to take just one official visit before making a final college decision. He made do with prior unofficial visits and then phone calls, texts and zoom presentations in the latter stages of the recruiting process.

But it was all enough for Christie, the multi-faceted 6-6 guard, to commit to coach Tom Izzo and Michigan State on Tuesday.

The state’s top-ranked prospect chose the Spartans over a lengthy list of national powers who had offered and courted him since his freshman year, including coach Mike Krzyzewski and Duke, a program top Illinois prospects simply haven’t been able to say no to over the years.

Nearly the entire Big Ten, along with Gonzaga, Virginia and Villanova, were in pursuit of Christie at one point in time, with Purdue and Ohio State both making very strong pushes. But Michigan State built an early lead in the eyes of Christie.

“Right from the very start coach Izzo and the coaching staff made me feel needed in our talks,” said Christie. “Coach Izzo is easily as good as it gets in college coaching –– or at any level.”

Izzo singlehandedly really dug in on the Christie recruitment. The head coach was relentless in his pursuit, and the early push Izzo and Michigan State made in the recruiting process made an impression.

The fact Michigan State was the only school where Christie took an official visit also helped. The official visit in early March, just two weeks before the coronavirus shutdown, gave Michigan State a lead it would never relinquish.

“When I took my official visit to Michigan State, I just felt like it was the place for me at that point,” said Christie. “But I obviously didn’t want to jump the gun, and I wanted to give all these schools a chance and an opportunity. I wanted to see and learn about other schools. Those other schools and coaches left great impressions on me.”

However, Christie’s mind and heart kept coming back to Izzo and the Spartans. He continued to build his relationship with Michigan State during the shutdown while often reflecting back on the official visit.

It was the only school where Christie experienced a full, complete official weekend visit. That included tours, taking in a practice, team meals, watching the Spartans play Ohio State and be a part of a Senior Night celebration in East Lansing.

“I wanted to be a part of a great program with great coaches an great players,” said Christie. “When I took my official visit and was with the players and the coaches, I just felt like it was a culture and family atmosphere that I could fit into and be a part of. Each time I talked with coach Izzo, it just hit home every time.”

While Max weighed the pros and cons of each suitor, his parents, Max, Sr., and Katrina, became extremely impressed and comfortable with all that Michigan State showed, both while visiting campus and throughout the process.

“They showed a true belief in Max that stood out, taking him for exactly who he is,” said Max. Sr. “And there is such a family atmosphere there. They were so welcoming. We met every single staff member there, from the ball boy to the trainer to the nutritionist, and we knew them by name. There was a family feel there for Max.”

Christie had originally planned to wait to make a decision. He thought he would get a few more opportunities to see two or three more schools up close and personal on official visits in late summer or early fall.

“Unfortunately, COVID decided that was not the way it was going to go,” said Christie of his original recruiting plan. “We had to adapt, and I decided to commit a little earlier than expected. I knew I was ready to make a decision, and there was no need to drag it out.”

Christie said he “cherished the recruiting process,” gaining knowledge from coaches, learning more about himself and what he needed to do to become a better, more improved player. But he said no coach made that more clear to him than Izzo.

“I like his demanding coaching style.” Christie said of Izzo, a 2016 Basketball Hall of Fame inductee. “I feel like I thrive off that. That demanding coaching style will allow me to challenge myself. He will challenge me, not only to become a great basketball player, challenging me physically and mentally, but also off the court as well. Whether it’s demanding me to get good grades, demanding me to be a great man and person in general, I think that will take me a long way.”

Michigan State has made major recruiting headlines recently. The Spartans landed Class of 2021 four-star guard Pierre Brooks in April. Izzo then beat everyone for Emoni Bates, a 6-8 do-it-all who is considered by many to be the best high school prospect since Lebron James. Bates, the No. 1 ranked player in the country in the Class of 2022, committed to Izzo and the Spartans last week.

“That didn’t change anything,” said Christie of the Bates commitment. “But it helps in the fact that if he possibly reclassifies into 2021, which I wouldn’t be surprised if he does, that I think it would be great if we played together as freshmen.

“In general, just being able to play with a great player like Emoni, to be able to play with Pierre Brooks and the great players they obviously have there is a great opportunity for me. It’s a chance to play with and build relationships, and it will take pressure off as we have more fun in sharing the experiences with each other.”

Christie was a bit of boy wonder in the northwest suburbs well before he entered high school. He immediately burst on the scene as a freshman, averaging 18 points, eight rebounds and nearly three assists a game. Since then he’s averaged 26 points a game as a sophomore and 25 points and 11 rebounds a game as a junior this past season. He’s scored 51 points in a game, recorded five triple-doubles and is closing in on 2,000 career points.

As a player and prospect, Christie has continuously shown the rare combination of talent, production and pure, untapped upside throughout his high school career. The fact that remains true today is why he’s such an enticing prospect going forward.

“He’s the type of player who figures out what he needs to work on and then will tirelessly work on it,” said Rolling Meadows coach Kevin Katovich. “His skill set is unbelievable. And there is a ‘Wow factor’ that we see every day that Michigan State will enjoy.”