EAST LANSING — Marcus Bingham Jr. reached the magical 7-foot mark during the offseason, and no one could have been happier than the Michigan State basketball senior’s mother.
“Because I keep growing,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m probably still growing.”
The biggest growth spurt coach Tom Izzo wants to see this season is in his forward’s play on the court. Particularly his ability to stay on it for longer stretches.
Bingham appears penciled in to start when the Spartans, unranked in the preseason AP poll, open the season against No. 3 Kansas in the Champions Classic on Nov. 9 at Madison Square Garden in New York. And Izzo has seen a stronger, more mature version of Bingham, whose inability to gain weight over his first three seasons left the Grand Rapids native ill-equipped among the brute physical forces on the blocks in the Big Ten.
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Michigan State center Marcus Bingham Jr. rebounds against Maryland forward Donta Scott during the 68-57 loss to Maryland in the Big Ten tournament on Thursday, March 11, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The hope is Bingham can eclipse and come close to doubling the 11.4 minutes per game he averaged last season.
“Marcus still gets a little tired, but he’s learning how to play through it a little bit,” Izzo said recently. “He hasn’t gained a lot of weight — some — but he’s gained a lot of strength, and that’s gonna make him better. Fatigue is still his No. 1 enemy.”
Up 5 pounds during the offseason to 230, now 20 pounds heavier than when he arrived as a freshman in 2018-19, putting on weight has been an issue Bingham’s entire career. The Grand Rapids Catholic Central product did so this summer by spending more time in the weight room, which included finally passing the bench press test of 185 pounds typically given at the NBA Combine and being able to do about 10 reps. Bingham also devoted more time working on his cardiovascular fitness to combat fatigue.
“He’s really pushing me on being in the best shape I can for my senior year,” Bingham said. “So I’m just gonna keep going.”
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Bingham averaged 3.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks as a junior, shooting a mediocre 50% from the field for a post player but an above-average 73.8% at the free-throw line. He was by far the Spartans’ most productive plus-minus player when he was able to stay on the court at a plus-53 and became more serious and aggressive in attacking the basket and boards, which also resulted in him getting to the line to maximize that asset of his skill-set.
After starting five straight games in the middle of the season, Bingham found his rhythm and stamina coming off the bench over the final nine games to coincide with the Spartans’ surge to the NCAA tournament. His minutes jumped to 14.8 per game, surpassing 20 minutes in two of the final three games, and he averaged 5.2 points on 66.7% shooting. Bingham also added 4.2 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and nearly a steal a game during that stretch.
Michigan State’s Marcus Bingham Jr. shoots as Joey Hauser defends during open practice on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.
“I think he’s got one of the best jump hooks of any guy I’ve ever had here, and he doesn’t use it enough,” Izzo said. “So we’re on him about that.”
One thing that helped Bingham earn more trust from Izzo was abandoning shooting 3-pointers. His misses often landed him a spot on the bench his first two seasons, particularly when they would come early in the shot clock or at ill-advised times. A guard growing up until he hit a growth spurt, Bingham was 11 of 42 (26.2%) from deep his first three seasons; he took just three 3-pointers last season, missing all of them.
However, that is a facet of his game Bingham hopes to improve upon with his offseason work. And something few 7-footers can provide at any level of basketball.
“It just kind of like sets me different from everyone else,” Bingham said. “Most bigs in the Big Ten can’t dribble like I can. I haven’t shown it, but this year, I have more leeway to show it.
“I’m just feeling comfortable. … I’ve been working a lot on all of my game. I always could shoot, but I had to just tuck it away. But this year, I’m feeling good. I can’t wait to show everybody what I’ve got.”
How much better?
“All I gotta say,” Bingham said, cracking a grin, “is y’all gonna see.”
Contact Chris Solari: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State basketball needs more from Marcus Bingham Jr.