EAST LANSING – Michigan State’s Miles Bridges was unanimously named the Big Ten freshman of the year on Monday.
Bridges is the second Spartan to be named the league’s top rookie, joining Gary Harris in 2013. The freshman of the year award began in 1986.
“(Coach Tom Izzo) told me that the sky’s the limit,” Bridges said on Big Ten Network’s awards show. “He said I’m one of the most versatile players that he’s ever had. But Coach, he gives me a lot of compliments and he always gives me something I can get better at. It’s a balanced thing for me.”
The 6-foot-7 Flint native leads the Spartans at 16.6 points (seventh in the Big Ten) and 8.3 rebounds (fifth-best in the league), shooting 48.7% overall and 40.8% from three-point range. He has 48 assists, 39 blocks and 16 steals in earning second-team All-Big Ten honors by both the coaches and the media.
“Guys like this, any strategy that you do – if he can’t pass, then you can double them. But he can pass. If he can’t shoot, then you can stay off him. But he can shoot. If he can’t put the ball on the ground, then you can pressure him. But he can put the ball on the ground,” Michigan coach John Beilein said of Bridges. “There’s not a defense that can stop him.”
Classmate Nick Ward was left off the All-Big Ten freshman team and only received all-league honorable mention despite averaging 13.6 points (15th in the Big Ten) and 6.3 rebounds (11th) and shooting 58.7% (second). The 6-8 forward joined Respert, Harris and Magic Johnson as the only MSU freshmen to score 400 points in a season.
Bridges – who is currently at 398 points going into this week’s Big Ten Tournament – missed seven games with an ankle injury in the middle of the season, including two conference games. He called that stretch a personal turning point.
“I feel like it clicked when I got back from my injury,” Bridges said. “I was able to see so much from the bench. Coach taught me a lot, my teammates taught me a lot, and I learned how to win. … When we had a big win against Minnesota, that’s when I really got back on board. I was just doing everything my team needed me to do to win.”
Bridges is the highest-scoring freshman ever in Izzo’s 22 seasons as MSU’s head coach and the first rookie to lead the Spartans in scoring since Shawn Respert in 1991.
“He’s really a heck of a basketball player,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said of Bridges. “When he came in here and was banging threes, it was like, ‘Holy cow.’ It seems like trying to compare him to somebody, I really don’t know in terms of who that would be because of his size and his athleticism. I know I haven’t had a guy like him personally, but I really, really like his game.”
Ward is the only freshman to be named player of the week this season. He also received four Big Ten freshman of the week honors, second only to Bridges’ five – meaning the duo combined for nine of the 17 citations this season.
“Nick, he shows up in big games, second halves – whenever we need him. … I mean, he dominates the post,” Bridges said of Ward. “He’s bigger than most guys, stronger than most guys, so he can dominate in there. I use my athletic ability, he just plays bully-ball.”