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Miles Bridges’ return to Michigan State is a win for all of college basketball

Bridges might be college basketball’s most recognizable star in 2017-18.

Michigan State v Duke Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

For supporters and detractors of college basketball alike, the spring and summer months always serve as a hotbed for pointing out the problems with the sport and outlining some potential fixes.

One of the biggest recurring issues in these discussions is college basketball’s lack of star power. It’s a complication that no other major American sport has to deal with, at least not in the way that college hoops does.

We aren't all that far removed from a time when landing a blue-chip basketball recruit came hand-in-hand with a three- or four-year pass to watch the young man develop and hopefully put himself in a position to become a pro. As such, program stability was much easier to attain. Land one or two great recruiting classes, be a national title contender for six or seven years. The struggle for success in college hoops had little to do with deciphering the formula.

We are now more than a decade removed from the final vestiges of that era, and firmly entrenched in one where relearning the rosters of the sport's power programs has become an exercise on par with the one demanded of hardcore Major League Baseball fans each spring. Basketball's top amateur talent no longer remains amateur talent for any longer than it has to, which makes every recruiting season a do-or-die time frame for the bulk of the game's most well-known coaches. There are few recognizable stars in the sport anymore, because the biggest boon that comes with attaining amateur stardom has become the guarantee of a forthcoming professional contract, so long as you can go five or six weeks without getting hurt.

Basically, right when the American public gets to know one of the biggest stars in college basketball — who he plays for, what he looks like, the pros and cons of his game — he’s only got three or four games left to be a college basketball player. That’s an issue for a sport which, like all others, survives in part because people tune in or buy tickets to see its biggest names do what they do.

As is the case more years than not nowadays, zero 2017 first-team All-Americans will be returning to college for another season. Only one member of the second team (Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss) is still on the fence about his decision, and only one member of the third team (Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson) has stated definitively that he’s coming back to school.

All of this is why Miles Bridges’ surprise announcement that he’s putting the NBA on hold for at least another year wasn’t just a major win for Michigan State, it was a major win for college basketball.

Bridges isn’t the first potential lottery pick in recent memory to shock the sports world by electing to play one more season of college basketball. Kris Dunn of Providence made a similar decision two years ago, and so did Cal’s Ivan Rabb last year.

Still, this is different.

Providence and California are both far from mid-major programs, but neither demands the same level of annual attention as Tom Izzo’s Spartans. Also, while Dunn and Rabb are both exceptionally gifted players who will be paid big-time money to play basketball for a very long time, neither has the human-highlight-reel gene that Bridges does.

Despite his ridiculous athleticism and the predictions of future NBA stardom, Bridges still isn’t as recognizable as, say, Grayson Allen, but don’t be surprised if that changes over the course of the next 12 months. Michigan State figures to begin the season ranked somewhere in the top 10, and Izzo always plays a schedule that has the Spartans squaring off against top-notch competition from the start of the season until the end.

Basically, Bridges is going to be on your television pretty consistently from next November through next March. Everyone besides his opponents should be excited about that.

An ankle injury that forced him to sit out all of December and hobbled him for weeks afterward resulted in Bridges’ star not shining quite as brightly as it should have during his freshman campaign. Now both the player and the fans of his sport get the do-over they never thought they’d be afforded. That’s a win for all parties concerned.