Former Flint Northwestern and MSU standout Kelvin Torbert profiled in Dime Magazine

Posted: February 4, 2010 by Jared Field in College, High School, Professional

From Mlive’s It’s Just Sports blog…

There’s probably not a single player that I watched more than Kelvin Torbert in high school. People started talking about Torbert early on, but he didn’t become a household name until his sophomore season. By the time he was a junior, Torbert looked like a college senior and was, at that time, the most powerful leaper I’d ever seen in high school. (And what a fun team to watch: Torbert, Desmon Farmer, James Murdoch, Chris McLavish, Marcus Willis, etc.)

Torbert was arguably the top high school player in the country (he won two such awards) and would have been a top 10-15 pick in the NBA Draft straight out of high school. He chose to go to MSU, and the rest is history. I know there are many basketball fans in Flint that still believe that choosing MSU was the kiss of death for Torbert’s NBA prospects.

  1. SBell says:

    It had to be Michigan State that made his arms so short and his hips so stiff. Torbert had Europe written all over him from Day 1.

    • Jared Field says:

      But of course his arms and hips were his arms and hips before he got to MSU, when he was considered a legitimate mid-first round pick in the draft.

      Of course I could name numerous good players that Izzo has turned great. There are, however, a few that have reversed course. I think he was among them.

      • Gotta agree with Jared here. Had Torbert entered the draft straight out of high school, he WOULD have been a first-rounder easily. Remember that he was widely touted as the nation’s best high schooler at the time. He was the Gatorade player of the year, right?

        Now, I have to disagree a bit with the semantics of the Izzo part. I have seen many good players become better, while not great. And a bunch go significantly down. He has a heck of a system to play in for the right type of players. The Chris Hill/Mateen Cleaves/Antonio Smith/AJ Granger/Andre Hutson/etc.-types fit in greatly and excel in it. Travis Walton used the system to parlay into an overseas contract (I know many players better that didn’t get to Italy, which may be largely why they released him). Goran Suton, Draymond Green, Morris Peterson, Drew Naymick, Adam Ballinger and Tim Bograkos also fit well. But it is a system for certain types of players. Why do I say that? See those who did not excel…

        Jason Richardson, Zach Randolph, Marquise Gray, Brandon Cotton, Marcus Taylor, Charlie Bell, Durrell Summers (currently wildly inconsistent despite a wealth of athleticism), Rashi Johnson (wasn’t he supposed to be the next big thing out of Mott), Alan Anderson, Mike Chappell (remember him, the transfer from Duke?), etc. all had struggles because they are not Izzo system type players. It’s like this, Izzo dumbs-down athletic creativity for it to fit in his very successful college system. But how many become great at the next level?

        Recent MSU NBAers…Mo-Pete, Maurice Ager, Shannon Brown, Bell, Cleaves, Richardson, Randolph, Paul Davis, Anderson, and Hutson. Now, since Hutson and Anderson spent about as much time there as Bernard Robinson Jr. (if not less), we will certainly not call them great. Ager has still not found his niche in the league. Davis is, well, hanging on. Cleaves played a good number of years, but had trouble living up to the hype of his pick. I actually do consider him a success though due to some mitigating circumstances that slowed him (Back injury, broken foot, ankle injury that prevented his pairing with Lebron James).

        Richardson and Randolph definitely fit the success model. What do they also have in common? They got out of MSU early before their creativity was completely dumbed down. Remember that they both made huge strides AFTER they left. Both scoring averages jumped tremendously as well. Were they that much better the next year after they left? No, they had a chance to express their creativity. Bell had to go overseas, switch positions, and get back his creativity he left at Flint SWA before his career turned. Brown also had to switch positions and remember how to create his own and others’ shots to succeed. Amazingly, all of a sudden, he is in the NBA dunk contest, a truly athletic event. Mo-Pete was not the creator coming out of high school and has made his NBA career out of not creating, but rather playing off the creator. Thus, he fit Izzo’s system well.

        Anyway, that is what I believe happened to Torbert. Had he went to Memphis, TCU, Tennesee, Texas, or some other wide open offense, we may be having a different discussion.

  2. SBell says:

    Eh, not seeing it. Who thought he was an NBA prospect, Chris Grier? The same street sycophants who said Anthony Crater was? If anything, he was considered to be an NBA prospect simply because he was from Flint and going to MSU. He may have never even been the best prospect on his team, from Selvie when he was a freshman, to Farmer, to Olu when he was a senior; on the Mustangs, Farmer, Robert Whaley and Anthony Roberson were the guys with NBA potential. Torbert as savior may have sounded the death knell of Flint basketball, to the point where a decade later the debate is who is the best senior in the city comes down to a few D2 prospects.

    • Jared Field says:

      I totally agree with the last part.

      As for Torbert, he was projected in the mid-first round just like the other big-time players coming out at that time — Dejuan Wagner included.

      The simple fact is that he would have been drafted in the first round straight out of high school. After four years at MSU, he didn’t stand a chance. That’s a regression.

      I actually credit Izzo for turning Charlie Bell into a more well-rounded player — i.e. not simply a scorer.

    • There were many who thought so in my opinion. He was ranked higher than TJ Ford, David Lee, Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler, Dajuan Wagner, James White, Ousmane Cisse, Kwame Brown, Julius Hodge, DaSagana Diop, Josh Childress, Robert Whaley, etc. on many publications. So, it seems there were more than a couple with the take.

  3. It Ain't Right says:

    but where i agree with steve is after Torbert’s rookie contract was up, he would have gone overseas and that is fact.

  4. Gavin Raath says:

    It wasn’t just Izzo that killed Torbert — there were injuries and confidence issues too. Coming out of High School, Izzo talked about him running the point for State. I found it hard to believe, but those were Izzo’s thoughts at one point. The guy was a sick prospect coming out of high school. He was the second leading scorer in the McDonald’s All American game, behind Wags and was regularly considered a top five senior in his class.

    But he got to State and started out injured as a freshman and seemed to struggle with injuries for his career. His confidence also disappeared — saw several instances where the old Torbert would have thundered a dunk on someone going baseline, but instead settled for passing, fading away etc. Anyone who saw him as a junior or senior probably didn’t recognize him at State.

    As for defense, wasn’t Torbert State’s lockdown guy? That should speak to his stiff hips. And Crater regressed after his stellar sophomore year. Lot’s of bad advice and subsequent decisions. Flint is crawling with handlers.

    But Flint still has talent. Northern’s two best players, Donald Fisher and Ricky Dent, aren’t even playing. It’s just business as usual with underachieving, but guys like Demetrius Miller and Takais Brown speak to the City’s hidden talent level.

  5. SBell says:

    Is KT going from theoretical first-round draft pick to no chance a regression, or just water finding its level? After four years of college he wasn’t in the NBA, and if he’s played four years in the NBA he’s wouldn’t be in the NBA. Same difference, sans a few $million. Talent and ability just don’t evaporate … unless they were never really there. Could some of his confidence issues have arisen when he realized what he couldn’t do in college what he did in high school? That the NBA talk was just folks blowing smoke?

    I can’t speak to a lot of those national guys and their ranking, but the only reason Torbert would be ranked ahead of Whaley is because of Whaley’s, um, “character issues.” Rob was a transcendent 6-9 talent. He and Winfred Walton may be the most gifted players I’ve seen in Michigan after Chris Webber. Despite all his screw ups, the NBA still gave him a chance.

    But at least he was a legit college player. The next generation of Flint, er, Big Nine talent, was the official funeral … K’len, Gibson, LLP, Herzog. Yikes.

    • PJR says:

      Torbert’s another justification for if you can get a million dollars in the NBA guaranteed you go right then. You never know what the future will bring. Then, MSU/Izzo regression wise gotta say it would have helped Tolbert tremendously if Izzo had played him where he really should have been played, that is as guard instead of SF/PF combo. That frontcourt basically eliminated Torbert’s chances for NBA. Torbert actually improved his perimeter shot and handles a lot by Senior year, but too little too late for guard skills, and zero understanding of the nuances of guard play. It’s why Shannon Brown, Izzo’s small forward and NBA point guard, left MSU early, another wise move! Frankly if Harris can get a guaranteed minimum of the NBDL, he should go too, becuase he’s not gonna be a SF or SG in the pros, and his only shot is PG.

  6. Vince Baldwin says:

    Very interesting discussion and I just had to jump in… Just as an FYI… I took two (2) NBA scouts to Watch Tolbert play as a H.S. Senior and both of them said “That kid will never play in our league.”

    They were amazed he had gotten so much hype without the ability to create off the dribble, knock down an off the dribble pull up jumper, and they hated the way he was bulit (Short Arms – No Legenth)

    Both of them said that he was very overrated. I always liked KT and he was a much better kid than people really new, but I for one always felt that Desmond Farmer was a better pro prospect…

    • Jared Field says:

      To be honest with you, I didn’t think he was ready for the NBA back then. Of course, I almost never think anyone is ready for the league before playing even a game of college ball.

      That being said, I think a lot of Flint people were disappointed that he didn’t show great signs of growth as a player at MSU.

      I understand the short arms and length issues, but he was an elite defender in the Big Ten. That should count for something.

      Would he have made the league straight out of high school? Yes. Would he have stuck around? Highly doubtful.

      Would he have been better off at another university? Hard to know for sure.

      One of the reasons I love MSU and Coach Izzo is precisely because he has a great college basketball program, and not a farm team for the League. I’ll bet if you asked KT, he wouldn’t regret his four years there.

  7. Big Ju says:

    I am a KT fan, but you could see from the MacDonald’s game and his freshman year he was way over rated. I had season tickets his freshman year, and he was a 6’4 PF. He definitely improved from his freshman year to his senior year, finding his niche, the midrange game and defense.

    As for Izzo dumbing down talent, I don’t buy it. What about Marcus Taylor, he left early. Alot of those guys wouldn’t have even had a shot at the NBA if not for Izzo. College only exposes your weaknesses not enhances them. A perfect example is Kwame Brown, he definitely would have been exposed if he had gone to college.

    • Look at all of the other players mentioned. You brought up Marcus Taylor from the State program and that’s it. There are so many more examples. Further, college does a lot more than just expose weaknesses. Again, Vince Carter and Jason Richardson were average scorers in college. In the pros, they average over 20. There are so many examples of that. The fact remains that college and the pro game are so different that it is difficult to tell who will pan out. Sam Bowie ring a bell to anyone? Bo Kimble? Ed O’Bannon? Ed Pickney? I could go on and on with college stars who wound up doing little in the pros, so their pro weaknesses clearly were not exposed.

  8. PJR says:

    Obviously a lot of the pro game is about player fit. And that’s not just for college fellas but proven pros as well. Look at how Iverson only fit with Philly. The college game can give you time to help improve. However sometimes you fight the same thing you fight in the high school game, and that is playing out of position. Torbert played way too much time at PF, and frankly I still think with handles training he would have been a good SG and a killer PG. Torbert was athletic monster who’d of scared the crap out of opponet PGs, even in the pros. Actually Izzo did let him bring the ball up and play a little PG his senior year. Again all too little too late. Think Manny’s got the same problem. Just can’t see him playing SG or SF because his shot is so wack. But penetration with length, and defense when he wants to, combined with the D League coaching teaching him selflessness, and he’s an NBA PG some day. IF he stay another year with Beilein jacking up 3 balls and looking like an out of control fool, he’ll be lucky to make Euroball.

  9. Wow, all I have to say is awesome points guys. Go Green and Go Flint!

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