Bryn Forbes holds key to Michigan State’s success

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — As Tom Izzo met with the media a couple of weeks ago to preview Michigan State’s season, he was very clear about who was the Spartans’ top player.

He called senior guard Denzel Valentine Michigan State’s “star of stars,” and very few, if any, would argue with the legendary coach. The senior will almost certainly be in the running for Big Ten Player of the Year and some believe he will finish as an All-American.

But after a few minutes lauding Valentine, Izzo moved on to another player who might be as important to Michigan State’s success as anyone, even Valentine. That’s when he talked about senior guard Bryn Forbes, Valentine’s high school teammate who teamed up to win a couple of state championships at Lansing Sexton.

“The excitement of the summer was in Forbes,” Izzo said. “To me, he was our MVP of the summer.”

That’s pretty high praise, especially since Valentine spent his off-season playing in the Pan Am Games with USA Basketball, bringing home a bronze medal.

But there were certain things Forbes needed to accomplish to become one of two “definitive starters” for Izzo. The biggest was Forbes needed to get stronger. Coming to Michigan State last season after transferring from Cleveland State, Forbes was a scorer but he struggled defensively and much of that was because he wasn’t physical enough.

So he hit the weight room and has added at least 15 pounds, looking nothing like he did when the Spartans reached the Final Four last spring.

“ I said last spring he had to improve his defense, he had to gain some weight, he had to take the noodles that went out of his shoulders and make them arms,” Izzo said. “He’s done all three things. He’s really worked hard in the weight room. … He can go longer stretches. He’s in better shape.”

All the while, Forbes was working on the best part of his game — his shot.

He was already pretty good, ranking fourth in the Big Ten last season in 3-point shooting at 42.7 percent. But he wanted to be even better for his senior season.

Five keys for Michigan State basketball

“I’ll be honest with you, he’s made a lot of shots in this preseason, and he’s made them with people on him, with people not on him,” Izzo said. “He’s shot so well, he’s worked on it so hard this summer, I’m expecting him to take a big step. He made some big plays in those games down the stretch last year, but I think he’s a little better with the ball. He’s a little better defensively, a tiny bit better rebounding.”

That work in the off-season could lead to a memorable season for Forbes, at least that’s what his oldest friend and teammate believes.

“It was already great but now it’s greater,” Valentine said of Forbes’ shot. “That has improved, his playmaking has improved, his defense has improved. He’s just a better player and more comfortable. I think he’s gonna have a great year for us.”

It’s taken Forbes some time to find that comfort zone in East Lansing. Michigan State was always the school he wanted to attend, but when he left Sexton, Valentine became a Spartan while Forbes headed to Cleveland State.

He had walk-on offer from Izzo, but Forbes opted for the scholarship away from home. And after two years of starring in the Horizon League, it appeared it was the right move. But Forbes became a father as a sophomore and felt the pull to come back home.

The desire to be near his son, Carter, led him back to the place he always wanted to be — Michigan State. It was an up and down season for Forbes in 2014-15. He adjusted to Izzo’s style and was a key to the Spartans’ run in the NCAA Tournament.

Now, the player Izzo lauds for being so coachable, has taken to all of Izzo’s requirements and is primed for a big year.

“I think I’ve put in a lot of work so I could have a big breakthrough,” Forbes said. “I just have to stay focused and keep grinding. I’m so excited. I was excited for the first two exhibition games. It’s gonna be crazy. It’s gonna be a good season.”

Forbes gave a pretty good indication of how it might go in Michigan State’s exhibition games, leading the Spartans in scoring highlighted by his 23 points against Northern Michigan on 7-for-10 shooting from 3-point range.

At the same time, Valentine was recording a triple-double against Northern Michigan — not bad for the friends who grew up winning basketball championships together and now hope they have one more title run in them.

“I’m just glad that I’ve got somebody I’ve known for a long time with the same fire, the same fight as me,” Valentine said. “He knows me really well and we have great chemistry on the court. I’m glad he’s here.”

So is Forbes, and so is Izzo. That’s because the hometown duo might just be the key to getting the Spartans back to the Final Four and bringing home Michigan State’s first national title since 2000.

“I think him and Denzel could do something few get to do,” Izzo said. “High school teammates that won a couple of championships, get to the college level, play together and hopefully have big things happen.”

Florida Atlantic at Michigan State

Tip-off: 7 p.m. Friday, Breslin Center, East Lansing

TV/radio: WJR

Outlook: The Spartans’ regular-season opener against the Owls marks the first meeting between the two programs.