Dimondale, Mich. — Marcus Bingham Jr. had a chance to mimic some of the Big Ten’s top players last season as a member of Michigan State’s scout team.
He hopes to someday become one.
The first step for the Spartans sophomore is an offseason of putting on weight, hitting the training table and getting in the weight room about four times a week.
It appears to be a success so far, as the Grand Rapids native said he checks in at the 225-227 range on his daily weigh-ins after arriving in East Lansing last summer under 200 pounds.
It’s led to increased focus, which is something coach Tom Izzo listed as a priority for improvement.
“After the season, Coach told me that my focus needs to move forward this year,” Bingham said after playing Tuesday night in the Moneyball Pro-Am. “Every summer workout, every lift, every team thing, I try to keep my focus up, keep my energy. I try to do the right thing and push everybody.”
Bingham came to East Lansing as the highest-rated freshmen for Izzo last summer, but his 82 minutes played trailed classmates Aaron Henry (859 minutes), Gabe Brown (253), Foster Loyer (208) and Thomas Kithier (179).
There are frontcourt minutes available with the losses of Kenny Goins and Nick Ward, who are both playing in NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.
“I’m taking every opportunity I can,” Bingham said.
But there’s also new competition in freshman Julius Marble of Dallas, with Marquette transfer Joey Hauser now on campus and in MSU’s future plans after he sits out this upcoming season.
Hauser’s arrival also bumps Bingham from the perch of highest-rated recruit on campus from the Class of 2018: Hauser was No. 52 in the 247Sports Composite, while Bingham was No. 66.
Hauser also fulfilled immediate promise and showed potential for stardom with the Golden Eagles, scoring 9.7 points and grabbing 5.3 rebounds per game, starting 31 of 34 contests.
Meanwhile, Bingham scored 23 points in 23 games last season, but provided glimpses with a few eye-popping stats in limited action: 10 blocked shots in 83 minutes of court time, and 6-for-14 shooting (42.9 percent) from 3-point range.
The shooting touch, and skinny frame, conjure thoughts of Brooklyn's Kevin Durant, his favorite NBA player.
Izzo floated a redshirt for Bingham before last season, but the chance is there for the versatile 6-foot-11 forward to become a bigger part of this year’s team.
“Attitude,” junior forward Xavier Tillman said about Bingham, when asked about the differences he’s seeing. “He’s becoming a really good leader. Even me sometimes, when I’m in my own head and not encouraging anybody, he’s that dude who is picking me up.
“He’s doing a really good job being a leader and that’s big for him.”
Reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston, who has battled tendinitis in both knees and received a platelet-rich plasma shot in his left knee after last season, is full go at summer practice and at Moneyball.
“I wouldn’t be out there if I didn’t feel good,” he said. “I feel a lot better. I'm doing everything, practicing and conditioning. Feeling good.”
He even felt good enough to — playfully — get physical with teammate Aaron Henry on Tuesday night.
With smiles on their faces, the pair engaged in a bit of a wrestling match underneath the hoop at the pro-am, faking a dramatic fight with Marble coming in late to clear up the “skirmish.”
After reaching the Final Four last year, the national rankings are high on the Spartans, pegging MSU at No. 1 on ESPN.com, Sports Illustrated, CBSSports.com, NCAA.com and NBCSports.com, and second to Kansas on Stadium.com and Kentucky in Athlon Sports.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that can do things, a lot of guys that can make plays,” Winston said. “It’s going to be a good year for us. A lot of guys are going to step up in big ways.”
Do the rankings add pressure?
“I bet there is, but you don’t really feel it,” Tillman said.
Added Winston: “It’s easy. We’ve got a lot of guys that still have stuff to prove.”
Senior Joshua Langford is not practicing full yet, Winston said, but could be on the way soon.
After Izzo said last month at the Rocket Mortgage Classic that Langford could be back about this time, Winston said it’s not quite his time yet.
Langford played the first 13 games last season, averaging 15.0 points per game and shooting 40.3-percent from 3-point range.
He broke a bone in his left foot on Dec. 29 against Northern Illinois and missed the rest of his junior year.
“He’s moving well, and doing some more on the treadmill, and stuff like that,” Winston said. “So he’s doing pretty good.”
Kyle Ahrens, who missed the NCAA Tournament with a grade 3 ankle sprain suffered in the Big Ten Tournament final win against Michigan, is back practicing with the Spartans.
Neither Langford nor Ahrens are playing at Moneyball this summer.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.