Izzo eyeing Russian phenom

He may have been late to the party, but MSU head coach Tom Izzo will be staying awhile. That's is the coming out party for 6' 11", 245-pound Alexander "Sasha" Kaun, a 18-year old Russian phenomenon playing with the Nike Team Florida squad. SI analyst Mike Fowler breaks down the upstart interest in Kaun.

He may have been late to the party, but MSU head coach Tom Izzo will be staying awhile.

That is the coming out party for 6' 11", 245-pound Alexander "Sasha" Kaun, a 18-year old Russian phenomenon playing with the Nike Team Florida squad.

Kaun has been flying under the radar screen for two seasons since he move to Melbourne, Florida with his mother from his native Siberia and enrolled at Air Academy.

His very average 12 points per game over his sophomore season at Melbourne's Air Academy didn't seem to mark his as much more than a marginal prospect. Few top programs seem to even be aware of his presence until he joined the traveling Nike AAU squad this summer and began putting up impressive numbers, that's when the word began to leak out that their was a talented big man available.

That's enough to drive college coaches into a feeding frenzy.

Izzo was among a group of elite coaches who in that last six weeks saw Michigan's Tommy Amaker, Florida's Billy Donovan, Kansas' Bill Self, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski along with a hoard of lesser-known coaches all paying unofficial visits to watch the rising Russian star. They'll all need to get in line behind Georgetown coach Craig Esherick, who began recruiting the Siberian native early on.

For Kaun, this is heady stuff.

"I'm playing against the best players [in the nation] so I watch them, see how they play," Kaun told Florida Today. "It makes me push myself to get better because I want to play better. I think I'm playing stronger and playing better inside, but I still have a lot of work to do. I've been working on my footwork and I think it's improving."

Air Academy coach Aubin Goporo told theInsider's Sam Webb that Michigan coach Amaker pulled out all the stops immediately after watching one of the big man's recent performances.

"Coach Amaker came down with Coach Swenson during the visit period and really impressed Sasha. Coach Amaker blew him away with how he carried himself and how he sold the program. They offered him a scholarship. It really could not have gone any better for Michigan."

While putting Michigan in his list of his finalists, which also included Georgetown and Florida State, Kaun said there was no favorite right now.

"I'm not leaning in any direction right now," Kaun said. "I think those [seven] schools I picked proved most they were interested in me and needed me. It's going to be hard to cut the list down. I'm still focused on getting my degree."

Kaun will cut his list of prospective colleges down from seven to five in the fall and take official visits to all of those. He has already turned down Louisville, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, UConn, Miami, South Carolina and Stanford.

Of course, neither Izzo or any other coach can comment on Kaun or any of the prospects playing AAU ball due to NCAA rules, but the Russians' numbers appear to speak for themselves.

In a tournament contest against AAU opponent Team South Carolina, Kaun posted a 21-point, seven rebound performance. In another contest he poured in 36. Goporo said that Kaun's performances this summer will pale in comparison to what he expects from the youngster this fall.

Hyperbole aside, Kaun appears to be a smart and solid prospect, who with good coaching and patience could good develop into a solid college player and maybe a pro prospect.

His eyes have been opened a bit by the more physical play that he encountered over the last two months touring with Team Florida. In a game against Team St. Louis, Kaun was held to just 2 points in the final half. He realizes he'll have to work harder this off-season to be effective against defenses that collapse against a post threat, but he's willing to put in the time in the gym.

Over the past summer, Kaun spent countless hours in the gym hitting the weights and working on his game. That paid off in his big improvement from his sophomore to junior seasons. Indeed, his work ethic, both in the classroom and the gym have made him a rising star in recruiting circles. Kaun sports a lofty 4.0 grade point average in the classroom.

While Izzo hasn't had much success recruiting players out of Billy Donovan’s backyard, adding this talented big man to the Spartan roster would be a nice payback for the way Donovan and the University of Florida stole Anthony Roberson out of Saginaw.

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