The venue is Little Caesars Arena. There’s over 20,000 people in attendance. It’s the middle of March, a pivotal time during March Madness. Then ranked 11th seed Syracuse is playing third ranked Michigan State. Michigan State is down three points with three seconds left in the game. Cassius Winston is fouled and goes to the line. He makes both free throws but it’s not enough. Michigan State loses to Syracuse in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
It was a heartbreaking moment for Michigan State men’s basketball team. However, for junior guard Cassius Winston, there were really no regrets. For him, the game is over and there’s no going back. The team can only learn from that game and move forward. And moving forward, Winston says, they have a lot to prove.
“I got a chip on my shoulder,” said Winston during the men’s basketball media day. “...We’re going to carry that on our shoulder and we just got a lot to show and a lot to prove this year.”
The season has yet to start and already Winston has caught the eye of national attention. In October, Winston was picked as one of 20 watchlist candidates for the 2019 Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award. He was also selected to the All-Big Ten Preseason Team during the league’s media day.
“So I think he proved to be one of the best shooters, not in the Big Ten, but in the country,” said head coach Tom Izzo. “ I think he too is ready for a real big explosion year. I think he’s worked hard. He’s better defensively. He’s pushing the ball better. He’s going to be a big key.”
Last season, Winston improved on his stats in several areas. He was second on the team in scoring with 12.6 points per game. Winston led the Big Ten in total assists (241) and ranked eighth in the country in assists. He also led the Big Ten in 3-point field goal percentage (49.7 percent) and tied for ninth in the NCAA in 3-point field goals per game.
Even though Winston isn’t one of the captains of the team with Josh Langford and Matt McQuaid, he still has an impact on the guys. Being of the more experienced players, Winston feels he has a lot of insight to offer to the younger guys. Going through many “battles and wars” on the team, he says he wants to make sure he helps them avoid some of the mistakes he’s made.
“I’d say the biggest thing I’ve learned from Cassius is how well he carries himself on the court as far as his presence,” said freshman guard Foster Loyer. “ Cassius does a great job of, regardless what the situation is, helping put me in a situation to succeed because we are both going to need each other. I’m going to need him to be successful.”
In a league that focuses on players going one-and-done or playing for two seasons at the most, Winston still has a lot he wants to accomplish as a Spartan. Going into his third year, Winston is determined to help his team get back into playing in the sweet 16 and elite eight.
“I got a little taste of what it feels like… just being a little successful at this level… and I just want more. I just want to take it to a whole other level, a whole other notch,” said Winston.
Winston and the rest of the Spartans will start the season with an exhibition game, Tuesday night against Northern Michigan in East Lansing. After just one exhibition game, they will jump right into the Champions Classic taking on number one ranked Kansas on Nov. 6.