Up high and down hard, freshman forward Miles Bridges has made his mark as a human highlight reel for MSU men’s basketball.
Dazzling the Izzone with his signature dunks and blocks, Bridges, like many basketball players, is the product of his environment. Growing up in Flint, Bridges had to face many aspects of adversity to become the caliber of player he is today.
The team’s leading scorer at 15.3 points per game, Bridges has controlled the offensive play for MSU thus far this season. On the defensive end, Bridges collects 8.1 rebounds per game, a team high, and blocks more than 1.5 shots per game.
While Bridges receives high praise for his performance, his demeanor off the court has been nothing short of humble. Although he could fall to the classic Hollywood complex, Bridges uses his upcoming to stay true to himself.
“I’ve seen what happened to other people to me personally, I don’t want to say any names, but I don’t want that to happen to me so I can learn from mistakes from other people,” Bridges said.
As a young boy, Bridges grew up as a hyper kid. His mother, Cynthia Bridges, said Miles suffered from Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD.
She said she made Miles play basketball as a means of getting his energy out and giving him something to do with his time.
Cynthia said Miles would play basketball at a local church every Saturday with the children in the neighborhood.
Outside of basketball, Cynthia said Miles was falling victim as many do in the city of Flint – getting in with the wrong crowd.
“He just got involved with the wrong kids, you know the kids that didn’t want to focus in on school, so we got him into basketball,” Cynthia said. “That way in order to play basketball, he had to go to his classes, get good grades, so that kept him grounded.”
According to the 2010 FBI crime report when Miles was in middle school, the city of Flint had 2,412 cases of violent crimes, 53 of which were murders, the second highest in the state behind the city of Detroit. Violent crime is made up of four subcategories: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
In an area where the poverty level is at 41.2 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Flint had a median household income of $24,862 between 2011 and 2015, which is $30,913 lower than the national average.
In this impoverished city, Flint held many dangerous outlets for young children to get turned down the wrong path.
“My mom, she didn’t let me go out a lot because she was protective over me,” Miles Bridges said. “If it wasn’t for my mom I probably wouldn’t be here right now. She kept me inside the house.”
Battling to stay out of the wrong crowd, Bridges used basketball to shield himself from the pressure of his peers.
“I didn’t want him to be a statistic in Flint,” Cynthia said.
Flint Athletes for Better Education
In the third grade, Bridges joined the likes of elite basketball players in Flint by joining the Amateur Athletic Union, or AAU, ranks.
His AAU team, Flint Athletes for Better Education, or FABE, was started by local Flint Northwest All-Star Jeff Grayer. Grayer went on to play collegiate ball at Iowa State in 1984, where he set the all-time leading scoring record in Iowa State basketball history, netting a total of 2,502 points.
In 1988, Grayer was named an All-American and earned a bronze medal for the United States in the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. On draft night, Grayer was selected as the No. 13 overall pick by the Milwaukee Bucks and bounced around the league for nine years before he left the game as a player to pursue coaching.
As a mentor to Bridges, Grayer has seen the freshman grow up before his own eyes. Playing for him as a third grader, Grayer said Bridges began to blossom as a basketball player during his eighth grade year.
Vert test today pic.twitter.com/mCDXBjoRo1— Miles Bridges (@MilesBridges01) June 30, 2016
“We were down by maybe eight points or so and I put him on this big kid and I told him, ‘I want you to shut him down, I don’t want him to get another rebound’ and from that point forward Miles blocked every shot the kid put up, he rebounded the ball and scored on the other end and that’s when my eyes really opened about his ability,” Grayer said.
Grayer’s son, Jaire, acted as a brother to Bridges. Being a year older than Bridges, Jeff Grayer said Miles was always asking to play with the older kids.
Jaire Grayer is a sophomore guard who currently plays for the George Mason University Patriots. Averaging just less than 28 minutes per game for the Patriots, Jaire Grayer is fourth on the team in scoring with 10.7 points per game.
While Jeff Grayer acted as a coach, Bridges said his involvement was greater than basketball itself.
“My ninth grade year I actually had to stay the night over at his house most of the time because I didn’t have a ride to school,” Bridges said.
As a freshman at Flint Southwestern Academy, where former MSU men’s basketball player and 2000 NCAA championship team member Charlie Bell played, Bridges averaged a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. He would add three blocks per game to his impressive start to his high school career.
While Bridges was thriving as a basketball player in the Flint school system, Cynthia was worried about her son as the summer began.
It was then that Cynthia and Miles made the conscious decision to have Miles play elsewhere, somewhere safer where his basketball game could be pushed to the next level.
With the help of another former Flint basketball player, Bridges was on his way to Huntington Prep School in Huntington, W.Va.
The former Flint basketball player, Javontae Hawkins, shares a similar but more sorrowful story than Bridges.
Hawkins, a former basketball player for Powers Catholic High School in Flint, felt the cold reality of the city.
In August 2007, Hawkins’ 14-year-old brother, Dairea Bradley-Hawkins, was shot and killed at a party in Flint. Three years later, another family member, 26-year-old Quantrell Jamerson, was shot and killed while he was robbed.
For his last year of high school eligibility, Hawkins transferred to Huntington Prep before making his way to the collegiate level, where he has played for the University of South Florida, Eastern Kentucky University and now plays as a graduate student at Fordham University.
“He was the one that basically gave the Huntington Prep coach the good word out for me,” Bridges said. “I would work out with him at the Y when I was little all the time with Jeff so he has been a big part of my life.”
While Bridges was off to West Virginia to avoid the crime in Flint, Bridges said the move made him become more of a man on and off the court.
“When you take a look at the education system and you look at the area in terms of jobs and opportunities that are there, the lack of education and jobs that are declining leads to mischievous things that goes on in your area,” Grayer said. “Every kid that’s here can be easily be informed in a negative way. When Miles made the decision or his mom made the decision for him to go to Huntington Prep, kind of applauded him for getting him out of here, give him a chance to explore his dream and experience some things that are very positive.”
Bridges, in his senior season at Huntington Prep averaged 25 points per game, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and two steals.
Playing Days at MSU
The eighth ranked high school player to enter college basketball according to the ESPN Top 100, Bridges was recruited by other schools including Indiana, North Carolina and Kentucky. His high school notoriety gave him the title of McDonald’s All-American and a member of the Jordan Brand Classic.
While Bridges had the cream of the crop to choose from, he decided to stay close to home.
“It’s just a family environment,” Bridges said. “I love the coaches, they had a great relationship with my mom, my family ... they stayed loyal to me, even when I had Kentucky, North Carolina on my list.”
At media day, on his introduction to MSU men’s basketball fans, head coach Tom Izzo had high praise for his rising star.
“He’s been an incredible kid,” Izzo said. “Sometimes your top 10 or 15 players are full of themselves. He’s been as humble and hard-working and coachable a kid as I’ve had. So that’s exciting for me. Because when your best players are some of your hardest workers and your easiest to coach, that’s usually a recipe for success. I think Miles Bridges is going to be the next Flintstone that has great success at our place because of the way he’s handled everything from his recruiting on.”
In his playing debut, Bridges shined for 21 points and seven rebounds in a thrilling loss to then-No. 10 Arizona in the Armed Forces Classic.
“I always said if I could get a seven-footer from Florida, Texas, or California I’d probably have my name in lights because everybody thinks if you recruit from further it’s better,” Izzo said. “I think just the opposite. I think you have to put a fence around your state and you need to be getting a lot of the best players in your state if you’re one of the big schools in the state. I’ve always believed that the Midwest has a tougher kid. It’s not always true but I’ve believed that. I’ve always believed in putting kids near their homes where their family can come and watch them play. I believe that’s part of the family atmosphere in Miles’ and Cassius’ case.”
Izzo continued to say players from the state of Michigan often reflect the nostalgic history of the state. The blue-collar mentality that players bring to the court reflect the automotive industry in Detroit and Flint.
As soon as Bridges began his career as a Spartan an ankle injury sidelined him for seven games.
In his return, Bridges gave fans a long-awaited highlight, taking the lob from freshman guard Cassius Winston and throwing down the dunk with great force.
“I felt great, I mean I hate sitting out, that is probably one of the worst things I’ve had to do in my life,” Bridges said. “That’s what I like to do, I like dunking the ball and getting the fans into it. I was actually surprised I got up that high because I haven’t dunked in a while.”
After a defeat against Penn State, Bridges was given a little reminder from back home through a call from his mother.
“My mom, she called me up after the Penn State game and said I wasn’t being aggressive,” Bridges said. “That’s why I love my mom, she is always on me like that, she just wants me to do better.”
His mother said she looked back at his tapes from Huntington Prep to see what Miles needed to change in order to play better.
“It looked like he was playing so cautious ... he wasn’t himself,” Cynthia said. “I also texted coach Izzo, I told him, ‘Miles needs to play more aggressive.’”
As soon as the season ends, Bridges will be eligible to forgo his college career and enter the NBA Draft. With talks about being a potential lottery pick, Cynthia said she just wants her son to be happy and doesn’t discuss her son’s future with him.
“I have a vision on what I want to do,” Miles said. “The NBA is going to be there if I go this year or next year. I just want to win here first before I go to the NBA. Even if I do leave early, I would want to come back, get my education through summer classes and graduate from school because I know that’s what my mom would want.”
When Bridges’ decides to take the next step, he said he wants to use the NBA platform to give back to Flint, especially after recent events such as the water crisis.
While his mother Cynthia has lived in Flint for the past 26 years, she said her house was just outside the affected areas, however she still buys bottled water to clean vegetables and to cook with.
“God is number one in my life and I just want to give back to kids because I know that’s what God would want me to do,” Bridges said. “I think that is basically my purpose in life, to use the NBA as a stepping stool to giveback to people.”
While Bridges’ will most likely pursue the NBA, he will bring with his family and experiences he learned from Flint.
“I think the ceiling is very very for Miles, on the collegiate level as well as the professional level,” Grayer said. “With the talent he has that God has given him, he is going to be a very exciting player."