When I sat down with Michigan State’s Miles Bridges at the Big Ten’s annual media day last October, he gave the distinct impression it might not be the only time we would be together on that particular carnival ride, and that his trip through the NBA Draft process might wait a little while.
I’ve been around elite basketball players who suggested their college careers might last beyond one season on many occasions. With some of them, it was a hedge in case the first college season didn’t go as planned. In most, it was said for the benefit of fans, so they would believe the player in question was committed to his team and its collective mission.
Bridges seemed different that day. Nothing about him was familiar. His enthusiasm for Michigan State, for coach Tom Izzo, for his teammates —all of it appeared genuine, unforced, natural. He was either telling the truth or he was the Tom Hanks of hoops.
“I just want to win, win, win, and I’ll do anything to win for my team,” Bridges said that day. “So whatever my coach asks me to do, I’ll do it for him.”
Coach Tom Izzo thought Bridges should take the opportunity to enter the 2017 NBA Draft, where he likely would have been chosen at some point in the lottery. But Yahoo! Sports NBA expert Adrian Wojnarowski reported Wednesday that Bridges was expected to remain in college another season, and Thursday the school announced he would be holding a news conference at the “Sparty” statue on campus.
The copy on the email invite from Bridges: “I’ve got something to say. It’s NOT about me. It’s about US.”
Bridges followed that up with a simple message on Thursday:
"I want to win a national championship, my teammates are a big part of it," Bridges said. "I love my teammates."
Bridges’ return to MSU will make the Spartans one of the elite teams in the 2017-18 season. SN had ranked them No. 5 in what we call our “Way-Too-Early” Top 25, compiled before all transfers choose new schools, all potential early draft entrants make their decisions and the remaining few elite recruits find their college homes. It is likely the Spartans will climb in SN’s rankings once most everyone has a firm roster, perhaps as high as No. 2.
They already had an elite coach in Izzo, and a top recruiting class featuring Indianapolis forward Jaren Jackson and in-state power forward Xavier Tillman, plus a core of talented young players who reached the NCAA Tournament Round of 32. That includespoint guard Cassius Winston, center Nick Ward and shooting guard Josh Langford. Forward Gavin Schilling will return after missing the season with an injury; it is possible transfer Ben Carter will play after missing the year due to injury, but he must be granted a sixth year by the NCAA.
A 6-7, 230-pound forward, Bridges can be a transcendent player for the Spartans as a sophomore. He was close to that as a freshman, averaging 16.9 points, 8.2 rebounds and .389 shooting from 3-point range. He delivered a combined 40 points and 17 rebounds in NCAA Tournament games against Miami and Kansas.
As a sophomore, he can become more effective courting contact from defenders and guarding his man in MSU’s defensive schemes.
And he’ll be seeing me again at Big Ten media day. That won’t be the highlight of his year, one hopes, but it is a pleasant surprise.