East Lansing — From the day Miles Bridges announced he would attend Michigan State, everyone believed he would play one season and head to the NBA.
His mother pushed for it and his coach, Tom Izzo, expected it all along, even making jokes to his star freshman during the season about how he’d be carrying bags for the veterans next year as an NBA rookie.
However, there was one person — the most important, it turns out — who never saw being a one-and-done player as a forgone conclusion.
That person, of course, was Bridges himself. And on Thursday evening in front of the Sparty statue on campus, the Flint native and Big Ten Freshman of the Year made it official, announcing he would return to Michigan State for his sophomore season and put off the NBA for at least another year.
“I’ve got some unfinished business here,” Bridges said as the crowd that pushed 1,000 people cheered wildly. “I want to stay. I can’t wait for next year. I want to win a national championship.”
Bridges’ decision immediately catapulted Michigan State from a good team to a potentially great team. On Wednesday, reports started surfacing that he had cancelled meetings with potential agents and was intending to announce his return. By Thursday, the odds for the Spartans to win the national title went from 20-1 to 10-1, according to Bovada. That put MSU as the co-favorite with Kentucky to claim the national championship.
His return guarantees nothing, something Izzo pointed out on Thursday, but he also understood the many reasons Bridges will be back.
“Him and I spent a lot of time talking about it, what the reasons to stay would be,” Izzo said. “Sure, he wants to win a championship. But two years ago we had a good enough team to win one and we got beat in the first round. Stuff happens. Those are the kind of conversations we had to have.
“But I think it came down to, he just said he wants to get better. He enjoys college, he loves his teammates. He’s been happy here. When you put it all together he couldn’t make a bad decision, but his decision, thank God, was to come back.”
While Izzo and most Michigan State fans have been waiting to find out what Bridges would do since the season ended with a second-round loss to Kansas in the NCAA Tournament, he said on Thursday that he knew well before the final game.
“It was mid-season when I knew this is where I needed to be if I wanted to get better,” Bridges said. “And I have goals for myself, too.”
Most of his teammates found out in the last few days while Lourawls Nairn and Bridges’ roommate, Joshua Langford, knew before that.
For Izzo, it was a challenge. As Bridges continued to tell his coach he was leaning toward coming back, Izzo kept on him, asking him repeatedly for reasons to return. It came to a head on Monday night when Izzo left the annual Academic Gala and took Bridges for a drive around campus.
“I said, ‘Why don’t you want to go?’” Izzo recalled. “I said, ‘I need a better reason than winning a national championship because that’s so hard to do. I need a better reason.’ He just gave me a bunch of them and said, ‘I’m not ready to do that.’ He’s got some things he wants to accomplish.”
With his coach convinced, Bridges’ other task was convincing his mother, Cynthia, that it was the right move. She had already stated she believed her son should go to the NBA while at the same time his father, Raymond, had said he should come back.
On Thursday, both were by his side.
“It has been hard for me,” Cynthia Bridges said. “I know I made the statement that I would go to the NBA. But I’m not the basketball player, Miles is. I support him 100 percent.”
It was a moment in the proceedings on Thursday that got interesting when Raymond recalled trying to get Bridges’ childhood friend, Josh Jackson, to play at Michigan State. Jackson, of course, ended up at Kansas and helped beat the Spartans in the NCAA Tournament.
That, however, hasn’t changed Raymond’s mind on his son.
“I told him he’s the best basketball player in the country,” Raymond Bridges said. “I still say Miles has got a better game than Josh Jackson.”
And that player is now staying in the green and white for at least one more season.
As Izzo said, it’s not like he was a new recruit but Michigan State did land the “biggest fish.”
If it ends in a national title, it will have all been for the best. But even if it doesn’t, everyone in attendance Thursday believed it was the best choice.
“I always knew I would make the best decision for myself,” Bridges said. “Whether that was staying or going I knew I would get better. But I’d rather stay here and get better with my teammates and become a better person with them. And I love college. I love Spartan nation. I’ve always said we have the best fans in the nation and I’d rather be here with them.”