MINNEAPOLIS– Cassius Winston was all smiles entering U.S. Bank Stadium Thursday, the site of this year’s Final Four in Minneapolis. The Michigan State guard is coming off a massive upset over the Duke Blue Devils, where Winston was the catalyst in the 68-67 victory. Now, the Big Ten Player of the Year is on the precipice of taking his Spartans team to its first National Championship since 2000.
“It’s been a little tough at times the emotion, the team, all the stuff you have to
put together,” admits Winston when asked about getting to this point in the tournament after beating Duke. “But after this third day, every day is going more fluent and things are flowing more smoothly.”
Cassius Winston’s Basketball Stardom Etched from Childhood
When Cassius Winston was little, he believed in good-luck charms. Whenever he would take the basketball court, Winston would wear his lucky headband. He alludes that the headband would exude positive energy, a superstition enabling him to have basketball success.
Born and raised in the Motor City of Detroit, Winston attended the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy. He shined when he stepped on the court, showcasing his abilities to shoot off the dribble, while being a model playmaker. As a senior, Winston would be honored with the title of Mr. Basketball in the state of Michigan. Committing to Michigan State was a huge step for young guard, fulfilling his dreams that he once had as a kid, when he believed that headbands had special powers.
After a disappointing Freshman season, Winston would step into the starter role and thrive. He would average 12.6 points per game and 6.9 assists per game, earning him third-team All-Big Ten Conference honors. As Tom Izzo explains, it was foreshadowing for what was to come for Winston in his junior year.
“When I did recruit him as a freshman and sophomore in high school, I said I
thought he could be the best passer, the best basketball IQ guy since Magic Johnson,” said Izzo. “He’s impressed me in a lot of ways.”
Cassius Winston Perfect for Tom Izzo’s System
In an era where coaching changes are rampant, Tom Izzo has been the constant focal point at Michigan State. On Saturday, he will be participating in his eighth Final Four. Why so many appearances one may ask? It’s players like Cassius Winston, molding into the emotional leader of the team.
The regular season wasn’t a smooth ride for Michigan State. It was one filled with injuries. Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., two experienced Michigan State players, went down to season-ending injuries. Not having these pieces contributed to the Spartans losing two games to an Indiana Hoosiers team that didn’t qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
But when the March Madness arrives, Coach Izzo preaches tournament toughness. And it’s Winston’s role, to carry ton this message when the Spartans are facing adversity. In the Round of 64 matchup against Bradley, Michigan State was down in the early parts of the game. In the Elite Eight, Duke went up by 13 points midway through the first half. It wasn’t just Izzo’s animated coaching that inspired his players. It was Winston, rallying the troops like he’s done all season long.
The Spartans would go on to beat Bradley 76-65. Michigan State went on a 13-0 run to end the first half against Duke. And Cassius Winston would go into the post to get the game sealing field goal, out duelling the future No.1 NBA pick Zion Williamson. For Izzo, it’s just another great performance for his star player that he continues to expect.
“We wouldn’t be here without Cassius Winston,” says Izzo. “There’s no doubt about it.”
Cassius Winston Relishing Final Four Opportunity
With the emotions of the Elite Eight subsiding, Cassius Winston turns his attention to the National Semifinals. His Spartans will take on a Texas Tech team that possesses the defensive prowess reminiscent of the 1985 Georgetown Hoyas. When Duke put on the zone press, the Spartans struggled. But this defense from the Blue Devils wasn’t consistent for 40 minutes. The Red Raiders will be physical and play tough, defensive basketball for the whole game. And their number one target is slowing down the speed and drive of Cassius Winston.
“It’s going to be a battle. They’re a tough team,” states Winston. “They try to speed you up and force a lot of turnovers. They make you rush a lot
so you’ve got to keep your composure.”
For Michigan State, they are hoping that their previous Final Four experience will get them over the hurdle over a Texas Tech squad that is making its first National Semifinal appearance in program history. Tom Izzo knows that his whole team will have to step up to seize the opportunity.
But Cassius Winston, who averaged 18.9 points per game, 3.0 rebounds per game and 7.6 assists per game, is the solid focal point that bleeds the Spartan identity of toughness and leadership. While the star guard may not believe in energy from his headband anymore, he will be the difference maker if Michigan State cuts down the nets in Minneapolis.