Fall 2021 SS Magazine

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman trusts in God as he leads preseason-No. 1 Spartans

It’s only July, but many college basketball experts have already decided who they think next year’s best team will be: the Michigan State Spartans.

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It’s easy to see why. Some key players from last year’s Final Four team will return, including stars Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford, and a few more talented pieces will be added to the mix.

Not often are guys who stand at 6-feet-8 and weigh 260 pounds overlooked. But with all the excitement surrounding the Spartans this year, junior forward Xavier Tillman has often eluded the spotlight. He will return next year as well. Tillman isn’t a household name, yet, but the guys inside the locker room are well aware of his value.

“There’s a crazy comfort level when you’re out there with (Tillman),” Matt McQuaid, a senior on last year’s team, told the Detroit Free Press. “It’s great to have that on the floor.”

Tillman was awarded last year’s Big 10 Sixth Man of the Year honor after averaging 10.0 points and 7.3 rebounds in 24.0 minutes per game. He is also one of the team’s best defenders. Off the court, the younger Spartans look to Tillman to come alongside them and point them in the right direction, while legendary MSU head coach Tom Izzo trusts the rising junior to show them what it takes to be champions.

Tillman is supremely comfortable with himself and confident in his abilities as a basketball player and a leader. Yet he knows that confidence comes not from himself, but God, who holds him secure.

“Just trusting in Him when I don’t know the answers to a lot of things, and to be able to just have faith that He’s got me, no matter what,” Tillman said in a recent video with Spartan Nation. “And with that faith, it brings me a lot of confidence in my own abilities, that I know He’s got my back.”

Tillman is a part of a group chat called “Brothers in Christ” that he and other members of the Michigan State roster share, where they can pass along encouragement and inspiring words of Scripture. In Tillman’s Twitter bio, he calls himself a “Child of God.”

Tillman is only 20 years old, but his responsibilities are befitting of someone 10 years his elder. He was married in May to his longtime girlfriend, Tamia Todd, and the couple has a child, Ayanna, who was born in December 2016.

Tillman said in the Spartan Nation video that God has worked through his varied life experiences to bring him closer to Himself.

“[Faith] starts off with your parents, obviously, because they bring you to church every Sunday and they bring you to Bible studies on Wednesdays and stuff like that at a young age. But then as I got into high school, and really when I met Tamia as well, it (was) just sort of on my own, like I started to go through bad situations and I just needed help and I had to get my mind right because I just felt like I was always in a negative space in my head. And God was, literally, there. And as soon as I went to church, everything kind of opened up for me as I got older.”

Tillman plays lot of roles, on the court and in life. He is a father, a husband and a child of God. And don’t forget about him as the preseason-No. 1 Spartans gear up for another shot at the Final Four, because by early April, he may be called a national champion too.

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