Leaner Bridges and Ward light up Moneyball's opening night

Jim Comparoni, Publisher
Spartan Mag

DIMONDALE, Mich. - Three things we learned at opening night of the Moneyball Pro-Am summer league, two questions and one prediction:

THREE THINGS WE LEARNED:

1. Miles Bridges is 10 pounds lighter than his playing weight from last year, down to 225 from 235.

Michigan State has an abundance of interior players this year, and a need for wing skill - a complete reversal of last year’s situation.

Bridges has an interest in polishing his wing skills. It makes for a perfect developmental marriage for him, and for this team.

When it comes to morphing his game from last year’s stretch four role to more of a wing role as a sophomore, Bridges is all in.

“I’m just feeling better, more comfortable out there on the wing,” he said.

Bridges scored 33 points in for the Green teams’ 96-92 loss to the Black team, which was led by former Oakland University All-American, current Cleveland Cavaliers guard and venerable Moneyball performer Kay Felder. Felder scored 31 points, many coming against Spartan guard TumTum Nairn.

Nairn scored 13.

Junior Michigan State power forward Kenny Goins unofficially had 26 points for the Black team, some of which were scored against Bridges. Goins nailed four 3-pointers, shooting at least 40 percent from deep.

Bridges didn’t like losing this game, but he didn’t mind seeing Goins display some touch.

“He’s been shooting the ball really well,” Bridges said of Goins. “In practice he’s been doing the same thing. If we can get that Kenny on a consistent basis we will be really tough to beat.”

2. Michigan State sophomore Nick Ward has lost an unknown amount of weight, probably more than 10 pounds. He looks more cut, more sculpted and quicker off his feet.

Ward scored a nice round 50 points for the Silver team in an 87-83 victory over Blue.

MSU sophomore point guard Cassius Winston had 16 points for Ward’s team.

Spartan freshman Xavier Tillman scored 17 for the Blue team. Spartan junior Kyle Ahrens had 29 for Blue, including four 3-pointers.

3. Junior guard Matt McQuaid has added eight pounds since last season. His arms and shoulders are noticeably bigger.

McQuaid scored 31 points in his team’s victory in the final game of the night.

McQuaid was 10-of-15 from the field and 7-of-10 from Moneyball’s NBA-length 3-point line.

TWO QUESTIONS:

1. Where was Jaren Jackson?

He didn’t play on this night. He’s home for the July 4 holiday. Josh Langford was most likely absent for the same reason, although I didn’t confirm that.

Bridges likes Jackson and Tillman.

“They (the freshmen) hustle every time,” Bridges said. “They know how to win. They know how to win. They fit in with us. They’re great for us. Personality-wise, they’re always around team events. They’re always having fun. Jaren is cracking jokes. X is cracking jokes. I thought X was going to be quiet when he first got here but he is one of the louder ones, so it’s fun.

“I just want to get back to playing, and get our freshmen used to the crowd and I just want to have fun.”

Jackson, a 6-foot-10 power forward, is ranked the No. 6 player in the class of 2017 by Rivals.com.

There have been only three or four players in the Tom Izzo era that have come to Michigan State with accolades that can match Jackson’s, yet his quiet recruitment and early, drama-less commitment to Michigan State has made him perhaps the least-hyped superstar recruit in program history.

He’s big-time. But few are talking about him.

That could change through the course of the Moneyball season.

“He has a great personality,” Bridges said of Jackson. “He knows how to win, plays great defense and he can shoot the ball really well for a 7-foot guy.”

2. Is the loose summer league style of play in Moneyball good for Bridges’ quest to morph into more of a wing player?

Sure. Defense is optional at times in the Moneyball Pro-Am, but there are also plenty of times when players try to lock up the best they can against a player like Bridges.

Although Bridges was able to float around the perimeter more in this game than he would during an Izzo-led practice, we did see nice face-up, stop-and-go dribbling from him.

He has always had a fine shot release. There’s something that made it look even better when it was being cast from a 225-pound version of Bridges.

And oh by the way, Bridges threw down a few of his Moneyball-flavored dunks on this night. That’s what the standing room-only crowd of more than 1,500 came to see, and he delivered.

ONE PREDICTION:

1. After Thursday night's game, Bridges smiled about losing to Feder’s team and said his team wouldn’t lose again.

I wouldn’t bet on that. The Moneyball league isn’t exactly the Big Ten, but Bridges’ team will likely trip up again at some point in the eight-game, four-week season, which resumes on Thursday, July 6 and ends with the Championship Game on Thursday Aug. 3.

All games are played at Aim High, which is part of the Summit Sports and Ice Complex.

FINAL WORD:

Is Bridges having buyer’s remorse about his decision to return for his sophomore year after watching several of his freshman classmates get selected in last week’s NBA Draft?

“I don’t regret my decision at all,” he said. “I came back to win a National Championship and those guys made the best decision for themselves so I’m happy for them.”

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