Michigan State star Cassius Winston isn’t giving up on his national championship conquest just yet.
The Big Ten Player of the Year and consensus All-American will return for the Spartans next year for his senior season and forgo the NBA draft process completely, Winston announced on Friday afternoon.
“Playing in the NBA has always been my dream. But I have other dreams as well,” Winston said in a release. “This was an incredible season with an amazing group of teammates, but I believe there is still more to accomplish. From the moment the season ended, I started thinking about what else I could do and how I could improve, to help us reach the goals we want to reach. It was surreal to be compared to some of the all-time great Spartans during the tournament because in my mind I still have something left to prove. Those goals will motivate me throughout the offseason.
“It will always be my goal to play in the NBA, but that's a dream that can wait a year. I look forward to improving as a player, and continuing to get stronger. I know my teammates are equally committed to improving and I can't wait for what our future holds.”
Winston averaged 18.8 points, 7.5 assists — the third-best in the country — and three rebounds per game last season for the Spartans. The point guard was instrumental in both the Spartan’s share of the Big Ten regular season title and their Big Ten tournament championship run.
He led Michigan State past Zion Williamson and Duke in the Elite Eight to reach the Final Four, however failed to reach the national championship game after falling to Texas Tech in Minneapolis.
“Cassius and I had some great talks after the season,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said in a release. “Our relationship has grown throughout his career, and this process has only taken it to another level. I was in full support of Cassius entering his name in the NBA draft process, because I know that's his dream. But I've come to understand that he also has some other dreams. Since the Final Four, he's been talking about the goals he has both for himself and the team. Cassius is an unbelievably smart player, so he knows that there are no guarantees. But he's willing to work to improve and better himself and his team for next year and beyond.
“As a coach the ultimate goal is to get to watch a player live his dreams. So if Cassius dreams of becoming one of the best players in Spartan basketball history and leaving a legacy, I look forward to doing everything I can to help him make that a reality.”
Nick Ward declares for NBA draft
While Winston will be back in East Lansing next fall — where the Spartans are already projected by many to be one of the top teams in the country to start next season — his teammate, Nick Ward, will not.
Ward announced on Instagram on Friday afternoon that he will declare for the NBA draft, and does not plan to return next season.
“After talking things over with my parents and coach Izzo and the staff at Michigan State, I've decided to take the next step in my career and enter my name for the NBA draft,” Ward said in a release. “I've learned so much at Michigan State and am thankful to the coaches and my teammates for helping me become a better player and a better person and reach a lifelong goal of getting to a Final Four.
“Based on the feedback I got last year and discussions with coach Izzo, I'm ready for this challenge and look forward to this next chapter.”
Ward averaged 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds for the Spartans last year, and was a third-team All-Big Ten selection. He was sidelined for the final five games of the season after suffering a broken hand, and then came off the bench in the postseason with limited minutes.
The 21-year-old went through the NBA draft evaluation process last year, but elected to return to Michigan State for another season. His intent after his junior year, Izzo said, was always to make the jump to the NBA.
"When he made the decision to return for his junior season, I made one request that he be fully committed to our team and program,” Izzo said in a release. “Nick did everything I asked and more, improving as a player and becoming a better teammate. I was impressed with his attitude and commitment as well as the way he grew his game throughout the whole year.
“I also knew Nick's desire to begin his pro career following his junior season, and I'm fully supportive of his decision. He has worked very hard over the last three years to put himself in this position and I look forward to helping him reach his dreams."
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