After the first day of practice, senior guard Cassius Winston is circled by reporters. The cameras are on as he gets thrown question after question, yet he seems grounded.
A reporter asks Winston about the banner recently hung up in the practice gym from last season’s Final Four run. For the first time, Winston seems nostalgic.
“I know, that’s crazy, ain’t it? Just to have that piece, that’s legendary up there,” Winston said.
But even looking back at the past for a second might’ve been too long for Winston, as he immediately brought himself back to the present and the goals at hand.
"Try to get another one, you know, take it a step further," he said.
One last dance.
The idea still hasn’t sunk in for the senior, but the decision to stay stems from one idea that has stuck with him: unfinished business.
Many expected Winston to leave following a season where he helped lead his team on a Final Four run, averaging 18.8 points per game next to his 7.5 assist average. The season garnered Winston the title of Big Ten Player of the Year and a finalist for the John R. Wooden Award.
Despite the NBA caliber talent showing last season, Winston decided he could put his NBA dream on pause for one more year. Now, going into this year as the unanimous 2019-20 preseason Big Ten Player of the Year, unfinished business still looms over Winston’s head.
“I feel like we have a chance to do some special things — individually and as a team — and not a lot of people get that opportunity, so I came back to take advantage of it,” Winston said.
Winston said he wants to get better. To prepare to last at the next level, he believes there's more he can accomplish here.
“I feel like I could get a lot better, to help me prepare for the next level,” Winston said. “I feel like there are some things I had to add to my game, strength-wise and things like that. Things that could help me not just make it, but last.”
After seeing the court for an average of 33.5 minutes per game last season, he was tired. To get his mind and body right for the season to come, Winston actually took more time off basketball than he ever has before.
“Three weeks, a month maybe. Just to put everything away and once I got back to it, I hit it full-go,” Winston said.
Following his decision to stay, Winston is already a favorite for Player of the Year, but the concept still hasn’t hit him. Always being one to do whatever he can to help his team, Winston hasn’t shifted his focus from that, despite the noise.
“It’s hard to think of because it wasn’t in the plan, really," Winston said. "It’s kind of out there, it’s an out there idea, so it still probably hasn’t hit me yet. I’m just trying to get better, trying to do what I can to help my team win, and everything else will fall into place."
Embracing the noise around him, Winston said he knows the biggest thing is to stay grounded. He plans on taking the same mentality that got him last year's awards into a season where he is favorited to get more.
“Remain humble. Every situation you're in, every award you get. It’s a blessing," Winston said. "It’s an honor and you can’t take it for granted, you got to remain humble, you got to remember what got you those awards and try to keep the same mindset.”
Now a senior, Winston gets his last dance with the Spartans — his last first practice, first game and everything that may follow. He knows what’s on the line this year, but won’t let that stop him from taking it all in.
“Every day is coming closer to the end," he said. "I enjoyed it though, enjoyed the process. I enjoy being here and enjoy our chances to have a real special year.”