Detroit – There was no hesitation for Jaren Jackson Jr.
The Michigan State freshman believes his Sports Illustrated cover is much better than teammate Miles Bridges’.
“Me or Miles?” Jackson said. Me. You see the cover? Come on, man. I mean his was cool with the mascot but I had like everybody and their mom around me.”
As Michigan State made its final preparations for Friday night’s matchup with Bucknell in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament, the Spartans were having some fun inside the Detroit Pistons locker room at Little Caesars Arena.
All that was left was an open practice on Thursday afternoon, so the discussion turned to who had the better cover. Jackson appeared last week as Sports Illustrated took a photo of him from a recent game with his fists clenched in celebration. It surrounded him with dozens of images of past greats from the game.
Larry Bird at Indiana State was over Jackson’s left shoulder while images that included Magic Johnson, John Wooden and Patrick Ewing surround him.
Bridges graced the magazine’s cover back before the season began with a staged shot of him and Sparty, the Michigan State mascot.
Even Bridges admitted on Thursday that Jackson had the better cover.
“I’m not gonna lie, I like Jaren’s the best cause it’s a basketball picture,” Bridges said. “I like Jaren’s the best. It was definitely cool.”
The cover took Jackson by surprise. The Michigan State leader in single-season blocks with 104 said he had no idea he was going to be on the cover.
“That was cool but I didn’t think it was real when I saw it,” Jackson said. “Everybody else got it and I didn’t so it was kind of funny.
“I saw it on the bus and one of my teammates showed me and he was like, ‘Is this real?’ I’m like, ‘No one told me I was gonna be on it. That’s fake.’ I got back to the hotel and went to sleep and my mom called early in the morning and said, ‘You know about this? Is it real?’ I didn’t know it was happening but it was cool.”
Sophomore Cassius Winston liked Jackson’s cover, too, but wasn’t counting down the weeks until he got his first cover.
“Nah, nah, I’m not there yet,” Winston said. “That’s a future goal, but he deserved to be on there for sure.”
‘Shake my head’
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is convinced – Bucknell should have a better seed than No. 14. The Bison won the Patriot League by winning 18 of their last 19 games
“I kind of shake my head that they're a 14 seed,” Izzo said.
Well, the Bison are feeling the same way about the Spartans.
“We shake our heads when they're a 3 seed,” senior Zach Thomas said. “It's just the way it worked out, I guess. We feel like we could probably could have been maybe a little bit higher, but we like our chances either way.”
And they’re not worried that those chances will be effected by a partisan crowd at Little Caesars Arena.
“We know there's going to be a lot of Michigan State fans here,” Thomas said. “So, we're hoping that we can kind of quiet them early. And then for the fans here that aren't Michigan State fans, hopefully they jump on our side.”
Is it a sign?
Way back in 2004, Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, a longtime Razorbacks assistant who was then head coach at UAB, left his 1994 Arkansas national championship ring in a New Orleans hotel where the team had stayed.
He assumed it was lost forever.
Recently, he received a call from a pawn shop outside of New Orleans that had traced the ring back to him. He told Anderson that he had looked up the roster from that year and there was only one person the ring could have belonged to.
“’Are you that Anderson?’” Anderson said he was asked. “’Yep, you got me.’ Lo and behold it shows up. So I got my NCAA national championship ring back.”
He had to pay to get the ring returned. As Arkansas’ first-round NCAA Tournament game nears, Anderson thinks it could be a sign.
“It was an omen,” he said. “It's because it's something that's been on my mind. This one came from the NCAA. And it was still in the same shape it was when I got it.”
‘Gritty, not pretty’
Butler is not the showiest team in the tournament.
Asked to describe the type of team the Bulldogs are, sophomore Kamar Baldwin cut to the point.
“I would say we're a group of tough guys that like to get the job done,” Baldwin said. “No matter how we do it, we're going to get it done. Like our motto, we're gritty, not pretty. So we're ready to fight and ready to work hard.”
Michigan State vs. Bucknell
Tip-off: 7:10 p.m. Friday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
TV/radio: CBS/760 AM
Records: No. 3 seed Michigan State 29-4; No. 14 seed Bucknell 25-9
Next up: Winner faces the winner between No. 6 TCU and No. 11 Syracuse on Sunday.