Izzo looks to Flint again for top talent in Miles Bridges

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — It almost seems fitting that a little more than 20 years after Tom Izzo went to Flint to grab a recruit who would help establish his program, the blue-collar city 45 miles to the east of Michigan State’s campus would produce a player that might be a key piece in what could be the coach’s best recruiting class.

Miles Bridges, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound small forward, will announce his college choice Saturday, and it appears Michigan State is the front-runner in a race that includes Kentucky and Indiana.

“I would think Michigan State feels pretty good about where things stand, and it’s been trending in that direction for a little while now,” said Brian Snow, recruiting analyst for Scout.com. “So while it’s not done, obviously, it seems to be trending in that direction.”

Bridges is a consensus five-star recruit and ranks no lower than No. 12 in the nation. ESPN has him at No. 8, Scout.com and Rivals.com rate him 11th and 247sports.com puts him at No. 12.

He would join an already impressive class that includes 6-6 guard Josh Langford of Madison, Ala., a five-star prospect and consensus top-20 player in the nation; Cassius Winston, a 6-1, four-star point guard from U-D Jesuit; and 6-9 forward Nick Ward, a four-star and consensus top-50 player from Gahanna, Ohio.

Bridges, a Flint native who plays for Huntington (W. Va.) Prep, will make his announcement at Mott Community College, and many believe it’s a clear sign he is leaning toward Michigan State.

When Izzo took over in 1995, his first big recruit was forward Antonio Smith from Flint Northern. Izzo often has credited Smith’s commitment as one of the key building blocks of a program that has reached seven Final Fours since and won one national title.

Smith was joined by Morris Peterson, while Mateen Cleaves followed in 1997 and Charlie Bell in 1998. They formed the “Flintstones,” who reached their first Final Four in 1999 — one of three straight — and brought home the title a year after Smith left in 2000.

More players from Flint followed — Kelvin Torbert, Matt Trannon, Marquise Gray included — but that pipeline has dried to some extent.

Until now, it appears.

“Certainly, coming out of the summer most everyone thought Kentucky was the team to beat,” Snow said. “Even about a month ago somebody close to Miles told me, ‘Miles’ school is blue,’ meaning Kentucky. So clearly Kentucky had some momentum there and most people thought they were the team to beat.

“But at the same time no one was really counting Michigan State out, and Tom Izzo is not someone you count out with a kid that is born and raised in Flint.”

The turning point might have come Sept. 12, the night of the Oregon-Michigan State football game when Bridges and Winston took their official visits and were joined by Langford and Ward. Bridges went to Kentucky the next weekend, but the momentum seemed to shift.

And now it appears Michigan State is in the driver’s seat to land a player with the ability to be a one-and-done.

“He just is kind of out there at power forward, small forward, whatever you want,” Snow said. “He’s strong. He’s a freak athlete. He’s shooting the ball better than ever. So he does a lot of different things. He does nothing great, per se, but just has such a good ability to rebound, such a good ability to attack the rim.”

Snow said a commitment from Bridges almost certainly would make Michigan State’s class no worse than No. 3 overall in the nation, with Duke in good shape and Kentucky closing in on other top prospects.

That could change if Izzo is able to land 6-7 guard Josh Jackson, a Detroit native playing in Napa, Calif. He is the top-rated player in the nation, according to Rivals, second for Scout and 247sports and third according to ESPN.

Some reports say he’s leaning toward Michigan State, but Snow said it’s impossible to predict where Jackson might end up.

Even without Jackson, however, the work Izzo and assistants Mike Garland, Dwayne Stephens and Dane Fife have done with this class has been impressive.

“This is gonna be a team effort, but at the end of the day, the head coach has got to be the guy that closes the deal on a top-10, top-15 kid,” Snow said. “And Izzo has put in a lot of work and for him it might work out — probably is gonna work out — and certainly that is something he’s worked hard for, but the assistants also deserve a ton of credit.”