By: Kevin Lucas
The first time I ever heard of Cassius Winston, he was in the process of making a college decision, and he was down to 3 schools: Pittsburgh, Stanford and Michigan State. Ultimately he picked the Spartans over the other two schools and right after, that he led the University of Detroit-Jesuit high school to their first-ever Class A state basketball title and perfect season with a record of 28-0. College coaches around the country knew he was a winner, but Tom Izzo knew that Cassius was a winner that he had to have as a part of his Spartan program. The 6’2 point guard from Detroit showed that he was not only a leader on the court but off the court as well and because of, that Coach Izzo mad,e him a priority and kept the local kid in state. Fast forward a few months later to Cassius’ freshman season that was a very up and down season for him, to say the least. Yes, he could get himself a bucket here and there and make the lob pass to his counterpart Miles Bridges, but he was a fish out of water when it came to the pace of the Big Ten and learning Michigan State’s defensive principles. Like all freshmen, it’s an adjustment going from high school basketball to high major division 1 basketball, let alone the Big Ten. The majority of that season felt like Coach Izzo was constantly in Cassius’ ear, trying to get him to understand his style of defense.
Luckily, after that bumpy freshman season, Cassius came back stronger and better, and I mean much better. His sophomore season is where he had his first national coming out party against the Huskies of UConn at the PK80 tournament celebrating Phil Knight’s 80th birthday with some of the top Nike schools across the nation, including Duke, North Carolina and of course Michigan State along with some other great schools. Against UConn, Cassius caught absolute fire scoring (at the time) a career-high 28 points and dishing out five assists in a 20-point victory ultimately leading the Spartans to the championship game against the Tar Heels of North Carolina where they won that game as well. All of this happening and still while his defense was taking minimal leaps yet still improving nonetheless. I personally believe the game that took Cassius’ confidence to another level was in Big Ten play in Evanston, Illinois, against Northwestern where the Spartans made Big Ten history by overcoming a 27 point deficit, the largest comeback in Big Ten history. Winston exited the first half of that game, having only scored 4 points and the Spartans trailing by 22 points. In the second half, the Spartans intensity switched on and Cassius tallied a near triple-double while being the spark plug offensively that Michigan State needed in order to win that game. Cassius also helped the Spartans win the Big Ten regular-season title that year all while joining the illustrious 50/40/90 club. In the act of percent field goal percentage, 40 percent three-point field goal percentage, and 90 percent free throw percentage. So yes, by the end of his sophomore season, Mr. Winston was,s already an elite college point guard, but the nation didn’t notice it yet.
This all changed his junior year, where every basketball fan in America knew the name, Cassius Winston. Not only did he lead the Spartans to yet another Big Ten regular-season title while averaging close to 18 points a game and 6 assists but he also beat their rival Michigan Wolverines 3 times and got the Spartans an automatic bid to the NCAA tourney by winning the Big Ten Conference tournament and being named tournament MVP. Then in the NCAA Tournament, he lead the Spartans on an incredible run defeating Bradley, Minnesota, and LSU setting up a legendary elite 8 game against Coach K, Zion Williamson, and the Duke Blue Devils. In this game, Cassius would etch his name among other Spartan greats like Magic Johnson and Mateen Cleaves. In this instant classic of a game, located at the nation’s capital, Cassius would go on to drop 20 points and not only shock Duke fans but shock every basketball fan in the world (outside of MSU fans, of course) advancing his squad to a final four appearance where they ended up losing to Texas Tech. Less than a month later, Cassius announced that he would not submit his name into the NBA Draft and that he had “unfinished business” and would play in his fourth and final season at MSU. With his intentions clear, Cassius (deservingly so) was named to almost every single preseason award imaginable, including Preseason National Player of the Year.
With that caliber of a player returning, Michigan State was ranked number 1 in the AP Top 25 poll. Of course, shortly after, MSU would fall, to second-ranked Kentucky at the world’s most famous arena Madison Square Garden in the Champions Classic to kick off his senior season dropping 21 points in the losing effort. Then the tragedy occurred when news broke that Cassius’ younger brother Zachary “Smoothie” Winston took his own life by stepping in front of an oncoming train. Not even a full 18 hours later, in an act of complete bravery and heartache, Cassius took to the Breslin Center where MSU had a home game against Binghamton. He showed up to the gym that day in tears with his youngest brother Khy comforting him as he hadn’t even decided if he was going to play or not. Well, he did end up playing and proceeded to drop 17 points and 11 assists in honor of his late brother Smoothie. Now you can see Cassius before the jump ball of a game making a handshake to the heavens dedicating it to his brother Zachary. It has been a rough beginning of the season for the Spartans with tragedy striking then losing to Virginia Tech and Duke in less than a span of a week. Now the Spartans are currently winners of seven games in-a-row and Cassius just put on one of his best performances in the green and white by dropping a career-high 32 points and 9 assists versus their rival Wolverines of Michigan in a game where not even Cassius himself could stop him from scoring the ball and blowing out Juwan Howard’s group.
Cash Money is getting his groove back and his Spartan teammates are following his lead all while looking like the team we thought they would be in the preseason. By the time March rolls around be on the lookout for Coach Izzo and his Spartans because they will be dangerous. Not only is Mr. Winston one of the best point guards in MSU history, he’s one of the best point guards in Big Ten history and all of all college basketball period. Lastly, we should all commend Cassius Winston for not only being a great ambassador of college hoops but also giving us legendary performances while real-life stuff is happening off the court. These types of players only come around once in a while so enjoy him while you can. Long Live Zachary “Smoothie” Winston.