WASHINGTON — Spring is here, the NCAA tournament is in full swing and two Michigan State teammates can feel the big day quickly sneaking up on them.
And no, we’re not talking about the national championship game here.
For Kyle Ahrens and Xavier Tillman, this year’s run to the Sweet 16 has been accompanied by a different but equally important task: Planning their respective weddings.
Tillman is set to marry his high-school sweetheart, Tamia Todd, on May 18. Ahrens is tying the knot with Janelle Mangen, whom he’s dated since his freshman year of high school, at the end of July. Both men admitted they have not been particularly involved in their respective planning processes, but it has nevertheless been a balancing act over the course of the season.
“(My fiancée) is definitely running point,” Ahrens said with a laugh a little more than 24 hours before the second-seed Spartans’ matchup with No. 3 seed LSU. “I’ll give my feedback but she’s doing a great job with it.”
Ahrens, a redshirt junior, has yet to play in the NCAA tournament after suffering a severe ankle sprain in the Big Ten title game. He initially feared his leg was broken, and when they wheeled him back for X-rays, his first question was: “Will I be able to walk down the aisle?” (He will, don’t worry.)
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After getting engaged in June, then deciding to move their wedding up a year from 2020 to 2019, Ahrens said he and his bride-to-be did their best to work ahead. They set a date and booked the venue before the start of Michigan State’s season, and decided to only send out wedding invites, rather than save-the-dates.
“There’s so much more to it than you think,” Ahrens said of the process. “You think you only have to do certain stuff, but there’s so much that goes into it that you don’t realize.”
Tillman has learned as much while planning his own ceremony, describing it as a process with plenty of ups and downs. He estimated that he and Todd are “about 75 percent to 80 percent” done with their planning, with seven weeks to go. She has done the bulk of the work, Tillman said, and he has basically tried to help narrow things down.
“I’m more of the ‘yes I like this, no I like this’ type, because I’ve been so busy with school and basketball,” said Tillman, a sophomore. “She’ll say, ‘OK, I like these three, can you help me knock it down a bit?’ And then figure it out.”
Neither Ahrens nor Tillman said they have any personal dealbreakers for their weddings — strong feelings about a particular type of music, food or venue for the big day. They both said they just want their future spouses to be happy.
Associate head coach Dwayne Stephens said that’s the way to go.
“My advice would be to say ‘yes, honey. I like that,'” Stephens, who is married and has three kids, said with a smile. “(With my wedding), I wasn’t involved in the food. I wasn’t involved with what I was wearing. I wasn’t involved with the music that was played. I wasn’t involved with the colors. I pretty much just showed up and said ‘I do.'”
In all seriousness though, Stephens said, it is cool to see players you recruit reach significant steps in life, like marriage — especially in the cases of Ahrens and Tillman, who are marrying their high-school sweethearts.
While Tillman is looking forward to May 18, he doesn’t anticipate marriage to bring many changes to his life; He and Todd have lived together for years and have a 2-year-old daughter, Ayanna. “So I feel like I’ve been living a married lifestyle,” he said.
Ahrens, meanwhile, said he can’t wait for his big day — but not because he’s sick of the planning process.
“It is actually kind of fun, the process, going through it all. It’s kind of like a little story,” Ahrens said. “It’s just kind of fun to do everything with her and see the decisions she likes, and get all hyped up about it. It’s going to be a fun day.”
Contributing: Jeff Seidel and Shawn Windsor of The Detroit Free Press
Contact Tom Schad at email@example.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.