Izzo: MSU's Miles Bridges a 'blue-collar superstar'

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Miles Bridges

Washington – Miles Bridges is not a typical freshman.

That much is clear when watching the 6-foot-7, 230-pounder play basketball. There’s little he can’t do on the court. He can shoot, handle the ball, attack the basket, defend, distribute the ball – you name it, Bridges can get it done.

It’s what helped him become an All-American at Huntington (W.Va.) Prep on the way to becoming one of the top recruits in the nation. And while nearly every top program in the country was after him, it was Tom Izzo and Michigan State that convinced the Flint native to return home, three years after he left Flint Southwestern Academy to play at Huntington.

It’s a reopening of the pipeline Izzo created in the late 1990s from the down-on-its-luck city to Michigan State, one that first helped Izzo build his legacy by bringing a national title and seven Final Four appearances to East Lansing.

Now, it appears Bridges could be the cornerstone of Izzo’s next best chance to get that elusive second national title. He’s that good, we’re told, as versatile as anyone Izzo has had since Jason Richardson and capable of following in the footsteps of former Spartans from Flint, including Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson and Charlie Bell.

“I think Miles Bridges is going to be the next Flintstone that has great success at our place,” Izzo said Thursday at Big Ten media day. “And I know everybody gives coach speak and says the right things, but that’s not my style. He just wants to learn, wants to get better. He has no ego and that started in recruiting, really. It was just, ‘I’m coming,’ and that was kind of the way he was.

“He’s a blue-collar superstar, if you ask me. He’s got a lot of work to do, he’s got to get better at some things and needs to make a lot of progress, but he’s been fun to coach and has been a great teammate. Sometimes guys come in with high accolades and are not good teammates. He’s been a great teammate.”

Some might underestimate that whole teammate part of the equation. But coming off the last two seasons that Izzo said were his best teams in terms of chemistry, it’s not small matter. As Izzo talks about plenty these days, the culture of Michigan State basketball was sharpened over the past couple years and it was clear what it meant toward being successful.

It helped propel a surprising run to the Final Four in 2015 and was integral in last season’s run that included a Big Ten tournament title before the crushing first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Middle Tennessee.

Izzo loved every minute with those teams and is striving to keep it that way, which made his choice to bring a freshman to media day – Bridges was joined by senior Eron Harris and junior Tum Tum Nairn – an interesting one.

But just like on the court, Bridges is not your average freshman.

Miles Bridges

“I don’t think anybody is jealous of him,” Izzo said. “I think they really appreciate him and more importantly, he appreciates them.”

That appreciation is easier when guys already on the team realize how good the new guys are and how much they can help a team on the floor. Bridges can do that, as can fellow freshmen Joshua Langford, Cassius Winston and Nick Ward. They’ll all play regular minutes, though Izzo said he hasn’t narrowed down a starting lineup at this point.

And there’s no doubt it’s about the team for the freshmen, as well.

“None of the freshman on the team are out for themselves,” Bridges said. “They want to win.”

At Michigan State, that means buying in to what has worked over the years, and it’s a big reason Bridges and Langford joined Nairn at 6:30 a.m. every morning this summer for daily workouts.

It’s the culture that began to build under the original Flintstones, grew stronger under Draymond Green and became nearly unbreakable with Denzel Valentine, Matt Costello and Bryn Forbes.

Now it’s the blend of old and new, as Izzo said Thursday. The old has its share of important pieces. Nairn is the clear leader while Harris tries to add the scoring punch to the defensive prowess he discovered last season. Senior Gavin Schilling will try and remain healthy while sophomore Matt McQuaid expects to take a big jump.

And the new, led by Bridges, has limitless potential. Bridges is the only certain starter at this point, and he could play literally any position, even spending some time in practice working at point guard.

“I’m learning a lot right now,” Bridges said. “It’s my first year but (Izzo) trusts me with the ball and trusts me to make decisions, so that’s why he puts me there.”

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There will be plenty of focus on Bridges this season, especially early as Michigan State has games against Arizona, Kentucky and Duke all in the first month. Bridges is looking forward to showing what he can do.

“That’s the reason we came to Michigan State, to play the top competition,” Bridges said. “When we play them I’ll be on a whole other level. I want to win so bad. But whether we win or lose we’ll still figure out what type of team we are.”

Even when he talked about himself, Bridges turned it back to the team. He’s already immersed in that culture. No, he’s not your average freshman and not your average freshman superstar.

He says all the right things, adding the idea of playing one season and then jumping to the NBA is nowhere in his thought-process.

“That’s the last thing I’m thinking about,” Bridges said. “I just want to win. … I’ll go when I’m physically and mentally ready.”

Nope, not your average freshman.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter @mattcharboneau