Thursday, October 1, 2020

As 'life keeps going,' Michigan State basketball tries to do the same

November 13, 2019
<p>Senior guard Cassius Winston (right) hugs coach Tom Izzo after being subbed out against Binghamton. The Spartans defeated the Bearcats 100-47 on Nov. 10, 2019 at the Breslin Student Events Center.</p>

Senior guard Cassius Winston (right) hugs coach Tom Izzo after being subbed out against Binghamton. The Spartans defeated the Bearcats 100-47 on Nov. 10, 2019 at the Breslin Student Events Center.

Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

As No. 3 Michigan State men's basketball (1-1) prepares for its first true road opponent in No. 12 Seton Hall (2-0), the game defers its priority in the focus of the Spartans as they move forward following the Saturday death of Zachary Winston, senior point guard Cassius Winston’s younger brother.

“The most difficult part is to get guys to practice and focus in right now,” coach Tom Izzo said following Tuesday’s practice. “It's been hard. It's been hard for the coaches. It's been hard for the players and yet I thought today, Cassius was better today. Yesterday was a tough day for him. And we're just going to keep on trucking.”

Late Saturday night, Zachary Winston, a sophomore guard at Division III Albion College, was hit by an Amtrak train near the Albion campus. Police believe he stepped in front of the train intentionally.

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Ima put this on here cause I need you to read it, and I feel like this the best way for it to get to you. I love you bro, w everything I have in my entire body. I love you so much, if I could carry yo pain I would wear it on my shoulders just to see you happy and wouldn’t think twice. I understand it was to much, I understand I really do and yo story won’t end here. I can promise you that, the next time I run into someone in your situation ima save them, cause that’s wha you would want me to do. I wish it was a term that goes deeper then brother, cause that’s what’s you are to me, 1/3 of my heart. And I’m struggling because there is nothing that can replace that Smoothie. I need you, I miss you. But I’m so proud of you, bro you fought every demon w everything you had in you. You went to war w yourself every single day not knowing if you could win that battle. And you won time after time. You stood tall and you let your family love you, you gave me everything I asked for, just one day you didn’t have enough strength. And that’s ok man, that’s really ok, ppl can’t go through wha you went through, you are the strongest, wisest, kindest, most caring person. The best brother/ gang member I could ever ask for. And I wouldn’t replace you or change any single thing about you. Not one. I don’t like doing these cause I feel like they for show, but I need to you to read this Smoothie and I need you to know, that I love you and I care for you. And the only reason I can sit here and still stand is because I know you not in no more pain. The only reason I’m still standing. After that bro we really got beef, and when I see you again I’m beating yo ass. Cause it’s no way you got me out here trying to adjust to life w out you bro. This shit so deep bro we suppose to see all this out together. But we’ll have that convo the next time I see you Smoothie Bean. Rest up my baby and keep watching over us, save me a seat. And when it’s all said and done ima have so much to tell you. You gone already know but ima tell you anyway. Love you Gang member🖤 wish your story coulda had a diff ending, it’s ok tho enjoy it up there. Ima see you soon enough #LuvSmoothie🖤

A post shared by Cash🖤 #LuvSmoothie🖤 (@cassiuswinston5) on

Cassius Winston appeared in Sunday’s emotional victory over Binghamton, scoring 17 points and dishing 11 assists, and is expected to play Thursday. Izzo said the Detroit native may be using the game as his own way of coping.

“I think the first night, it did,” Izzo said when asked if basketball was helping Winston's grieving process. “Yesterday, the court didn't make much difference. It's just everybody's going to go through some different things as they deal with this.

"I will say this, he's been more communicative, and it's made it easier to talk to him about things. He came in today, and we sat down for a half-hour and just talked. And that's what I gotta do a lot right now is talk to my guys. ... Trying to get everybody in the right frame of mind.”

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While the Spartans will be tested on the court by the Pirates on Thursday, they likely will not face a tougher trial all season than the one they confront currently.

“It's maybe learning to appreciate and learning how fragile things are,” Izzo said. “But you can turn that into basketball too, because basketball is fragile, too. If you're not focused in, you're not going to play as well, and we're going to learn to focus in through some tough times. We're learning to deal with distractions, no matter if they're positive or negative.”

Sophomore forward Marcus Bingham was one of the main catalysts for the team’s gaining perspective as his message to the team upon hearing the news of Zachary's death was simple: “Everybody in this room, go to your room, call your family members and tell them you love them."

RELATED: Zachary Winston, brother of MSU guard Cassius Winston, dies after being struck by train

RELATED: Spartans defeat Binghamton after an emotional night for Winston

RELATED: Marcus Bingham's message to team rings through tragedy

Bingham cited similar experiences as the driving force behind the message.

"Just going through the same stuff," he said. “Being in that situation Cassius is in, there were a lot of deaths in the family and losing my granddad, I was down. My mom told me just to try to help others and not have them feeling the same way.”

The hardship that follows a death in the family will linger for an uncertain amount of time as life goes on, as Izzo acknowledged Sunday.

“The hardest part of life that I'm learning is, it never stops,” Izzo said. “It just keeps going.”

Bingham said the team will attempt to follow suit and continue to support their grieving leader, who was not made available to the media following Tuesday's practice.

“Everybody, we're really trying to rally around (Cassius) and get it back going, just trying to let him know that (Zachary) is always here," Bingham said. "He's always in all our hearts, so just trying to keep going.”

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