Consensus All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston announced he's returning to Michigan State for his senior season, according to a release from the athletic department.
The junior point guard led MSU to a 32-7 season and the program's first Final Four since 2014-15. He averaged a team-best 18.8 points per game and set a Big Ten single-season record with 291 assists. He was named the Most Outstanding Player of both the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament East Regional.
“Playing in the NBA has always been my dream. But I have other dreams as well. This was an incredible season with an amazing group of teammates, but I believe there is still more to accomplish," Winston said in the release. "From the moment the season ended, I started thinking about what else I could do and how I could improve, to help us reach the goals we want to reach. It was surreal to be compared to some of the all-time great Spartans during the tournament because in my mind I still have something left to prove. Those goals will motivate me throughout the offseason. It will always be my goal to play in the NBA, but that’s a dream that can wait a year. I look forward to improving as a player, and continuing to get stronger. I know my teammates are equally committed to improving and I can’t wait for what our future holds.”
The news comes the same day teammate Nick Ward announced he was foregoing his senior season to enter the 2019 NBA Draft. Ward hired an agent, which under new NCAA rules would still be allowed to return, but the junior forward announced on Instagram he would not be returning for next season.
Winston, like Ward, could have hired an agent and tested his prospects in the upcoming June 20 draft. Winston decided it would be best to return to East Lansing to finish his collegiate career.
“Cassius and I had some great talks after the season," coach Tom Izzo said in the release. "Our relationship has grown throughout his career, and this process has only taken it to another level. I was in full support of Cassius entering his name in the NBA draft process, because I know that’s his dream. But I’ve come to understand that he also has some other dreams. Since the Final Four, he’s been talking about the goals he has both for himself and the team. Cassius is an unbelievably smart player, so he knows that there are no guarantees. But he’s willing to work to improve and better himself and his team for next year and beyond."
Winston passed former MSU great Mateen Cleaves for the Big Ten single-season assist record during the Spartans' win over Louisiana State in the Sweet Sixteen. Like Cleaves, who led MSU to a Final Four in 1999 and came back to help win the national championship in 2000, Winston is returning to school before beginning his professional career.
“As a coach the ultimate goal is to get to watch a player live his dreams," Izzo said in the release. "So if Cassius dreams of becoming one of the best players in Spartan basketball history and leaving a legacy, I look forward to doing everything I can to help him make that a reality.”
With Ward's departure, one scholarship spot remains vacant on next season's roster. Whether Izzo tries to land another recruit or land a transfer remains to be seen.
Next years' incoming freshmen include four-star combo guard Mark "Rocket" Watts (Geneva, Ohio/SPIRE Academy), four-star power forward Malik Hall (Wichita, Kansas/Sunrise Christian) and three-star power forward Julius Marble (Dallas/Jesuit).
The Spartans are considered by many an early favorite to win the Big Ten and contend for the national championship.