Xavier Tillman's rise begins at Michigan State with his daughter


Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo talks to the media on Monday, March 11, 2019, in East Lansing.
Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press

It was 9:30 at night when I finally reached it. He was at home, making dishes, the sound of running water and plating the plates filling the background.

“Hello,” said Xavier Tillman.

He paused.

“… do you think you have the second one?”

Her daughter 2 years old just arrived out of her room. She was looking for a filled hippo.

“What are you doing from the bed?” He asked Ayanna, his voice as sweet as syrup.

“I want Kait,” she said.

“I'll go to her. You go back to bed and you will meet you there. ”

The state basketball player Xavier Tillman Michigan makes smiling on the camera while sitting with his 2 year old daughter Ayanna in her lap and her toddler Tamia Todd looking after your USU beat Michigan to reach and earned a share of her Big Ten's championship with Purdue Sunday, March 10, 2019. (Photo: Tillman family)

"Kait" is what Tillman calls the hippo, named after a day school teacher. Ayanna needed her to sleep.

A minute later, the 6-foot-8-inch State, Michigan Michigan basketball back back to the phone and let his hands back into the sink. He had a job to finish, another piece to cross on his video board, a board that helps him organize his life.

It is encouraged by a board. He reminds him. It helps him when he is stuck. There is a little unexpected time, which is rare for the new Spartans star.

For there are academic studies, and practices and extra time in the gym. And there are film sessions and weight lifting and time sessions with his coaches.

There are games. And colleagues who need talks. And most importantly, his daughter and colleague, Tamia Todd, who met him in high school when everyone wanted to set up friends.

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It is great for anyone to navigate, especially for a 20-year-old person who plays one of the best college basketball programs in the country and has dreams of playing professionally.

So: the vision board. Taped on his wall in his bedroom. Organized by the calendar – daily, weekly, monthly, annually.

“Wash all dishes” comes under the daily heading. He shares an entry to “change laundry.” Right under the reminder to “make breakfast.” Over the envelope entitled “Eat dinner with mother.”

“I like to wake up to a clean house,” he said.

He cleans his mind. As morning prayer does daily. Come about, “I thank God for waking me and my family.”

This entry is at the top of the daily list. At the bottom? “Play a board game / card game with T (short for Tamia) and the baby” and “Read for 30 minutes before bed.”

Tillman's board does not have to tell him how to spend his life. But he gets comfort in his simplicity, in the structure.

It sometimes stays on it. When he has a quiet few minutes quiet.

“And I think,‘ What could I do? '”

He might look at the heading “Weekly”, where he has listed “five exercises a week” and “eats a week with a mom” and “makes smoothies” and “goes through ABCs with Yanni (a nickname for Ayanna). ”

He likes to do this on Tuesdays and Fridays.

March 9, 2019; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans puts forward Xavier Tillman (23) who puts Michigan Wolverines Ignas Brazdeikis (13) on hold during the second half of a game at Breslin Center. (Photo: JUMP01 Mike Carter, Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)


If you asked him three years ago if he could imagine this world, before Tamia got pregnant, before he accepted a USC scholarship offer, before he lost 35 pounds, before he could stick to high-screen guards. ball, before winning the best student in the program – he won the academic award this year with 3.7 GPA – he couldn't.

He was a good player then, but an average student.

It was smart, but it did not work. Not really. Not like Tom Izzo and Dwayne Stephens thought he could.

Stephens – Izzo's assistant at USU – was recruiting Tillman out of Christian Grand Rapids. It was drawn to court awareness and intensity on Tillman. But something was missing.

“Coach D.J. tell me, too, ”Tillman said. “He came to a game once and he asked me if I could work out. I was crazy. I thought it was disrespectful. ”

He called the recruitment process at random. Izzo and Stephens were unhappy with what they had not seen. Tillman thought they couldn't see.

Weighing close to 280 pounds as junior. He lived at Wendy, where he lived two chicken sandwiches, two chicken nuggets, two fries, and two big sodas.

In the spring and summer, during AAU season, this was a daily routine. It was in print because it was a chicken… well, it is easy to rationalize when you are a teenager. Or even as a 50 year old person.

By his senior year he began to change his diet. He lost a few pounds. He was a father. Something he was worried about could scare MSU coaches.

“They were cool, however,” he said.

Izzo knew that Tillman's daughter could inspire him. Sharpen its focus. Take it back to the vision board.

“His daughter changed everything,” said Izzo. “He's working for her now. He wants to make her a good life to her. ”

Last year as a fresh man, Tillman was on average playing a game. He rebounded. Set screens. He defended his man on the job.

“That's what I was told to do,” he said. “And I just wanted to do what they said to me.”

This summer, he did his role and expand his game. In high school, he pushed the ball himself after coming back and could score with both hands. He could shoot, too, even though it wasn't much.

He wanted to employ these skills. So he worked the plan in his video board.

Up at 6. Opening some eggs and frying them. Make crying up. Sit with his daughter for breakfast. Go to the gym about 7.

Shoot for an hour.

From the 3-point line. From the post. From the angle. Follow this with an hour of weight.

Go home. Eating lunch. Spend time with his family. Hit the gym again. Go home for dinner. Play with Ayanna. Cards play with Tamia. Go back to the gym for one more session.

Most of these days, it takes 1,000 3-direction. Most of the days, it makes at least 800 of them.

When he reported to the camp in October, after a summer in the lab, he lost £ 30. But he got a shot jump.

“If you look at him and Kenny (Goins) wearing thirty after their exercise, X stays with him, firing,” Stephens said. “X isn't going to the games yet. But it will. He is coming. ”


On Saturday night, Michigan tried to challenge the defense of the Tillman perimeter by pulling it out with great man Wolverines, Jon Teske. The Wolverines wanted Tillman to isolate then by placing him a small guard to defend.

[[[[How Xavier Tillman State exceeded Michigan Michigan total offense]

This meant he wanted to stay with Zavier Simpson's guard. Tillman was not flinch, waiting step by step with Simpson, one of the best players in the Big Ten. He hindered his shot on the edge three times.

On a number of possessions, Tillman found himself on Simpson's reserve, David DeJulius, an opponent from his AAU days. DeJulius was not lucky to use it in the same way, and told reporters after the game that he tried to handle Tillman as before.

“It was hard, sure,” said DeJulius. “Tillman man changed his body hard. He changed a lot of athletics from the ball screen. three years ago, and it is 30 pounds less than that, but a testament to all the hard work he put into. ”

Izzo wants to tell you that he has seen this coming. Saw the explosion. The lateral lateral. Confidence. The Eurostep showed it earlier this season and the athletics it takes to the edge. The ability to break down objects that were coming to protection before he did.

Actually, Izzo was surprised about the last. That's why he recruited it. That and her hardness.

But could he see that the player Tillman has become the last month? Draymond Green-esque Defense Force? The backup savant is able to protect smaller players?

“I'm surprised,” said Izzo. “He will have the opportunity to play at the highest level.”

Tillman also surprised himself. Although he knew that all this was possible.

That is why he committed an offense when he was found by USU coaches during high school. He realized that there was something in it. He just needed a plan. Buttons and double fries orders were not included.


Tillman got his idea for the video board from his mother, Tonya Powell-May. She hung a head when he was in secondary school. She has written highly desirable clips and phrases.

Just as her son does now.

“Letter to my T reads all my heart,” the best entry under the heading “annual”. “A field trip to the whole family means trying a new time,” says another.

This is the category in which he reminds himself that he would be a volunteer, to stop playing, to hold his own life.

It is intended to remind him who he is, and who he wants. The phrases under “annual” included as always.

But under the heading “monthly?”

State basketball player Xavier Tillman meets his 2-year-old daughter Ayanna and her Tamia Todd fiancé. (Photo: Tillman family)

That's where it sets out goals that are easy to forget during the week, when it's a daily list. Here he can look at the entry telling him to take a surprise to Tamia for dinner, or the one that encourages him to make sure he gets to the church, or the one that suggests a family photo.

At least once a month, he needs 10 hours of sleep. And an hour bath with decompression, and dinner daughter's dad.

But now, at the moment, it's just finished with the dishes. It's about 10 o'clock. He must read the last time and discuss with his wife and go to bed.

There was an exercise in the morning. This followed a bus trip to Chicago for the Big Ten competition. Another road to navigate. Another step is to reveal parts of himself that he always knew.

It's easier to see. For coaches. For all who follow the Spartans. Two.

Just look at the video board. And listen to himself.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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