It was a small group: Cassius Winston, his family and a few others. His mother, Wendi, put together his NBA draft party with posters and TVs around the room.
“We sat around and listened to music, ate,” Winston said Thursday. "It's how I probably would hope I would get drafted. It was a pretty good vibe. We were all there, kind of watching and waiting. … You have no control over what happens on that night.
“And that's probably the nerve-wracking part — you just don't know what's going to happen.”
At some point, once names started flying off the board, the celebration turned to anticipation, and then nervousness.
Finally, with the 53rd pick, it was time for jubilation. The former Michigan State star was selected by the Oklahoma City Thunder, then traded to the Washington Wizards.
One of Winston’s basketball dreams came true.
“The suspense is crazy. And then when you just hear your name, it's like a relief,” the Detroit native recalled less than 12 hours after learning he would be going to D.C. “You can take a deep breath. Like, 'All right, that happened. We made that happen.' Now things are back in my feel, now I got more control over what the situation looks like from here on out.”
Xavier Tillman learned his destination before Winston did. The power forward went 35th overall, taken by the Sacramento Kings and dealt to the Memphis Grizzlies, with whom he will reunite with former AAU and MSU teammate Jaren Jackson Jr..
Jackson, who was in the 2017 MSU recruiting class with Tillman, was a one-and-done who went No. 4 overall to Memphis in 2018. He also was best man in Tillman’s wedding last summer.
“I don't know if Jaren called us or we called Jaren, but we were on the phone within like 20 seconds of me being picked,” Tillman said Thursday with a laugh as he was driving to the airport to head to Memphis. “Everybody was so excited.”
Tillman is in a unique position as a father of two, 4-year-old daughter Ayanna (Yanni) and 9-month-old son Xavier Jr., with his wife, Tamia. They were almost as ecstatic at where they landed as getting drafted at all.
“They were definitely on my radar,” Tillman said of the Grizzlies. “They talked with my agent, they showed a lot of love and desire to have me and my family out there.”
Tillman won Big Ten defensive player of the year during a shortened junior season in which the Spartans won their third straight Big Ten regular-season championship. He averaged 13.7 points on 55% shooting, grabbing 10.3 rebounds and adding 3.0 assists, 2.1 blocks and 1.2 steals. Tillman also was a second-team Academic All-American and a second-team All-Big Ten pick.
But getting drafted in the second round and getting that chance in the NBA after leaving MSU a year early has fueled Tillman’s desire to prove himself and make other teams regret passing on him — particularly getting bypassed late in the first round by teams the Grand Rapids native felt might pick him.
“If they didn't think I was ready now, just wait and see what I'm gonna be like in the season,” he said. “It definitely lit a fire under me. I don't know if it'll ever be burnt out until I'm done playing, because I know my worth and I know how hard I've worked to get to where I am.”
Winston — the 2019 Big Ten player of the year iand a first-team selection again in 2020 — averaged 18.6 points, 5.9 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals as a senior en route to his second straight second-team consensus All-America honors.
A 2016 graduate of U-D Jesuit High, Winston shot 44.8% overall, including 43.2% from 3-point range, and made 85.2% of his free-throw attempts in leading MSU to a 22-9 overall record. Winston and Mateen Cleaves are the only players in MSU history with multiple consensus All-American nods.
He said he spoke with Tom Izzo, who is currently in isolation with COVID-19, shortly after being selected; his former MSU coach already had talked with the coaching staff in Washington.
“He told me how excited they sounded that they could get me and that I was coming to their organization, how proud he was of me,” Winston said. “I've been in a situation before (where) I've been doubted before, I've been told things that I can't do and what things will hold me back, and I know what that situation feels like. And look what I made up before. So he said he has full faith that I go out there and do it again.”
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman want to outperform 2nd-round statuses