Championship in sight with Bridges' return
There was much anticipation and wonder over the decision of MSU star forward Miles Bridges. Since the 90-70 loss to No. 1 seeded Kansas in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Bridges had delayed his decision while pondering his options.
On April 12, a report by the Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski said Bridges canceled his agent meetings, which provided his hint toward Bridges' decision. Bridges then released a graphic photo on social media on April 13, calling for the student body to attend the Spartan Statue for a later announcement.
In front of a crowd of about 1,000, Bridges delivered his decision to the roar of the student body.
"I’ve got some unfinished business here," he said. "I'm just saying, I want to stay."
Bridges said throughout the decision process he would only weigh the opinions of his mother, Cynthia Bridges, and head coach Tom Izzo.
Two weeks ago Izzo and Cynthia met to weigh his options and Izzo provided detailed information from NBA general managers and scouts about where Bridges would be drafted.
Bridges said he heard everything from the No. 8 selection to No. 14. According to the NBA Salary Cap and Collective Bargaining Agreement, the No. 8 pick would earn about $2,537,000 in their first season and potentially $7,953,500 through three seasons.
Izzo said there were a lot of people pushing and pulling Bridges toward each side. Even in his family, Cynthia thought her son should head to the NBA, while his father Raymond wanted him to stay another year.
"You know, there will be a lot of people out there that won't believe this, Miles will, our team will, his family will but, I didn't recruit him to come back," Izzo said. "It's a difficult thing to be a coach and try to give him the pluses and the minuses."
Izzo said he always thought Bridges would be one and done.
"We have a tradition that the freshmen carry the bags for the juniors and seniors," Izzo said. "As he was carrying them to the bus one day, I said, `Boy this is going to be nice next year. You guys aren't going to have to be carrying bags, there will be some other freshman carrying your bag.' And I said, `Well Miles, you'll probably be carrying bags in the NBA.' Then one time he said, `Why are you trying to get rid of me?'"
Even with the Hall of Fame coach thinking he would leave with the potential of instantly becoming a millionaire, Bridges said the brotherhood and family brought him back.
"Man, it's unreal for me," Bridges said. "Growing up as a kid I never thought it would be like this, especially coming from Flint. It's just an unreal experience and I want to thank God for that. Like you said, it's a brotherhood here, it's a family. I love everybody behind me like they're my brothers, like they're my family. I love you all too. There's something special about this team."
While fans had just officially heard his decision, Miles said he told his teammates the day before and only junior Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn Jr. and fellow freshman Joshua Langford had any idea before then.
"I always knew I was going to make the best decision for myself, whether it was staying or going," Bridges said. "I knew I was going to get better, but I would rather stay here and get better with my teammates and become a better person with them. I love college. I love Spartan Nation. I always say that we have the best fans in the nation, so I would rather be here with them."
Bridges said a National Championship was one of his personal goals to achieve, and with his return the student body is feeling the same way.
Packaging junior Alex Burns and two friends, food industry management junior Richard Lewis and dietetics sophomore Holly Wiles waited next to the Spartan Statue for more than an hour and a half before Bridges' announcement.
"I'm really excited as a fan," Lewis said. "I honestly think we can contend for a National title now with everybody coming in."
Some fans have the utmost confidence for next season.
"I'm calling it right now we are National Championship contenders," Burns said.
Although no MSU fan wanted to jinx a National Championship, they are excited to see their star forward back in action for another year. Bridges was known for his high-flying dunks, which brought the Izzone and Breslin Center crowd to their feet.
"I think he's entertaining to watch," Burns said. "I think you can't see him make one of his dunks and not stand up, get out of your seat and just be excited for the team no matter what the score is, be excited and spirited for the team."
Wiles, a member of Spartan Brass, watched Bridges throughout every home game this season. His return granted both opportunity and growth in her eyes.
"I think overall I am most excited for his leadership potential because I feel like this year we lacked a leader," Wiles said. "Somebody like Denzel (Valentine), coming back and really taking charge of the court and I feel like he has the most potential to come back and kind of have a commanding presence on the court."
Implications for next season
The moment the word "staying" was uttered from Bridges' lips, MSU men's basketball was launched as a potential favorite next season.
This year the Spartans only lost three players, Eron Harris, Alvin Ellis III and Matt Van Dyk. They might lose Ben Carter unless his sixth-year of eligibility is granted by the NCAA.
The biggest returning names from the guard position include Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn Jr., Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Matt McQuaid and Kyle Ahrens.
The returners names for big men are just as, if not more, important because of the team's lack of size last season. MSU will return Nick Ward, Gavin Schilling and Kenny Goins. Although only Schilling stands above 6-foot-9, the front court will be bolstered by two incoming recruits.
Their biggest named recruit is Jaren Jackson Jr. from La Lumiere High School in La Porte, Ind. Jackson is a 6-foot-11 center with a long frame, good for shot blocking, soft touch around the rim and solid range.
He will have the ability to stretch the floor when paired with Ward and provide an anchor in the post on defense. This season at La Lumiere, he was named a McDonald's All-American and is currently ranked No. 16 on the ESPN Top 100 for best incoming recruits.
He will most likely start alongside Ward to fill out the front court.
The other chunk of size for MSU will come from Xavier Tillman of Grand Rapids Christian High School.
Tillman is 6-foot-9 and 250 pound, making him a brick wall in the post. He has good scoring touch and footwork on offense, and he has good instincts and motor for grabbing rebounds.
He will most likely fill in off the bench, but will receive a lot of minutes, mostly because Ward has a tendency to get in foul trouble.
With all of these tools at Izzo's disposal, MSU can become as aggressive as possible because of the talented depth off the bench. MSU is still in contention with more talented recruits. The two most notable are Brandon McCoy of Cathedral Catholic High School and Brian "Tugs" Bowen of La Lumiere High School.
Bowen is from Saginaw, Mich, just like former MSU star and NBA Champion Draymond Green and his cousin, former MSU star and high flyer Jason Richardson is from.
He led the Lakers in scoring this season. He and Jackson, together as teammates, won the Dick's National Championship this season. Since Bridges' return, Bowen might opt to play somewhere else for more playing time. It appeared he was leaning toward Arizona, but Allonzo Trier returned for the Wildcats, so Bowen might see Creighton as his next option for more playing time.
McCoy is one of, if not, the most talented big man recruit this year. He is 6-foot-11 and is currently listed as No. 6 on the ESPN Top 100.
It appears he is favoring Oregon, however, Bridges' return could help sway him toward East Lansing. If McCoy came to MSU, he could start and MSU would have three players of 6-foot-11 or taller.
The recruit most likely to join MSU is Mark Smith from Edwardsville, Ill. Smith is a 6-foot-5 athletic guard with good range and the ability to play on and off the ball. He was named Mr. Basketball in the state of Illinois.
Whether or not MSU adds another highly-acclaimed recruit, the Spartans still look to be in great territory to claim the No. 1 overall ranking into next year and Bridges could be projected as a player of the year candidate.
With key exits from other teams around the Big Ten, such as Caleb Swanigan of Purdue, the Spartans appear the favorite to win their conference.