This is the fourth part of the five-part series looking back on the college careers of the best recruit each year that committed and played their college careers in the Big Ten. For rankings’ purposes, we used 247Sports’ Composite rankings.
2016: Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Michigan State was elated when it received the commitment of in-state prospect Miles Bridges, who was ranked the No. 12 overall prospect in the class of 2016. Bridges grew up in Flint, MI before transferring to powerhouse Huntington Prep in West Virginia. At Huntington, he starred alongside eventual Indiana Hoosier, Thomas Bryant, earning him five-star status and an invite to the McDonald’s All-American game.
Bridges came to East Lansing as an explosive athlete but proved to be more than only that in his first year. The forward showed that he could step out and be a threat shooting, converting on almost 39% of his three-point attempts. He ended the season averaging 16.3 ppg and 8.3 rpg. His 1.5 blocks per game also displayed his innate athleticism. This earned him Big Ten Freshman of the Year as well as Second Team All-Big Ten. This caught the eyes of NBA scouts, however, Bridges decided to return to Michigan State for a sophomore season after the Spartans had a disappointing end to the season, bowing out in the Round of 32 to Kansas.
Michigan State was pegged as a favorite to win the national championship going into 2017 with Bridges’ return and the arrival of five-star big man Jaren Jackson Jr. Jackson and the emergence of Nick Ward allowed Bridges to play more of a facilitator role with the Spartans. Bridges thrived, displaying his playmaking ability as well as his generational athleticism. It also paid off for the Spartans, as they went 30-5 and won the Big Ten. Bridges led the team in points 17.1 ppg, earning him Second Team All-American honors.
After another disappointing loss in the Round of 32 to Syracuse, Bridges announced that he was entering the NBA Draft. He was eventually taken 12th overall by the Charlotte Hornets. In his brief professional career, he’s had mixed results. He only scored 7.5 points per game but has displayed the game-changing athleticism that got him in the league, even partaking in the 2019 Dunk Contest. Overall, Spartans’ fans can look at Miles Bridges’ career happily, despite the disappointing early exits in the NCAA Tournament.
2017: Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State
We continue the Michigan State theme with the 8th-ranked recruit of 2017. Jackson also attended a high school basketball power at La Lumiere in Indiana. Being an Indiana native, it was disappointing for Purdue fan when Jackson chose to attend Michigan State over the Boilermakers. He came into East Lansing viewed as the missing piece for the Bridges-led Spartans. Jackson took over the role of shotblocker which allowed Bridges more of a break on defense. Also, Jackson’s ability to stretch the floor with his shooting opened up the paint for the slashing Bridges.
Jackson was thrown into the fire early as the Spartans took on No. 1 ranked Duke in the State Farm Champions Classic. He responded by leading the team in points (19) and rebounds (7) against fellow freshmen Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter Jr., and Trevon Duval. Duke ultimately won the game behind Grayson Allen’s 37 points, however, Jackson showed out, catching the eyes of NBA scouts. The athletic big man continued his dominance by recording a career-high 8 blocks in an early season Big Ten game against Rutgers.
Jackson averaged 3.2 blocks per game in his lone season in East Lansing, earning him Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year. Along with the defensive prowess, he displayed his ability to affect the game offensively and on the glass, averaging 11.3 ppg and 5.8 rpg. This multifaceted game attracted the NBA scouts during and after the season. Jackson declared for the 2018 NBA Draft, along with Miles Bridges, being selected 4th overall by the Memphis Grizzlies. He is now viewed as one of the up-and-coming stars in the league, alongside new teammate Ja Morant. While Jackson’s time in East Lansing was brief and the Spartans were disappointed with the postseason, Jackson was far from the problem