By: Will Burchfield
In the aftermath of Michigan State’s season-ending loss to Syracuse on Sunday, it didn’t take long for the conversation to shift to Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. and whether the two will leave school for the NBA.
In fact, it was one of the first queries a dejected Jackson faced from the media, to which he replied, “I’m not answering any questions about that right now,” and subsequently walked toward the showers.
Likewise, Bridges said he hasn’t yet reached a decision.
“No. I’m thinking about my teammates, that’s it,” Bridges said.
Both players are projected to be lottery picks should they enter the 2018 NBA Draft.
Bridges surprised Izzo and most of the basketball world by returning to Michigan State for his sophomore season, but Izzo believes this is the year he’ll make the leap to the NBA.
“If you think I know something that you don’t, speculate — because I speculated last year and I was wrong. But I’m expecting him to go,” Izzo said. “It’s not from him, not from what he’s (said).”
Either way, Izzo hopes that Bridges’ decision isn’t swayed by Sunday’s stunning loss.
“I don’t want something like this, though, to cause him not to go if he wants to go, because knowing him he’s crazy enough to care so much about the university and the program.”
Looking ahead to next year’s roster, Izzo doesn’t see Bridges as part of the picture.
“I like who we got coming in, I like who we got coming back. Sure, we’re going to miss a great player in Miles probably, and if that happens, that happens. I’ve been fooled before so I won’t say what will happen,” said Izzo.
As for Jackson, Izzo said, “Hopefully I’ll meet with his family.”
There’s an expectation among some Spartan fans that the 18-year-old Jackson, whose father played in the NBA for 12 years and whose family is financially comfortable, will return for his sophomore season.
Asked if he wants to come back, Jackson, who by this point had gathered himself and returned to his locker said, “I appreciate you asking the question, but I’m not going to think about it.”
The deadline to declare for this year’s draft is April 22, although players can withdraw as late as June 11 so long as they haven’t hired an agent. This allows them to go through the scouting combine and assess their value before making an official decision.
Asked what kind of advice he’ll offer Bridges and Jackson, Izzo said he’ll lean on something he learned last year in talking with Bridges.
“Miles kind of taught me and said it best. He said, ‘Coach, I don’t want to go. It’s my decision.’ He didn’t worry about anybody else’s decision. It was his decision, and I think he’ll tell Jaren that or he’ll tell me that or anybody else that’s looking to leave or looking to make a tough decision. Do what’s best for you and that’s it, because you have to be happy,” Izzo said.
Despite the crushing end to Michigan State’s season, Izzo believes Bridges is comfortable with his decision to return.
“I’ll bet you this, I’ll bet you all this,” Izzo said. “As disappointing as it is for Miles, as hard as tonight will be and tomorrow going to school and next week, I bet he goes to class, I bet he finishes up, I bet he has zero regrets except that he wished he would have played better in this game. But I’ll bet you, never once, because I’ve asked him 100 times, (did he) regret his decision. It’s because he made the decision that was best for him, and that’s what I’ve learned to tell everybody else.
“Try to get the best information I can get, but as we’re learning, it’s about their decision and I’m comfortable with their decision. I was comfortable with his decision because I thought he was leaving the whole time and he gave me –” at this, Izzo paused for several seconds and fought back emotions — “he gave me an extra 10 or 11 months. I’m the lucky one. Not him, I’m the lucky one.”
Bridges echoed his coach when asked if he regrets his decision in hindsight.
“No, I don’t have any regrets. I gave it my all this year, my teammates, we all gave it our all. We only lost five games, so that’s tough,” he said.
The finality of Sunday’s loss didn’t sink in for Bridges at first.
“It didn’t hit me until I got in the locker room and I saw a lot of my teammates crying. That’s a bad feeling. … I really just couldn’t believe that we lost. I thought we had the best chance to win the national championship. Unfortunately we didn’t do that. It’s probably the saddest I’ve ever been in my life,” he said.
Izzo gushed praise for Bridges, who came back for another shot at a national championship and never made things about himself.
“I love that kid, man. I hope I’m blessed to coach another guy with that kind of talent, that kind of person and that kind of humility. He’s just different, man. Sometimes I say the wrong things because I call a kid like that a weirdo. I only call him a weirdo because he doesn’t fit into society. He’s special. I wish society would fit into him, I really do,” Izzo said.
Bridges was one of several Spartans to struggle shooting the ball on Sunday, finishing 4-18 from the field and 0-2 from the free-throw line for 11 points. He shouldered much of the blame for the loss, but Izzo quickly refuted that notion.
“I hope our fans feel the same way about a kid like Bridges who gave up so much and gave us everything that you’d want your son to emulate, everything, in every single way. Class, shared his time, worked morning, noon and night, was a great teammate, was unselfish. I could go on and on and on,” Izzo said, “so make sure that talk radio and twitter and everything else puts it on me, not on him, because if anybody puts it on him there’s going to be a problem.”