MINNEAPOLIS — One isn’t enough. Xavier Tillman envisions a “spring of two rings.”
Long before the Michigan State standout booked a ticket to the Final Four, the sophomore had already scheduled his wedding for May.
“To have all these different things happening back to back to back is just so exciting,” Tillman said.
Tillman, 20, can hardly believe how many days rank among the best in his life. The birth of his 2-year-old daughter, Ayanna, sits up top. Nearby is when his fiancée, Tamia Todd, said, “Yes.”
The most recent inclusion was produced by the 6-foot-8 forward’s remarkable Elite Eight performance in which he guarded Zion Williamson — helping force the country’s best player into five turnovers — and had three steals, two blocks, nine rebounds and hit 8-of-12 shots to match a career-high of 19 points. Then, he celebrated on the confetti-filled court with the two loves of his life.
“He’s the one who brings us all together in the locker room,” teammate Brock Washington said.
Tillman learned the role before he entered the Spartans’ locker room.
“I try to be uplifting for my teammates because that’s what I try to do for my daughter,” Tillman said.
Tillman with daughter Ayanna after the Spartans beat Duke to advance to the Final Four.Getty Images
Most teammates live together. Tillman lives at an apartment nearby, with his wife and daughter. While friends go out for dinner, he normally cooks at home to save money. While teammates sleep in, he wakes up to drive his daughter to day care.
“He’s so dedicated,” teammate Thomas Kithier said. “He’s in the gym before his daughter wakes up, and then he’s back in there after he puts her to bed. He finds time to be with his family and then also do what he needs to do for the team. It’s something I could never do.”
Tillman also holds the team’s highest GPA (3.7).
“We all respect him more than anyone else on the team for what he’s had to do for his family and how well he’s actually done it,” fifth-year senior Kenny Goins said. “He’s more mature than any of us.”
Tillman acknowledges he doesn’t “always get to be a college kid,” but several teammates give him the chance, babysitting on a regular basis.
“Yanni’s the best baby I ever met in my life, easily,” Washington said. “Sometimes, he doesn’t even need a babysitter, but I’m like, ‘You need me?’ Just cause I love her. She’s an amazing girl. She’s so sweet and so fun.”
She jumps on every player’s bed. She has them watch cartoons. She gets them to play with stuffed animals.
“It’s a family around here. Yanni’s part of our family,” Goins said. “That’s all of our baby girl. For real. We all look out for her.”
Yanni doesn’t understand the magnitude of the Final Four, but she is familiar with the Michigan State mascot. She knows when her father is on the court. She’s seen so much more of it since Nick Ward broke his hand in late February, and Tillman added a much-needed spark to the starting lineup.
After averaging 2.8 points in 8.7 minutes per game as a freshman, and dropping nearly 40 pounds since arriving on campus, Tillman worked his way onto NBA draft boards with his energetic and indispensable two-way play, averaging 10.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and a team-high 1.7 blocks.
“He’s taken the ball and he’s run with it,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “He’s gotten his opportunity and he’s made the best of it.”
He always has.