It sounded like thunder coming from inside the tunnel, fans screaming and stomping their heels into the bleachers, Sparty darting back and forth across the court, cheerleaders standing tall with their pompoms in the air. Basketball season is back, and the energy for the first game of the season was electric.
MSU freshman forward Jaren Jackson Jr. sprinted onto the court with his teammates, in their black and white t-shirt that reads, “We Talk, We Listen” on the front and a quote from Miles Bridges on the back that says, “It’s Not About Me, It’s About Us.”
“It was incredible, it was way different than the exhibition probably just because everybody was more hyped up for the real game when it counts, and we had the shirts,” Jackson said. “We had people on the court. It was just a whole different vibe, and I just embraced it because I know that is what it’s going to be like from now on.”
The t-shirts are an example of freedom of expression, and the team wanted to make a social statement to start a conversation.
“(Head coach Tom) Izzo said it best when he addressed it in the media,” Jackson said. “We all know what it meant, and we all came together and made a decision as a team and we’re just trying to change the world.”
Jackson started along with Miles Bridges, Joshua Langford, Nick Ward and Cassius Winston while putting up double digits on the scoreboard and dunking on North Florida every opportunity he had, proving he was diligent to win in his first game as a Spartan.
On top of the usual excitement that comes with the beginning of the season, there's an additional buzz around this Spartan team, which is considered a favorite for the national championship and are ranked No. 2 in the pre-season AP Poll.
“It hasn’t been as in your face just because we keep busy around here," Jackson said. "It’s pretty much just school, gym, stuff like that, but it’s always in the back of your mind and I’m not dumb, I’m aware of what the expectations is for our team but no expectation is greater than our own.”
Sophomore forward, Miles Bridges's return to MSU played a significant role in gaining national attention. Bridges was set to be a lottery pick in last year's NBA draft, but he decided to come back to MSU to finish what he started. Now featured on the Nov. 6 issue of Sports Illustrated and another feature in the Nov. 13 edition of ESPN the magazine, the limelight isn't a space he dwells in.
“I just stay to my teammates, I mean I don’t do anything different even though I have the hype,” Bridges said. “I just want to get better everyday and pay attention to winning.”
Spartans won 98-66 against North Florida in the home opener Friday night, Bridges scoring 20 points and 10 rebounds in the overall game.
The powerhouse forward might have had the most points, however, the starting line-up all had double digits on the scoreboard by the end of the game. As a team, they showed a preview of what all the national attention has been all about.
“I mean, of course we pay a little bit of attention to it, but if we pay a lot of attention to it then it’s going to affect the way we play,” Bridges said. “And we don’t want that to happen. So we just want to get better everyday.”
Even though the team had a 29 point lead in the first half and lead by as many as 39 after the half, Izzo still believes there is a lot of work still to be done this season.
“There are a lot of positives, the only things that were negative to me are things that, like, I told Cass before I told Nick before the game, I told Miles, you’ve got to do things that kind of give you a report card on and how hard you worked on things that you weren’t as good as last year,” Izzo said at the press conference after beating North Florida. “We’ve held our own and have done pretty good but we’ve got a major step and a major hurdle to climb here and we’re going to try to do that.”
Izzo said that he hasn’t used tonight's Duke game a topic of discussion during the preseason, but he is well aware of the young talent Duke has.
"It will be another different team not your prototypical Duke team that a lot of times started four guards," Izzo said. "These guys, one of the exhibition games started four giants and sometimes three. We'll start going to work on them, it’s a big game, and I’m sure our players are excited about it, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
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