Michigan State stacked with talent as Izzo eyes long run
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Miles Bridges tilted his head back and pivoted, taking in the sights and sounds of the Tom Izzo Hall of Fame at Michigan State .
“I’m at loss for words,” the usually loquacious Bridges said. “This place is awesome.”
The $20 million new addition to the Breslin Center pays homage to Izzo, who has taken the Spartans to new heights. The Hall of Fame coach lifted what was a good program that won a national championship with Magic Johnson and the late Jud Heathcote and elevated it to one of the elite in college basketball with a second national championship and seven Final Four appearances in less than two decades.
Michigan State graduate Dan Gilbert, a billionaire who owns Rock Ventures and the Cleveland Cavaliers, donated $10 million and other donors paid for the other half of the project. Gilbert tried to lure Izzo to the NBA in 2010 and now acknowledges he made the right choice to stay in college , where he can recruit the kind of talent he has this season to contend for a national championship.
“You guys have a real shot a winning it,” Gilbert told Michigan State’s players, who stood to his left as he addressed a crowd that included Izzo in a second-row seat during a dedication ceremony. “If you do it for anybody, do it for coach Izzo.”
Izzo later repeated a line Bridges used last spring when he announced his plans to return for his sophomore season.
“This is not about me,” Izzo said. “It’s about us.”
In the school’s shrine to basketball, its two national championship trophies are on display.
“We’re going to try to add one more crystal ball to that room,” Izzo said.
Here are some other things to watch this season:
BRIDGES IS BACK
Instead of making millions in the NBA , the 6-foot-7, 225-pound forward is a college sophomore and loving it. Bridges led the undersized and overmatched Spartans last year with team highs in points (16.9 per game), 3-pointers (56), rebounds (8.3 per game) and was among the top three in blocks, assists and steals. This season, the Big Ten preseason player of the year and national player of the year candidate will have a much better surrounding cast.
“Deserves all the attention he’s received,” Izzo said. “So far he’s handled it with humility and humbleness like hasn’t been seen around here that often. I say that not insulting our other guys, but more or less complimenting him. He’s handled it with class. If you talk to him, he’d much rather talk about his teammates, the program, the coaches than himself. He’s an unselfish guy, and it filters down through the team.”
Michigan State’s other sophomores are pretty good, too. Nick Ward averaged 13.9 points and 6.5 rebounds, behind only Bridges on the team in both category, and had a team-high 54 blocks. Cassius Winston showed flashes of what he could do as a dependable point guard, averaging a team-high 5.2 assists and tying for a Big Ten-best 2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio. Joshua Langford started his freshman season slow before playing closer to his potential later in the season, including a 13-point game in an NCAA Tournament win over Miami and 10 points in a loss to Kansas in the round of 32.
Freshman Jaren Jackson is projected by some to be a top-five pick — ahead of Bridges — in the 2018 NBA draft. The 6-11 forward with a 7-4 wing span can score inside and outside, where he makes 3-pointers that don’t have a smooth backspin. Fellow Xavier Tillman, a 6-foot-8, 260-pound forward, was expected to be a seldom-used player until he stepped on campus.
“He’s probably been the biggest surprise at camp,” Izzo said. “I thought he’d be a good player. I think before he’s done he’s going to be a great player.”
The Spartans were very small last season, forcing Bridges to play in the post more than he is suited to do. This season, they’re really big and deep in the front court. Both Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter — each of them 6-foot-9 — are healthy enough to play after sitting out all of last season with knee injuries.
Michigan State faces Duke on Nov. 14 in Chicago in a marquee matchup. Later in the month, the Spartans will play Connecticut or Oregon and possibly North Carolina in Portland, Oregon , before returning home to play Notre Dame. In the Big Ten season, they’re scheduled to play rival Michigan only once, on Jan. 13 at home.
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