Michigan State men's tennis never has been a national power. So how did it land one of the country's best recruiting classes?

·8 min read
In this file photo, Ozan Colak of Okemos returns a serve against Romanian Sebastian Gima in their singles tennis match on Nov. 18 during the Capital City Tennis Classic at the Michigan State Tennis Center in East Lansing. Colak, a top-10 prospect in the 2022 class, is the most highly touted player ever to sign with Michigan State.
In this file photo, Ozan Colak of Okemos returns a serve against Romanian Sebastian Gima in their singles tennis match on Nov. 18 during the Capital City Tennis Classic at the Michigan State Tennis Center in East Lansing. Colak, a top-10 prospect in the 2022 class, is the most highly touted player ever to sign with Michigan State.

EAST LANSING – When Harry Jadun hits the road to recruit for Michigan State's men's tennis program, he pitches prospects on a bright future. In that sense, it's a bit like being a hopeful Silicon Valley tycoon.

"We talk a lot about creating your own legacy," said Jadun, a former Spartan player entering his first season as head coach after a five-year run as an assistant under longtime coach Gene Orlando. "It's almost like when you're working for a startup rather than a corporation. You could go work for Google. But we're a startup. Our goal is to be like Google in five, 10 years — whenever it is."

As it is, there's not much positive history for Jadun to sell on the recruiting trail. The Spartans have made the NCAA Tournament only one time (2013). They'll enter next season 200 matches under .500 (221-421) in Big Ten competition. And MSU has just two league titles — both of which are ancient history to present-day players — with the first in 1951 and the most recent in 1967.

None of that deterred Ozan Colak and David Saye, though. The pair makes up a two-man signing class that ranks as the best in program history. When TennisRecruiting.net published its winter rankings of the country's top classes, the Spartans were fifth. Previously, Michigan State's highest-ranked class was 25th, courtesy of its 2017 haul that featured a trio of five-star prospects (John Carlin, Josh Mukherjee and Davis Wong) and one four-star recruit (Jack Winkler).

Yet even that star-studded class doesn't measure up, on paper, to this year.

So how did a program not known for tennis excellence land one of the nation's most highly touted classes?

Building program 'resonated' with five-star duo

Jadun said his message to Colak and Saye was simple: Come to Michigan State and become the catalysts for a transformation.

"We're looking for that type of player, and I think that resonated with both of them," Jadun said. "They were really looking toward that challenge. And I think when you join a program that's historically top of the nation or top of the Big Ten, there's a different type of pressure on you to maintain that. For certain players, that can be a good thing, other players not. But I just feel like here, you can really build this up, and every win we get is going to be really, really rewarding and push us forward."

RELATED: Michigan State hires East Lansing High, Spartan alum Harry Jadun as new tennis coach

MORE: Longtime Michigan State men's tennis coach Gene Orlando announces retirement after 31 seasons

Colak, an Okemos native and the crown jewel of the class, could have signed with nearly any school in the country. And he almost eschewed all those offers to turn professional. Ultimately, he chose to stay home and play for the university — and the coach — he watched growing up.

That MSU isn't a national, or even a Big Ten, powerhouse only increased his interest.

"That was a huge part of it," said Colak, who TennisRecruiting.net tabbed the No. 7 boys' tennis player in the country for the 2022 class. "I think being able to have this opportunity is just amazing. And being able to have that opportunity at home is even better. I just want to move the program forward as much as I can, because I'm backing Michigan State and the Spartans for the rest of my life."

A five-star prospect himself, Saye hails from North Carolina. His family bleeds Duke blue. And in his first phone conversation with Jadun, the pair trash talked the other's school, bantering about the MSU/Duke men's basketball rivalry. Amid the good-natured debate, Saye sensed a bond being forged.

"On that first call, I could definitely feel the chemistry," he said. "Harry is obviously a great coach and I felt a connection with him. I just continued to talk to him a lot. With every call, the connection progressed."

He visited East Lansing last summer. He loved everything about the trip: the school, the campus, the team, the culture. Right away, Saye said, he knew "that's where I wanted to be." He was ready to commit the second he returned home. His parents made him wait, to make sure he thought through all of his options.

But it never was in doubt he'd end up in green and white.

As with Colak, the chance to help the Spartans rise through the ranks of the Big Ten, and the nation, inspired Saye.

"A lot of the other programs I talked to, I felt like they didn't really want me to come in and make a difference. They just were giving me a spot on their team," said Saye, the No. 47 prospect in TennisRecruiting.net's 2022 rankings. "That's not what I was really looking for. I wanted to go somewhere I can come in and build up a program and make a difference right away."

Colak 'all in' on Jadun, MSU

A player of Colak's caliber doesn't lack for suitors. As such, Jadun conceded that if he ever felt the Spartans were in the driver's seat for Colak's commitment, "I was fooling myself."

But Jadun and MSU scratched and clawed for Colak — waiting for him to turn down a chance to turn pro — before he signed his letter of intent earlier this month.

"When he committed and he signed, it was a massive high for sure," Jadun said. "But there have definitely been recruits in the past that have been from the area and they've gone a different direction and those ones always hurt. So we've got to put a fence around Michigan, and especially western Michigan, and really mark our territory and keep those great players home."

Colak nearly was the next one to depart. Prior to Orlando's retirement, Jadun had accepted  an assistant coaching position at Illinois. After that happened, Colak admitted he "wasn't sure about Michigan State" anymore.

"But when he came back as the head coach, I was all in," Colak said. "We're doing something special at Michigan State. I'm excited to be a part of that. Harry as the head coach is going to be great."

Jadun is eager for Colak to take the court.

"As a former student-athlete here, it's just really cool to have somebody who grew up in the area come to Michigan State," Jadun said, "because there is that connection where he grew up."

Which turned into another recruiting angle.

"(I told him), 'Hey, the next kid who grows up in a position like you around here, you're going to have even more of an impact because you're going to be a way better player than I was, and hopefully we're competing for Big Ten championships and all those good things that come with that,'" Jadun said. "So there's a big platform for Ozan here, whereas if you go to a different program, you don't have those ties, and your impact isn't as great."

'It fuels me'

With the best recruiting class in history coming to town for his debut season at the helm, Jadun is aware outside expectations might be hard to temper. He welcomes it.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself," he said. "That was part of the reason why I feel like we signed this great recruiting class: because I just really wanted to prove a lot of people wrong who said, 'Hey, you can't do this or that at Michigan State.' So I think that that fuels me more than puts pressure on me."

Michigan State tennis coach Harry Jadun
Michigan State tennis coach Harry Jadun

For as talented as both Colak and Saye are, Jadun noted college tennis "is a different beast." Both are used to playing junior tennis, where it's about the individual. Now, they'll join a team and represent a university. While Jadun believes the freshman duo can be successful from Day 1, he didn't want to make outlandish predictions, either.

"I just really want them to come in here, improve every single day — 1% every single day — and by the end of their freshman year, they're going to be in a good spot," he said. "By the end of the sophomore year, they're going to be in a better one."

Colak said he's aware of the expectations  as the most highly regarded signee in program history.

"I think with the personality I have and just being the person I am, I think Michigan State is going to have some fun times and I'm going to be a part of it," he said. "I really want to change the whole atmosphere around Michigan State tennis. I want to be part of the whole transformation of the program. I don't think (the hype surrounding me) bothers me much at all. If anything, it fuels me."

Saye said he hopes the top-five class the Spartans signed this year is "the start of many great classes to come."

It's why, unlike some coaches, Jadun will cite the top-five ranking to anyone who will listen — especially prospective recruits.

"We want to bring in world class tennis players, and then we want to develop them to become professional players, and if we've got the No. 5 recruiting class in the country, that's great," Jadun said. "I really think that ranking is huge, because recruiting is a momentum game, and perceptions do matter."

For now, Jadun and the Spartans will bask in the glory of their top-five billing. That won't remain the case forever, though.

If Jadun gets his way, it'll have a limited shelf life.

"We don't want to rate our recruiting classes on the way in," he said. "We want to rate them on the way out."

Contact Ryan Black at rblack@lsj.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanABlack.

This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: MSU tennis: How the Spartans signed their best recruiting class ever