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MSU’s Ward on return: ‘Always room for improvement’

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — It turns out Miles Bridges wasn’t the only Michigan State freshman thinking about the NBA.

After Bridges announced last week he would return to Michigan State for his sophomore season, classmate Nick Ward talked about his thoughts on the NBA. He briefly considered seeing where he stood but didn’t take long to realize he would be back next season, as well.

“It was the best thing for me to come back next year,” Ward said. “I could’ve tested the waters, I could’ve. But I felt like it was a good decision to stay.”

Ward, the 6-foot-8 center from Gahanna, Ohio, was one of the few Spartans who benefited last season from injuries to seniors Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter. It allowed Ward to see significant playing time early —likely much more than he would have had Schilling and Carter been healthy — and he took advantage of the opportunity.

Ward averaged 13.9 points and 6.5 rebounds a game and earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. He finished the season second all-time in scoring by a Michigan State freshman with 485 points, trailing only the 511 points Magic Johnson scored in 1977-78.

He shot 59.2 percent from the field and was second in the conference in scoring among freshmen, trailing only Bridges. He was third among freshmen in rebounding behind Bridges and Penn State’s Mike Watkins.

Ward, who struggled mightily at the free-throw line early in the season, improved dramatically down the stretch and finished at 61.5 percent.

That, along with plenty of other aspects of his game, is what Ward intends to work on before next fall.

“I gotta work on my jump shot, a little with my conditioning,” Ward said. “Just a little bit of everything, really. There’s always room for improvement.”

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo praised Ward often during the season for the work he put in after his senior year in high school to get close to the 250 pounds he played at during the season. Now Izzo wants to see that work continue.

“We’ve been beating on Nick to lose weight,” Izzo said. “Now I’m going to beat on him to gain a little weight, bring him back a little stronger.”

Bridges, MSU work to round out recruiting class

Carter, MSU await decision

Izzo said on Thursday during the Bridges announcement that Michigan State is still waiting on the NCAA to rule on Ben Carter’s request for a sixth season of eligibility.

“In Ben’s case we think we’re going to hear something any day, but that’s totally an NCAA thing,” Izzo said.

The 6-9 Carter was a graduate transfer from UNLV and injured his knee during Michigan State’s first practice in October and he was out for the season. Getting an extra year could be difficult considering Carter sat out a year when he transferred from Oregon to UNLV.

Carter played two season at Oregon before sitting out his transfer season in 2014-15. He played 22 games at UNLV in 2015-16 before suffering a knee injury.