Former Michigan State Spartans guard Cassius Winston is far and away one of the most accomplished prospects available in the 2020 NBA draft.
Winston, the 2019 Big Ten Player of the Year and a two-time consensus All-American, is both a polished passer and scorer who looks ready to contribute to any NBA team at the next level. His career assist rate (43.1 percent) ranked sixth-best among college players since the 2009-10 season.
The 22-year-old recently caught up with HoopsHype about his collegiate experience and what he can bring to a franchise at the professional level. Please note that this transcription was minorly edited for clarity.
What were some of your favorite memories from playing at Michigan State?
Cassius Winston: Oh, man. The first thing I’m going to remember is how much I’ve grown in my time here. I think my leadership was the area that I grew the most. I became more vocal. I was able to show that to the world. It’s been a long journey growing into the person I am today and it’s been a long process with a lot of ups and downs. My teammates are my family here. I had a bond with the coaches and the guys here that will go longer than basketball. That was another great thing for me about coming to Michigan State.
Some great point guards have come out of Michigan State in the past, Magic Johnson being chief among them. How does it feel to be next in that lineage?
Izzo on Cassius Winston chasing Magic and Mateen for getting MSU a third national title: "He scores points, he's playing better defense, he's making other players score points and he almost gets to coach the team a little bit." Says that's what Magic & Mateen did.
— Chris Solari (@chrissolari) April 2, 2019
CW: I’ve talked to all of them! Everyone from Magic to Mateen Cleavers and Kalin Lucas. They’ve all reached out and given me support and some words of advice and have helped me in my journey. They have told me what it takes to be successful. They were there for me to lean on with situations I’ve been in as well. Magic told me about being a leader and being that guy to get my team going, how important that was. Mateen was big on getting me to keep my swag up and to keep my confidence going, don’t let anybody stop me, don’t ever let anybody get in the way of what I want to do, go out there and take it. Everyone has helped with bits and pieces.
How did playing for legendary head coach Tom Izzo help you prepare for the NBA?
CW: You could write a book on me and Coach Izzo. [Laughs] During our time together, he pushed me past what he thought I could be. Even when I thought I was doing well, he was there to help me see where I could get better. He was trying to help me get better, trying to help me reach levels even I didn’t know I could reach. Throughout my career, I remember my freshman year, he would help pick me up and we would ride around and we would talk about things I was struggling with. During my senior year, he was always there to bring me in and talk about life and talk about family and talk about things going on with me in areas like that. A lot of coaches don’t take the time to actually get to know and get to know what is going on in my life. He helped me reach my dreams and help me be where I want to be. He was on board for that.
Michigan State had a top-ten offense and a top-fifteen defense. What do you think the ceiling would have been if you had continued to play?
Cassius Winston is a freak pic.twitter.com/snsfe3tlCB
— Spike Smeagol (Classic Mode) (@Cosmis) August 31, 2020
CW: I think we were a national championship team. I think everything was clicking for us on both ends, figuring out how to play with each other and figuring out what type of team we were going to be. It was all working at the right time. I thought we were going to have a really big run in the tournament and a chance to win the national championship. I loved helping when my guys took pride in being the best. We wanted to be the best, we didn’t want anyone to ever score on us.
Each of your first three years in college, your assist rate ranked top five in the nation. How have you been able to become such an elite passing guard?
CW: I pride myself on getting guys into positions where they can be successful. If a guy is open, I’m going to be able to hit him where he can make a play and make a shot. So when I am on the floor, I’m mostly looking and constantly trying to create and make the game easier for all of my teammates. If I can make it easier for them, it will be easier for me.
As the ball handler in the pick-and-roll, you have been one of the most prolific finishers in the nation. How much will you improve when having NBA teammates for these reads?
Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman is my favorite CBB pick-and-roll combination in a while. Winston is so smart and a threat all over floor. And Tillman is great at using body as a screener, then versatile as a roller (short, lob threat, shooting, etc). Great vs. Michigan today. pic.twitter.com/x3QAH4FAM0
— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) January 5, 2020
CW: It is going to help a lot. There are going to be more skilled players around me. I’ll be able to hit those guys in their spots and give them the ball and let them do the rest of the work. It will be a little easier. There is a lot more space. There is a lot more room to work with. So being able to use and operate within that space in the pick-and-roll should work out well.
You also shot over 40 percent from 3-point range during your four-year career. How will your jumper be most effective at the next level?
CW: I’m very confident in my jumper. It’s what I do. I have the ability to knock down shots. I feel like I need that to make plays to be successful productive on the floor. I’m constantly working on my shot. I’ve been working on my 3-pointer from the NBA range for about a year and a half now. I’m comfortable from that level. The more variety and ways I can get my shot off can help me expand my game. You can’t box me in as just one type of shooter. I’m more than just good off the catch. I can take whatever the defense gives me.
I love the way you can create offense off the ball, coming off screens and dribble handoffs. How will this help you move forward in the NBA?
Cassius Winston leads NBA Draft Wings in Off-ball efficiency (ShotQuality avg).
Off-ball proficiency is so vital for guards transitioning to NBA. On the right is each player's percentile rank among NCAA pic.twitter.com/8FdQAq928s
— Simon Gerszberg (@Shot_Quality) September 1, 2020
CW: I’m going to be in a situation where I am not the best player on the team. The ball is not going to be in my hands at all times. So my ability to play off the ball makes me a better option to go out there and play on any team with anybody. I can make an impact regardless. The ball has always been in my hand. I learned how to play off the ball and within a system and learn how to push myself without needing someone else to push me.
What are some ways you and MSU teammate Xavier Tillman, who is also in the 2020 NBA Draft, have helped each other in this process?
CW: We are always communicating. When one of us gets interviewed by an NBA team, we will give advice to the other one before they have theirs. We talk about what to wear, what type of questioning style they had, all kinds of communication. We give each other advice on how to talk, what to say, what not to say, things like that.
What do you see your role being in the NBA, both in the immediate and also longterm?
CW: I think I am going to be a piece for a team that is trying to win. I am going to come in and play my roles and do whatever I can to help them win. Eventually, as I figure it out, I am going to be an even more crucial piece in the NBA and start for a championship team. That is my dream.
Are there any players who you have watched who you feel you could emulate as a pro?
MSU’s Cassius Winston reminds me a lot of NBA World Champion and All-Star Kyle Lowry.
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) January 7, 2020
CW: Yeah, definitely. I see a lot of Kyle Lowry and a lot of Fred VanVleet. I love what they do for their team and I could see myself in that role. Their size, how they use their body and how they play within themselves. They are great. They find ways to make plays with what they’ve got.
Awesome. What are some things that you like to do when you are not playing basketball?
CW: I watch a lot of movies. I want to watch as many movies as I can. Especially things that people say are a classic. I want to have an opinion on them. But honestly, Shrek (2001) is my all-time favorite movie. I also love Law Abiding Citizen (2009) and Shawshank Redemption (1994). And then I’m a big fan of playing Call of Duty. I’m a fiend. I would say I’m up there, behind elite players.
The question on all of our minds, then: Who is your favorite character in Shrek?
CW: Oh, it’s Donkey, for sure. “We’re making waffles” is the best line of all time. But I also love the Gingerbread Man.
Oh, it’s got to be up there. Who are some of your favorite musicians?
CW: I listen to a lot of Rod Wave. I listen to a lot of Future. I listen to a lot of Polo G. I listen to a lot of Detroit rappers like Babyface Ray and Baby Smoove. That’s probably my list. It really is Detroit vs. Everybody. That’s what it’s like. That’s our mindset. We are proud of where we are from.