Well...here we are. The most bittersweet moment of the basketball season.
If you’re like me and thousands of other State fans, you’ve been purposely avoiding how many games and days there were until Senior Day. Every senior class that walks out of MSU has been a beloved one...but this one? This one is a little more special than others.
We’ll highlight the three seniors kissing the Spartan helmet on Sunday. If that time comes from Josh Langford down the line (he didn’t rule out a return next season just yet), we’ll write that up too.
So, here goes our best shot to encapsulate what each student-athlete meant to MSU.
Yeah, he’s the son of MSU’s volleyball coach, but don’t think he found his way on the team just out of a favor. George earned his walk-on spot for this team, balling at Okemos High School to the tune of 23 points and 10 rebounds per game on 47 percent shooting his senior high school season.
George obviously wasn’t a minutes eater as a Spartan, but his role on the team can’t be understated. You know the enthusiasm and hype Breslin Center brings when the walk-ons come in at the end of a blowout? If you bottled that radiant energy up and put it into one person, it would be Conner George. You see it on the bench all the time. You see it when he’s the first player on the court after the opposition takes a timeout during a MSU run. The kid is the true definition of a hype man.
And this isn’t to say his only purpose on this team was on the bench. Let’s not act like we’ll forget about Conner George coming into a very stressful game against Bradley in last year’s tourney for the final five minutes of a deadlocked first half. Ice cool on his two free throws and, like he did in many other games he was tossed into, did more than held his own.
The bench mob starts with the perfect hype man. And it also continued with a player who gave MSU his all in the last five years.
You talk about laying it all out on the line for your team. And then there’s what Kyle Ahrens did. Grit, toughness and strong work ethic are all clichés…until they’re just simply true in describing a player.
It’s no secret that Ahrens has been banged up the last two years with injuries to (point anywhere on the human body). But you watch any stretch he’s on the court and you wouldn’t guess he’s missed a string of games this year or nearly 10 games last year with various injuries to the legs and back.
But here he is laying it all out on defense. And there he is hitting a crucial three. And here is lighting a fire under his team at halftime against Nebraska to wake everyone up. And there he was last year burying Florida in the closing seconds for a big road win.
He’s a senior that’s been fighting through pain to be on the floor for a fifth and final season wearing the green and white. And he’s now a senior showing and sharing that urgency of the end coming, and his leading example is one of the many reasons MSU will be playing for its third consecutive title on Sunday afternoon.
I’ll try to keep this less than 50,000 words. But then again…what can even be said about Cassius that’ll even do him justice?
Let’s start with everything off the court. All the stuff that’s not fun to talk about and even worse to actually go through. But, somehow, something Cassius has been a face for.
Let’s scale it back two years when the news of the horrible sex abuse scandal was breaking out of MSU. The crimes were heinous and horrible. The reaction included a sit-in university president implying the victims just wanted a cash settlement. The board of trustees was a circus. The response was an all-around mess, to put it lightly.
And then there was Cassius Winston. Sophomore Cassius Winston being the adult the MSU community desperately needed in the room. This article has a ton of quotes from Winston supporting the victims.
Really, as we’ve come to find out over the four years, that’s just who Cassius is. Always putting people before himself. Personally, I’ve heard handfuls of stories of him signing autographs and taking pictures outside of the locker room until every kid has gotten one. He’s visited fans he’s never met before in the hospital. He’s donated his time to Detroit-Area hospitals to stress how important heart checks are. He does anything and everything for everything else.
And then November happens.
We all know what happened, and we all know how nearly impossible of a situation it is to be thrown in. Not only does your brother die, but you now have to deal with the grief and healing process as the star player on the preseason No. 1-ranked basketball team as your season is beginning. Dealing with sudden, tragic losses is hard enough. Doing so in the public eye? Literally unimaginable.
You never want something like that to happen to anyone – but especially for someone as kind and selfless as Cassius. But it did happen. And he’s been dealing with it one game at a time in front of the sporting world. And, really, he’s done as good and strong of a job as you could hope.
But, hey, that’s who Cassius is. He looks around, takes it into his own hands to try to make everything alright and just goes. And we all know that translates to the court.
I mean, man, what example to even start with? The kid performs in nearly every big game. Just ask Michigan how they felt about it in his 14 points/11 assists, 23 points/7 assists, 27 points/8 assists and 32 points/9 assists performances during the Spartans four-game winning streak over them.
Or look at his 19-point second half just last week against Iowa. Or his 20 point, six assists outing on Saturday against Maryland.
Or let’s head to last year’s tournament where he put up 26 points against a relentless Bradley squad. Thirteen points and nine assists against Minnesota. Seventeen points and eight assists against LSU.
And then the Duke game. MSU down nine with the minutes counting closer to halftime. And what does Cassius do? He sends MSU on a 13-0 run, scoring or assisting on every point to give MSU life and a four point lead heading into the locker room. And the rest was history that wrapped up in Minneapolis. Not a bad place to end your junior season.
It’s clear where No. 5 should go once his career is over at State. Straight into the rafters to hang out with his Final Four banner, his two (could be three) Big Ten regular season title banners and his Big Ten Tournament banner. Right above the court where he set the Big Ten all-time assists record. Right above the court where he scored many of his points that’ll soon rank him in the top 20 in Big Ten history. And right above the court where he showed us hints of just the kind of courageous leader he is off of it.
Thank you, seniors. You guys will be missed. And you guys will always be Spartans.