Sophomore Miles Bridges talks about his decision to return to Michigan State, and national title expectations. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
New York — It’s fitting that Miles Bridges was holding court in midtown Manhattan on Thursday at the Big Ten’s basketball media day.
As his freshman season progressed at Michigan State last winter, most expected it would be the Flint native’s only season with the Spartans — even head coach Tom Izzo.
But, as Izzo has said over and over, Bridges is not your typical superstar.
So, with a likely spot in the NBA Draft Lottery waiting, Bridges instead announced in April he was going another direction. He was coming back for his sophomore season.
As Izzo said on Thursday, Bridges did it his way. How fitting, considering Bridges, Izzo and senior guard Tum Tum Nairn sat in the heart of New York talking about being the favorite to win the Big Ten thanks, in large part, the Bridges’ decision.
“I won’t overblow his game, though I could,” Izzo said. “I’ll overblow him as a person. He’s a special teammate and utopia would be that we have a great year, win as many games as we can win, and he has a phenomenal career from here on out, because he did it his way.”
It wasn’t the way a lot of players might do it, especially those that seem to be guaranteed a top spot in the draft. Others at media day on Thursday wondered why Bridges made the choice he did, including Purdue’s Vince Edwards.
Even Bridges’ mom wondered, but it was clear well before Bridges made his April announcement that he was coming back. Well, it was clear to some.
Nairn said he knew in January, far sooner than his coach.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo talks about star sophomore Miles Bridges, and the state of the game. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
“I’m gonna run Miles’ butt tomorrow for not telling me earlier,” Izzo said. “I had a lot of sleepless nights when he already knew. He just forgot to tell me.”
But that, again, shows how different Bridges is than the typical superstar. When Izzo would joke with him during the season about heading to the NBA, Bridges wondered if his coach was pushing him out.
For Bridges it was simple — he loves being at Michigan State, and wanted to be ready for the NBA when he does go. So, with the decision made, Bridges worked hard this off-season, dropping weight to get down to 225 pounds and working hard on his ball-handling and shooting.
He believes it’s made him a more complete player.
“I’m gonna be a lot more versatile,” Bridges said. “If I have a mismatch in the post I’ll be able to post up. If I have a mismatch up top I can use my guard skills. My conditioning is better, I’ve slimmed down. I think I do a lot more things better. I rebound better, I pass better, shoot better. Going to the three spot on the wing was a great transition for me.”
It’s one he couldn’t make last season as the injury-depleted Spartans were thin in the frontcourt, forcing Bridges to play more at the four position. With plenty of depth up front, that has freed up Bridges on the court.
But as important as it was for Bridges to take steps on the court, everyday life on campus is easier for him, too. He’s more comfortable in class — “Even my teachers know me now,” he said — and the chemistry on the team is even better than it was last season.
Plenty of that is thanks to Bridges.
“He’s still the same humble kid that came here last year as a freshman,” Nairn said. “He’s definitely more mature and he was really mature last year, but even more mature this year. I think he’s gotten a lot better in basketball, putting the ball on the floor, shooting even, making plays for other people, and that’s why he’s preseason player of the year.”
That vote came in Thursday morning, one of many Bridges is sure to get this season. He’ll be on plenty of watch lists and the hype will continue to grow.
Not that much of it matters to Bridges.
“I haven’t (seen him change). I keep looking for it,” Izzo said. “Every time I get a grade check I keep waiting for those grades to go down a little bit, but they’ve gone up this summer. When is he going to be not coachable and be sick of hearing my voice?
“I’m telling you, he’s the most different kid I’ve coached in a positive way. He’s a special guy and whatever career I have, he’s extended it just because he’s fun to be around and he keeps the sanity in this business.”
Not bad for a kid whose likeness was displayed on the side of Madison Square Garden on Thursday. There’s no doubt he’s a star, one that the Spartans feel lucky to have for another year, Izzo even calling it like a Christmas present.
“I mean, it’s not every day you open up a package like that,” Izzo said. “It was really good.”
It’s almost too much of a gift to wonder if it might happen again.
“I don’t want to look too far ahead,” Izzo said. “I don’t know, maybe it’s Christmas again next year. Who knows? He might not be done. You never know … I doubt it, though.”
Until then, the focus will be on Bridges’ second year and what he and the Spartans — voted No. 2 in the preseason coaches’ poll — do with it.
And the decision from that point? Bridges will, no doubt, do it his way.