FLINT, Mich.–Back in 2012-13, Miles Bridges was just a wiry freshman at Flint Southwestern.
But by that time, followers of Flint-area high school basketball already knew all about Bridges, who committed to the Spartans’ 2016 class during a ceremony this past Saturday at Mott Community College–right in the middle of his hometown, and just, well, miles, from Southwestern.
Locals always figured he’d be the “next” one to emerge from the small, one-time auto giant of a city.
Despite transferring to Huntington Prep (W. Va.) after his freshman year, Bridges maintained close relationships with those in Flint–and roughly 200 of them, including travelers from West Virginia, flooded the Steve Schmidt Gymnasium to be a part of his moment.
Among the guests?
Former Michigan State star Antonio Smith, an area hoops icon and the first “Flintstone.” The choice–whether Indiana or Kentucky, the other two finalists–didn’t matter to Smith; he was all about watching a “great kid” make a huge life decision.
The fact that Bridges committed to the Spartans was a mere bonus for Smith, who helped them reach their first Final Four under Tom Izzo in 1999.
“I really didn’t get to create a bond with him in the early ages, but he started coming back, always showed respect,” said Smith, who coached against Bridges’ Knights while with the Flint Northwestern Wildcats in 2012-13. “He even came to my showcase event this past year for high school kids. He didn’t even have to do it—that just shows you about his character, that he wanted to come to his community and do something positive.
I wanted to show my support for him (Saturday).”
Distance doesn’t matter, says Smith, a former Flint Northern sensation. Being away from home, whether in West Virginia or down the road in East Lansing–requires a great deal of discipline and dedication. Not everyone can do that. But Smith is more than confident in Bridges’ ability to handle it all.
“Oh yeah, no doubt,” Smith said. “That’s the only thing I really talk to him about. I mean, I talk to him about basketball—I might see him here and there down at the Y, working out with Jeff (Grayer) or with his grandfather. We talk a lot, but it’s especially about the books. ‘How are your books? Stay focused on the task at hand.’ That’s really what our conversations are about.”
Books and life matter most. Basketball is secondary.
“Really, it’s time to man-up and explore possibilities on your own,” Smith said. “You have to stay focused. It’s all about your mindset, really. You’ve got to be a man–set your own schedule, get your own routine of waking up and having priorities.
Get your things in order. You really have to get life in order. You can’t lose sight of that.”
Listed at 6’6″ and 218 pounds by 247Sports, Bridges will certainly bring a familiar level of Flint-inspired athleticism to Michigan State, which has been home to the likes of Mateen Cleaves of Flint Northwestern, Charlie Bell of Southwestern and Morris Peterson of Flint Northwestern.
“I see Mo-Pete, I see Mateen—I see a lot of things that he brings to the table,” Smith said of the No. 12-ranked prospect of 2016. “Just his competitive nature, even if in open gyms, even in rec games. I think what’s helping him out—not only his talent, but his mindset for the game.”
The Flint pipeline has served Izzo well during the past 20 years. It’s helped generate three Final Fours, a national title (2000) and a lot of local pride. Smith would love to see something similar for Bridges, who has always demonstrated an incredible level of poise–both on the court and away from it.
“I just hope that he’s blessed with a lot of success down there, which he has the personality and character to do,” Smith said. “The (Flint/MSU) past speaks for itself, so hopefully he’s just going to continue the tradition down there in East Lansing.
Talent has been there. But don’t forget about his maturity.”
VIDEO: Watch Miles Bridges and his mother, Cynthia, discuss the transition from high school to college–which shouldn’t be too hard for Bridges, considering that he’s entering his third year at Huntington Prep.
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