College basketball couldn’t come soon enough for Thomas Kithier.
The former four-star forward moved into a Michigan State dorm in late May to start summer classes and workouts along with the rest of the Spartans’ incoming class.
The drive from the Detroit area was a short one, but the change was significant and welcome.
“I’m happy to be at Michigan State for the next four years,” Kithier said on Thursday night after a Moneyball Pro-Am game. “Everything’s positive and I’m looking forward.”
Kithier is looking forward because what’s behind him is a frustrating high-profile eligibility fight that ultimately cost him his senior high school basketball season.
After transferring to Clarkston from Macomb Dakota before his senior year, Kithier was declared ineligible in December after the MHSAA ruled that his transfer was athletically motivated.
An uproar from fans around the state, support from Tom Izzo and others at Michigan State and a lawsuit all couldn’t reverse the decision, and Kithier was forced to spend his senior season on the bench.
That led Kithier to have to prepare for college basketball while unable to play in high school games.
Despite being ineligible for games, Kithier was still able to practice with Clarkston, a talent-laden team that won its second straight state title at the Breslin Center in March. That included playing with fellow Michigan State signee Foster Loyer.
He was able to do a more intense weight training program than most high school players do in-season, since muscle fatigue on game days wasn’t an issue.
And he started making regular drives down to Livonia to play in a men’s league that featured former college and professional players. Regular experience against older, bigger players proved valuable, Kithier said.
“Playing with older guys that played in the pros and in college, they just see the game differently,” Kithier said. You pick up on little things they tell you about. It’s just a different style, a different pace. It was fun.”
On Thursday, Kithier dropped in 18 points as Team Splatter came back to win and stay undefeated at 3-0 in the league. He did that largely by bullying his way to layups in the low post.
His focus this summer, he said, is expanding his offense and becoming more consistent as a shooter.
He’s also working to master the Spartans’ defensive principles, with plenty of help from veterans like Kenny Goins, he said.
Meanwhile, he’s playing in public again after his forced season off, even if he says he never went anywhere.
“I never really felt I left,” Kithier said. “Every day I’d be working on my game. I was just always in the gym. I just tried to stay positive through the whole situation.”