"I don't think there's any question we're missing a true point guard," Izzo said. "I think Drew Neitzel has a chance to be very, very good because he's done it against a lot of different kinds of people already. "
While Neitzel isn't the second coming of Pete Maravich, as some Spartan watchers have suggested, the Grand Rapids native will have an immediate impact on the 14.6 turnovers a game the Spartans averaged last season.
History shows that when the point guard position is manned by a quality player the effects have been dramatic. "Magic" and Cleaves brought NCAA titles, Skiles and Darryl Johnson brought Big Ten titles.. and now there'll be Neitzel.
But is he ready to step in and run the club as a true freshman?
For his part, Neitzel feels he is ready -- much as both Johnson and Skiles did -- to come in and immediately assume a leadership role, this time for the 2004-05 edition of the MSU squad.
"I really just want to go in there and lead those guys," said Neitzel. "Hopefully, we'll bring home a Big Ten Championship and make a big run in the NCAA Tournament next year and hopefully get back to the Final Four."
Don't doubt his ability to get all of the above done.
Playing against two all-American prep players from Detroit Renaissance high school (Joe Crawford and Malik Hairston), the 6 foot senior poured in 36 points while dishing off six assists to almost single-handedly keep the Vikings in the ball game right until the end when the Phoenix eventually pulled away.
Impressed by his performance, current Spartans Shannon Brown, Alan Anderson, Kelvin Torbert and Matt Trannon made their way into the Vikings post game locker room to congratulate Neitzel on his sensational performance.
Indeed, his ability to be whatever his team needs during the course of a basketball game in Neitzel's biggest asset. His presence running the ball club next season ought to lead to better performances for seniors-to-be Chris Hill, Torbert and Anderson.
An area where the senior star is often underrated his his defensive ability.
Scouts who saw him play at the annual NBA Players Association camp in Virginia last June were surprised at the intensity at which he plays defense. One scout raved about Neitzel's ability to play tough man-to-man defense against some of the nation's top point guards including New York city guard Sebastian Telfair.
Howard Garfinkel, the legendary scout and founder of the five-star camp raved at the way Neitzel is able to run a club.
"When I think of him, I think of him as a playmaker, not a scorer," Garfinkel said. "He runs the show; he takes charge. He's one of the top five point guards in the country. He's right there with anybody."
But he can score.
In one back-to-back stretch, Neitzel scored fourty-five points to set the Wyoming Park school record...then followed it with a 57-point performance.
All the accolades come at a price, Neitzel has had to work, work again and then work some more to get the skill level, including the ambidextrous ball handling and shooting ability he possess today.
"I don't think a lot of people realize all the hard work that has gone into this," Neitzel said. "It hasn't been easy. My friends say they're going out, but I say no because I've got to work out."
According to one story, Neitzel father, Craig, an assistant coach at Park, made him alternate brushing his teeth as a child from left hand to right hand so that he would develop even-handedness.
His father also prodded and goaded him from an early age into a thick skinned demeanor that deflects trash talking and put downs by would-be detractors.
"Ever since I was a freshman on varsity, I always get a lot of taunts and trash talking out there. That's just how it is, but it's fine with me."
But it's the work ethic that produces the success that has propelled him to his status as one of the top point guards in the nation and likely a starting position as a freshman at Michigan State.
"I think (Neitzel's) the best point guard I've seen since I've been coaching in the area," said Grand Rapids Holland Christian coach Mike Phelps who is a 28-year veteran of high school basketball.
"He's the whole package. I've seen great, great shooters and great, great passers, but I would have to say he's probably the best I've seen."
Spartans coach Tom Izzo says his number one goal next season is to win the Big Ten basketball championship. He knows he needs to field a team that is more physical, tough-minded and more productive than this year's version.
Tough-minded, unflappable and very productive?
In seasons past at Michigan State, those qualities have all started at the point guard position. Magic, Skiles, Cleaves.
Welcome to East Lansing, Drew Neitzel.