TULSA, Okla. — For Miles Bridges and Josh Jackson, the best part of playing against each other has always been the end.
Not because they don’t enjoy the experience. They do. Michigan natives and friends since sixth grade, the college freshmen played together on the AAU circuit for The Family and against each other when Jackson moved to 1Nation. But the end of the game, they both agree, is the biggest appeal — for one main reason.
“Whoever wins the game is going to talk trash to the other one later,” Jackson said Saturday before his top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks take on Bridges’ ninth-seeded Michigan State Spartans in the NCAA Tournament second round on Sunday. “It was always fun, and we’d just try to win the game so we wouldn’t have to hear it later.”
Jackson said they spoke Thursday. Bridges said they haven’t spoken. Either way, they’ll be back on pleasant terms Sunday night, but not a moment sooner. They won’t be doing any pregame smack talk, either. It’s too risky.
“If you talk trash and then you can’t back it up, then it always hurts you,” Bridges said with a smile.
Jackson also knows Michigan State point guard Cassius Winston well — they both grew up in Detroit — but his relationship with Bridges has layers. Beyond being friends off the court, they know each other as well as anyone on it.
Bridges has the edge in strength, per Jackson’s admission. Bridges prefers to go to the left, and Jackson to the right. Their overall games have plenty of similarities, and they’ve come to notice the distinct differences.
“I’ve played against him a lot of times,” Jackson said. “I know a lot of moves that he likes to do. I don’t think I want to tell everybody, but yeah, I’m pretty comfortable with his game, as he is with mine.”
That may have played a part in Jackson choosing Kansas. Down to the wire, Michigan State felt it had a great chance with him. Spartans coach Tom Izzo said he “got on my hands and knees and begged him” to choose MSU. It didn’t work.
Despite his friendships with the Michigan State players from growing up around them, Jackson had his reasons for going west. And Spartans fans might not be happy to hear them.
“I feel like I had a better opportunity to win a national championship here, for one,” he said. “I felt like I fit in here more with the group of guys who are on the team here already, especially personnel. Bill Self’s a great coach. I felt like he really cared about me more as a person than as a basketball player.”
While fans may hold grudges, Bridges doesn’t, saying, “I made a decision for myself, too. So I didn’t blame him for anything.”
So when they hit the BOK Center floor at approximately 5:15 p.m. ET, it won’t be a revenge game. There won’t be added motivation to prove that one team actually has the better chance of winning a national championship. They both want badly to win, anyway.
But for old times’ sake, Bridges and Jackson do have one reason to play especially hard.
“Whoever wins,” Bridges said, “gets to talk stuff at the end.”