EAST LANSING, Mich. — Cassius Winston is already in elite company.
The crafty point guard is among a handful of Michigan State players to win Big Ten Player of the Year honors and earn a spot on the Associated Press All-America team. And if he can help the Spartans win two more games, he also will join Magic Johnson and Mateen Cleaves as the school’s national championship-winning point guards.
“There’s room at the table for Cassius and I’ll even pull the chair out for him personally,” Cleaves said Wednesday, 19 years after he led Michigan State to its second national title .
“I’m excited for him and I think he deserves it. Having won it, I know how it feels and it gets even better as you get older. No matter what, no one can take that away from you, and you’re a staple in college basketball for the rest of your life.”
The second-seeded Spartans will play third-seeded Texas Tech on Saturday night in the Final Four, hoping to advance to face Virginia or Auburn in the title game.
Johnson, a Hall of Famer, lifted the Spartans to a national championship in 1979 and Cleaves did so in 2000. Winston acknowledged it would mean a lot to him to join those two in Michigan State lore.
Photo: Alex Brandon / Associated Press
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“Those are the greats, definitely, got to be top two,” he said. “So just to be up there with those guys, to get a national championship for this program, that’s something you can’t replace.”
Winston is averaging 37.5 minutes during the NCAA Tournament. Winston was the Most Outstanding Player in the East Region after averaging 19 points and 7.8 assists, including a 20-point, 10-assist performance in a win over top-seeded Duke. He was the only Division I basketball player this season to average 18 or more points per game, at least seven assists and shoot at least 40% from beyond the arc.
Since the 1992-93 season, Winston is one of six players from the top six conferences to average at least 18 points and seven assists. The short list includes players such as former Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine, Trae Young at Oklahoma last year and Damon Stoudamire more than two decades ago at Arizona.
The toughest test of Winston’s career might be next: The Red Raiders are one of the nation’s best defensive teams. “I’m sure they’re going to trap and try to take Cassius out of a lot of things,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. “Maybe they will, but if they do, they’ll do something that not many other teams have done.”
Larry Lage is an Associated Press writer.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Michigan-State-s-Cassius-Winston-has-chance-to-13739930.php.