Miles Bridges made his announcement Thursday, April 13, 2017, in front of Sparty on Michigan State’s campus that he’d return to East Lansing for his sophomore year.
Phil Friend/Lansing State Journal
EAST LANSING — On a night when Miles Bridges announced he was bypassing the NBA draft, fellow Michigan State freshman Nick Ward admitted that he thought about testing the pro process, as well.
Instead, MSU coach Tom Izzo will have his dynamic duo back for a second season.
“It was the best thing for me to come back next year,” Ward said Thursday after Bridges’ announcement. “I could’ve tested the waters, I could’ve. But I felt like it was a good decision to stay.”
Players can enter the draft without an agent and participate in the NBA combine, which is May 9-14 in Chicago, and then have 10 days afterward to return to college, if they want. If a player signs with an agent, he immediately forfeits any remaining college eligibility.
It’s not a certainty that Ward would have been selected in the two-round, 60-pick draft, despite a strong freshman season.
Bridges and Ward became the most productive rookie duo in MSU history, combining for 958 points and 459 rebounds last season. The 6-foot-8 Ward’s 13.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per game ranked second to Bridges (16.9/8.3).
Ward is second all-time in scoring by an MSU freshman, with 485 points. (He played in all 35 of MSU’s games; Bridges missed seven.) Ward trailed only Magic Johnson’s 511 points (over 30 games) in 1977-78.
An All-Big Ten honorable mention by the coaches and the media, Ward finished 16th in scoring and 12th in rebounding in the league. He shot 59.2% from the field, ranking first among Big Ten freshmen and third among all players. It was the best percentage for anyone in the conference who took more than 200 shots.
The Gahanna, Ohio, native trailed only Bridges among Big Ten freshmen in scoring average and finished third among league rookies in rebounds per game, behind Bridges and Penn State’s Mike Watkins.
Most of Ward’s buckets came close to the rim. He’s hoping to extend his range in the off-season, something he believes will benefit his pro prospects.
“I gotta work on my jump shot, a little with my conditioning. Just a little bit of everything, really,” Ward said. “There’s always room for improvement.”
“We’ve been beating on Nick to lose weight,” Izzo said. “Now I’m gonna beat on him to gain a little weight. Gotta get him back a little stronger.”
Bridges and Ward combined to score more points and grab more rebounds than Johnson and Jay Vincent (329 points, 110 boards) did together during their first season at MSU. The next year, 1978-79, Johnson and Vincent guided the Spartans to their first NCAA title — the goal Ward and Bridges want to achieve.
“The biggest jump you make,” Izzo said, “is between your freshman and sophomore year.”
Carter waiting: Izzo said MSU is still waiting on word about graduate transfer Ben Carter’s appeal for a sixth year of eligibility.
“We think we’re going to hear something any day,” Izzo said, “but that’s totally an NCAA thing.”
Carter’s MSU career never began, with the 6-9 power forward suffering a knee injury — to the same one he injured in January 2016, while playing for UNLV — during his first official practice in October. It’s iffy whether he could receive an extra year, considering he sat out one year after transferring from Oregon to UNLV and played past the midpoint of UNLV’s 2015-16 season before getting hurt.
If Carter is denied, the Spartans would have two open scholarships remaining for the 2017-18 season.
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