Cassius Winston on Why He Choose Michigan State Over Harvard


cassius winston

(Editor’s note: this story was originally posted after Big Ten Media Day in October. In light of Cassius Winston leading MSU to the Final Four this weekend, the timeliness of the subject matter mandates we move the article link back to the top of the site’s feed)

“Strange, you’re right. He got into Harvard. I mean, I don’t have a lot of guys that do that,” Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo responded when we asked him about his star point guard, Cassius Winston. The query was about how the floor general who wears #5 for the Spartans measures up in terms of book smarts and just overall intelligence, and what kind of intellectualism he has off the court.

It was a natural follow up to what Izzo had said earlier about the Detroit native, describing him thusly:

“I think Cassius is one of the smartest players. I’ve been blessed with the Valentines and Draymonds, who I consider have huge basketball IQs. If I think this team in general is a little better, I think we have a better basketball IQ than some teams we’ve had. But Cassius is right up there with one of the best we’ve ever had as far as his basketball IQ.”

Yes, Cassius Winston got into Harvard, where he planned to major in advertising management, his current course of study in East Lansing. Harvard, like the rest of the Ivy League, does not offer athletic-scholarships, so Winston got accepted on his academic merit.

The Ivys, still to this day, cling to the old NCAA notion (think Walter Byers era) of romanticizing amateurism and emphasizing academics. 

“He’s been great,” Izzo continued in his description of Cassius Winston.

“He’s been great because to his mother, she would rather him be a great student than a great player. That balance, too, of this day and age of college sports is refreshing. He’s done a great job in the classroom. He’s an accountable kid, raised right.”

Obviously, getting into Harvard is a chance to have a golden ticket for the rest of your life. If you can earn a degree from this elite institution, and make the right connections in the process, your career trajectory will be like an escalator. So why did Winston turn this opportunity down and go to MSU instead?

“I just felt like at Michigan State I could get the best of both worlds,” he said during our exclusive conversation. “Michigan State was just the best fit for who I was and it’s closer to home and my family, and I could still get a good education.”

Winston is also an avid reader (and not just of what is required for class).

His all-time favorite book is The Lovely Bones, a 2002 novel by American writer Alice Sebold that was later made into a film, was the last tome he completed, and he has designs on reading Phil Knight’s book next.

“The best book I ever read, I kind of read it by accident,” Winston said “I was at the dentist and I picked it up.”

Winston is very mindful of his roots, when he’s done with basketball he wants to go into something where he can give back to the Detroit community- perhaps someday become a leader when it comes to community organizing in Motor City. For now, he’s a very good college basketball player, as Izzo will be the first to tell you. 

“It’s amazing when you look at the stats, he led the Big Ten with almost 56% three-point shooting in conference play last year,” the MSU mentor said.

Of course, the junior, who is averaging 13.5 PPG, 9.5 APG and 444% 3PT through the first two games is far from the finished product.

cassius winston

“If I’m working on something with Cassius, it’s the sense of urgency to be great, not just really good. There’s three phases, if you ask me: there’s good, great and elite,” said Izzo as he described what his starter at the one needs to do to reach his ceiling.

“To win championships and to someday be an NBA Draft pick, you got to start hitting that elite status. Only the best survive. Sometimes his unselfishness is something — I’m trying to get him a little bit more selfish”

That’s a cool quality to have to coach, but you aren’t going to get many better kids than Cassius Winston.”

cassius winston

In Michigan State point guard lore, you have Magic Johnson and Mateen Cleaves, but plenty of others including Scott Skiles, Kalin Lucas, Eric Snow, Drew Neitzel, Denzel Valentine (on occasion) as well.

Cassius Winston is well on his way to joining the pantheon.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for NBC and Chicago, regularly appears as a guest pundit on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

He also contributes sociopolitical essays to and Chicago NowFollow him on Twitter and Instagram. The content of his cat’s Instagram account is unquestionably superior to his.

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