This is not the article I wanted to write.
Not for Cassius Winston’s sake.
Not for East Lansing’s sake.
Not for the world’s sake, really.
I imagined I’d be glossing over the prospects of Michigan State’s upcoming Sweet 16 matchup, as the Spartans defeated the Virginia Cavaliers in the tournament for the third time, according to Joe Lunardi’s simulation, the only semblance of the tournament we have left.
Instead, Winston’s crusade into the conversation as one of the three best players in school history is over before it began, that possibility trapped in those metaphorical thought bubbles.
For most in the college basketball world, that’s how he’ll be remembered. That’s the cruel reality in a sport especially defined by its postseason, and for a program so hungry for a third run to the end of it.
I urge you not to think that way, for Winston’s sake, especially. I was guilty of it too, deflated at the reality that we would never see him get the opportunity to make his case, the reality that senior day was the last time we’d see Cassius Winston play college basketball.
As coach Tom Izzo has said, “Sometimes the unknown is worse than the known.”
I’ve often thought we learn more in losses than we do in wins. After MSU’s Final Four loss to Texas Tech in 2019, I found myself with a wide range of emotions, some roommates mourning like they would the loss of a family member, others eagerly shifting to the angry uproar brewing not a quarter mile away in Cedar Village.
Instead I sat silently, penning a sentiment similar to this one, one that no other would read, but one with thoughts still applicable.
Pondering the loss of the college basketball postseason for the first time ever, right as I was about to fulfill a lifelong goal in covering the event, while mulling over MSU’s numerous gut-wrenching losses I’d witnessed over the years, I affirmed this thought.
In a loss, you’re forced to think. Through Kalin Lucas’ ruptured Achilles in 2010, we discovered Korie Lucious and the depth of Izzo’s “tough love” bond with his players, as he and Lucas were seen in an embrace following Lucious’ infamous buzzer beater.
In the loss of the regular season championship on senior day, we saw the competitive nature of a player whose name now hangs in the rafters, as Draymond Green’s disgust lasted throughout the senior day proceedings following the game.
As Izzo’s best chance at a second title was crushed by Shabazz Napier's 2014 Connecticut team, we were reminded of the story of Princess Lacey and her battle with cancer.
As Kyle Ahrens went down to a foot injury in 2019, we saw the fire of Matt McQuaid, who said, “I’m about to go off,” to his roommate as he was carted away, and whose expression after hitting one of seven threes showed his determination to lead one of the most improbable MSU postseason comebacks.
Last year, following MSU’s loss in the Final Four, we witnessed the perspective of Aaron Henry, who despite being the same age of many angrily storming the streets, tweeted out words of wisdom after the disappointment he endured.
Through the loss of many recruits to the likes of Duke, we saw improbable stories like those of Kenny Goins come to fruition and a storybook conclusion over that very school last year. Winston was a big part of that, too, rallying his team to a halftime lead after trailing by nine late in the first, refusing to let the Spartans to roll over and die at the hands of the Blue Devils, a feat at which Izzo failed 11 times prior.
Winston did everything in his power to be remembered as a winner.
Through adversity, personal tragedy and a global pandemic, this is what he did.
Maybe it was meant to happen this way, so that these “bigger than basketball” takeaways aren’t lost in a title chase. This is all we have to remember. For some, staring at those thought bubbles will be frustrating.
I’m sure it is for Winston, too. If this unprecedented period has inspired anything, it’s to remember these things that are bigger than basketball, because in the end, they always are.