Saturday, June 6, 2020

MSU end-of-season notes: Izzo wants Winston, Ward to explore NBA Draft

April 12, 2019
<p>Xavier Tillman (23) high fives Cassius Winston (5) during the second half of the NCAA Final Four game against Texas Tech at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on April 6, 2019. The Spartans lost to the Red Raiders 61-51.  (Nic Antaya/The State News)</p>

Xavier Tillman (23) high fives Cassius Winston (5) during the second half of the NCAA Final Four game against Texas Tech at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on April 6, 2019. The Spartans lost to the Red Raiders 61-51. (Nic Antaya/The State News)

Photo by Nic Antaya | The State News

Just because Cassius Winston or Nick Ward might hire an agent in the coming weeks, it doesn't mean the two standouts are leaving Michigan State.

And Spartans coach Tom Izzo said Wednesday he's recommending both Winston, a consensus All-American, Big Ten Player of the Year and NCAA All-Region selection, and Ward — a third-team all-conference honoree — to "take a look" at the NBA Draft process.

"I think sometimes we have to understand that college, we think, is a big business because of the amount of money that there is in college sports," Izzo said, after recapping the team's Final Four run, which included a Big Ten regular season and tournament championship. "But pro is a business. And with business, there are no emotions in a business decision."

Whether Winston and Ward will return to MSU will soon be determined. Players in the NCAA can submit their names to the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee by Thursday to receive an evaluation of where they could go in the June 20 draft.

Then, depending on the feedback, players have until April 21 to submit their name for the draft. Players then have until the May 29 deadline — approximately 10 days after the NBA Combine — to withdraw their name and return to school. Per the NCAA's rule changes at the beginning of the season, players are also allowed to hire an agent during the evaluation process, and still return to school if they decide to pull out of the draft and terminate the relationship with the agent.

"But that’s like Russian Roulette," Izzo said. "I think, in all honesty, that a coach has to try to help his players understand the process."

The 6-foot-1 Winston is coming off his best season yet, in which the junior point guard led the Spartans in scoring and averaged 18.8 points, 7.5 assists and 33.5 minutes per game. He started all 39 games, and despite some criticism over speed and athleticism, had one of the "all-time great MSU seasons" according to Izzo.

"He’s got some unfinished business, too," Izzo said of Winston. "I mean, he’s got a chance to set some records that have never been approached by anybody in college. And those will be a part of his decision, where he thinks he’s at. But I’m pretty comfortable that he’ll make the decision, it won’t be a bad decision.

"But I would encourage Cassius to take a look and at least figure out where they have him. Which doesn’t mean that’s where he would get drafted either."

Ward declared for the draft after last season, but did not work with an agent, which under the old NCAA rules, allowed the junior forward to withdraw his name and return. The 6-foot-9 Ward was one of three Spartans to declare for the draft after last season, including Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. — both lottery picks.

Though Ward's season was shortened after suffering a hairline fracture in his left hand on Feb. 17, Izzo thinks Ward showed great improvement after receiving word of his draft stock.

"Nick went through it last year and when he came back, he was double all-in," Izzo said. "In fact, there was an advantage to him going and listening to some people, telling him what to do."

Langford almost ready to resume playing

Izzo said junior guard Joshua Langford will get more X-rays on his left foot in a couple weeks, but could be able to fully participate by June 1, barring any setbacks.

Langford started 13 games before suffering a season-ending stress injury on his left foot on Dec. 29. Izzo also said the team will look into seeking a medical redshirt for Langford, though per NCAA rules, played one too many games. The case could be reviewed, but Izzo hopes Langford won't even need it.

"I would doubt he would use it," Izzo said. "The hope is that he’ll have a good year and he’ll be on his way."

Roster to remain steady

Unless Winston, Ward, or someone else unexpectedly leaves for the NBA Draft, Izzo said he believes everyone but graduating seniors Kenny Goins and Matt McQuaid will return for next season.

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).

"I don’t see our roster changing much other than if someone leaves for the league," Izzo said.

Izzo looks to toughen the team up

Izzo said he felt the two toughest teams in the NCAA Tournament, Virginia and Texas Tech — the latter defeated MSU in the Final Four — rightfully played in the championship game. The Cavaliers beat Tech on Monday night to win the national championship, but Izzo said he's emphasizing strength and conditioning, along with other skills, to players returning for next season.

The team will take a two-week hiatus before beginning summer practice.

"And realizing that defense still wins championships," Izzo said. "Rebounding is still important. Don’t forget what made us, and don’t forget what makes the great teams that play at the end."

Spartans headed to Spain

Izzo also revealed the team will likely be taking a trip to Spain sometime in August, though plans need to get finalized. Izzo took MSU to Italy in 2015, the last time the team traveled to Europe.

"Should know within a couple of weeks," Izzo said. "I have a meeting with him about it tomorrow, and hopefully we’ll get moving on that."

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