When senior guard Cassius Winston stood on the scorekeeper’s table, embracing the moment he became a three-time Big Ten champion, nobody knew it would be the last time he would wear a Spartan uniform.
“It means the world to me that we pulled it together and won that championship,” Winston said during a Zoom conference call with MSU media members on Monday. “I’m definitely proud of the guys, definitely proud of all that we accomplished. ... I went out a champion and nobody can take that away from me.”
Following that victory against Ohio State, the team continued to prepare for the tournament season that was luring around the corner — that was until it was canceled due to COVID-19.
The cancellation was an abrupt and, as Winston said, “unreal.” However, in order to gain closure to a season that took such an unexpected turn, the team met that night to debrief on what was behind them.
“When the season is over, that’s when you get to be reminiscent. You don’t think about the experience until it is over, it just kind of happens,” Winston said. “We had a chance to breathe for a second and actually think about what we went through, the things we did as a team, how guys got better throughout the season. That was our only time where we actually got to sit down and actually think about how we just went through a hell of a year, a hell of a stretch and still we are champions.”
And as for Winston individually, he’ll leave Michigan State with a senior season that looked nothing like expected but ended in a way that leaves him a champion.
“I got everything out of Michigan State that I came for, and it's one of the best decisions I have made in my life,” Winston said. “It’s going to help me in the future way beyond basketball, so I think Michigan State is probably one of the best things that has happened to me.”
Preparing for the NBA Draft on an uncertain timeline
A typical day during quarantine for the now-former MSU men’s basketball star point guard looks something like this:
Winston is in East Lansing with his brother who has just moved in with him for the summer. As opposed to the 16 straight hours of Call of Duty that Winston played when quarantine started, his days are busier now.
He’ll wake up in the morning and start with his core conditioning. Then he and his brother might head to the Breslin Center to get some shots in and finish a workout.
With his training for the day done, Winston will return home and log on to Zoom for an interview with an NBA team.
Winston said he has talked to eight or nine teams during the past several weeks, discussing topics like his background, what kind of player he sees himself as, what he can bring to an NBA team, his morals and his values.
“In terms of the teams, they love my character, the kind of guy I am, how confident I am in myself, how open I am (and) how well I speak,” Winston said of his NBA conversations. “On the court, (they like) my ability to make plays, my ability to make my teammates better, how I shoot the ball, all of those things are kind of appealing to the teams, I hope.”
As of May 1, the NBA postponed the 2020 Draft Lottery and Combine according a release on their website. The official 2020 NBA Draft is scheduled for June 25, but many speculate that date will change as the 2019 NBA season has yet to be completed.
Winston said the unknown aspect of not only his future but the timeline of it has been difficult to prepare for. Unlike many off-seasons, where he would lighten up on his training until the season neared closer, Winston is now challenged with being ready at all times for whenever regulations are lifted.
“The timeline kind of sucks because there is a fine balance between when you're pushing yourself too hard, for too long,” Winston said. “You just got to find that perfect little balance, which is hard to do because there is no timeline.”
Another challenge Winston mentioned was preparing himself for the Draft without all of the usual tools like gym space and teammates. Winston said it's been odd transitioning from talking to coach Tom Izzo every day in person to now sharing just one phone conversation per week.
“I’m trying to prepare for the next step, the ultimate step, without all the tools that you could possibly need to make it happen,” Winston said. “It’s hard to know how much to push yourself, I don’t know if I’m going hard enough ... but you don’t have any baseline to help guide you there, so you’re figuring everything out on your own.”
However, there is a positive. Despite the postponement of the NBA Combine, which would provide Winston an opportunity to showcase his skills, NBA recruiters are forced to base their opinions on his game, from his film.
“My situation is a lot different because if you can’t watch me work out, then you have to watch my game film, and I feel like my game film is where I’m at my best,” Winston said. “In my case, all you can go off of is how I did in the game, and if you go off of how I did in the game, I probably look pretty decent out there on the floor.”
Winston's game will look different wherever he ends up. He won’t be the go-to ball handler he made himself become at MSU. Winston acknowledged the difference in minutes he’ll get on the court as a rookie, but said he told his brother he’s looking forward to not being “the man” for a little while.
“I’m not a ball-dominant person, I don’t need to play all the minutes,” Winston said. “I’m going to go out there and play my role and do my best. I can do that in 12 minutes, I can do that in 40 minutes. It just depends on what the team needs to win, and I’m going to make sure my game is able to help.”
As Winston talks with more teams and with his hometown Detroit Pistons on the radar for next week, he'll keep one main goal in focus: Going out in the first round.
“That’s where I want to go. I mean, I feel like I’m capable of it," Winston said. "If not, as long as I get to the NBA, I won’t complain at all.”