In the current era of college basketball, it’s pretty common for freshman stars at major college basketball programs to compete for one year as required by the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement and then depart for the millions of dollars that pro basketball offers.
Miles Bridges is a notable exception.
Despite putting up 16.9 points per game for a Michigan State squad that bowed out in the second round of the 2017 NCAA tournament and being projected as a lottery pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Bridges is still in East Lansing, Mich., preparing for the first test of his sophomore season when the second-ranked Spartans face off against No. 1 Duke.
Here are five things you need to know about Michigan State’s biggest star.
1. He Played Out of Position as a Freshman
Throughout his freshman season, the talk about Bridges was that he’d be playing small forward at the NBA level. It’s his natural position, and it makes perfect sense for him to play the 3, considering that he’s 6-foot-7 and has the scoring ability and versatility needed to play the position well. But as a freshman, he found himself playing out of position and taking a spot as a power forward.
It didn’t hurt him much. His 16.9 points per game were the second-highest total for a freshman in Michigan State history, just one-tenth of a point behind the leading freshman scorer.
Who was the leading freshman scorer for the Spartans? Magic Johnson.
2. He’s Originally From Flint
Though he left Michigan to go to Huntington Prep in West Virginia to prepare to play college basketball, he’s never been far from his roots of being from Flint, Mich., known throughout the Great Lake State as being as basketball-talent rich as it is economically poor.
Long before the water crisis made Flint and its problems nationally known, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo knew all about Flint and the basketball players the city produced. Among its top talent were players such as Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson and Charlie Bell, a group that became known as the “Flintstones” and formed the nucleus of Michigan State’s 2000 national championship, Izzo’s only national title to date.
Bridges left Flint in ninth grade, but the city has really never left him. During his freshman season, Izzo openly called him the next Flintstone and said he reminded him of the combination of toughness and talent that the original group had shown years earlier. By the end of the season, the original Flintstones were saying the same thing.
“You know how they bring back a new character in the Marvel comics, like Superman?” Peterson told the Lansing State Journal. “He is like a new character that is added to the same story. He’s definitely in there.”
Off the court, not much is different. Whenever he does turn pro, one of the things that he wants to do most with his newfound wealth is make donations to charities in Flint to help his city on the road to recovery. Hardly a surprise for a player who has a tattoo on his back of the skyline of Flint.
3. Izzo and His Mother Tried to Get Bridges to Leave
When a high draft pick chooses to stay in school over the lure of the pros, it’s usually because either his family or his coach persuaded him to stay for at least one more season. In Bridges’ case, however, he had to fight his coach to come back for his sophomore year and tell his mother that the big payday was still a year away.
Izzo was so surprised at Bridges’ decision that he even told Bridges how to handle his announcement that he was going pro after the Spartans’ season came to an end. But Bridges paid no attention to his coach, having already decided that he was going to stay for a second year.
Even his mother Cynthia tried to convince Miles to leave for the NBA, pointing out that she would be able to retire from her job and that she needed to have surgery to replace her knee. But Bridges didn’t want to leave until he was ready for the NBA life as a person, not just as a player.
When Bridges told Izzo that he wanted to be certain that he was ready for the pros before leaving, the coach immediately dropped his opposition, instead thanking his good fortune.
4. He Says He’s Not Religious, But He Values His Relationship With God
Bridges and his teammates have regular Bible study meetings, which was one of several reasons why he didn’t feel ready to leave Michigan State after one year. He didn’t want to leave that behind.
5. He’s Still Projected As a Lottery Pick in 2018
One of the common refrains that agents tell young basketball players is that if they don’t leave as soon as the money is available, they might never again get a chance to cash in on their athletic talent.
Bridges knew that wasn’t the case for him, and the mock drafts for the 2018 NBA Draft are bearing out that mindset. According to Sports Illustrated, Bridges is projected to be taken around seventh overall with a pick that currently is projected to belong to the Philadelphia 76ers. Given that the Sixers appear to have a solid, young nucleus in place after three years of being a league-wide joke, Bridges could be set up for rapid success if that scenario came to pass.
Regardless of which team he goes to when he does enter the draft, Bridges will be a wealthy man when he’s selected. Thanks to a 2015 rule change, Michigan State was able to pay for an insurance premium on Bridges’ career, which protects him against loss of value if he falls to a lower pick than he would have been selected as if he had left following his freshman season. As he was projected to be picked at No. 11 last year, the policy wouldn’t be triggered if mock draft projections hold.