No one would have blamed the gritty guard for bolting to the NBA. His place in Michigan State history was already secured. But Winston wanted more, to add to his legacy in East Lansing, so he opted to return for his senior season.
Winston is the only consensus selection on The Associated Press preseason All-America team announced Tuesday, a day after Michigan State was ranked No. 1 in the AP preseason poll. He is joined by high-scoring Marquette senior guard Markus Howard, Louisville junior forward Jordan Nwora, Seton Hall senior guard Myles Powell and Memphis freshman James Wiseman on the five-player team.
"He is the straw that stirs the drink and I think deserves all the attention he's been getting because he is a special player," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said of his star player. "But I think he's handled it pretty well too with a lot of class and has worked hard."
Winston is rarely the tallest, fastest or most athletic player on the floor. He reportedly can't even dunk. But the 6-foot-1 guard is often the best player out there. Smart and able to see things before they develop, Winston has a feel for the game that allows him to beat players with more size and athleticism.
Winston has steadily progressed during his time in East Lansing, going from a reliable backup as a freshman to one of the nation's best floor leaders. He averaged 18.8 points and 7.5 assists as a junior, leading the Spartans to the Final Four for the eighth time under Izzo.
Now Winston is back for more, hoping to take the Spartans even deeper. "You've got little taste of it. That's never enough," Winston said. "You want to take it another step further." Like Winston, Howard and Powell considered leaving for the NBA after high-scoring junior seasons.
Both opted to stay and are expected to keep putting up big numbers. The 5-11, 175-pound Howard developed a knack for getting off shots against bigger players. Through an array of step-back 3-pointers and crafty drives to the basket, he finished fifth nationally with 25 points per game in 2018-19 and is the only NCAA player the past 20 years with two career 50-point games.
Howard was a second-team AP All-American last season and led the Golden Eagles to the NCAA Tournament. Powell was an AP honorable mention All-American last season after averaging 23.1 points, 13th-best nationally, and leading the Pirates to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year. The 6-2 guard was tabbed Big East preseason player of the year after deciding to return to school to become the first in his family to earn a college degree.
"I sit back and say for me to be the first one, no one can take that for me," he said. "I have five little brothers and sisters who look up to me, and I can set an example for them. For me to be the first to say that in my family is important."
Nwora joined teammate Steven Enoch in opting to return to Louisville, helping the Cardinals earn a No. 5 preseason ranking. A 6-8 forward, Nwora raised his scoring average 11.3 points from his freshman season to 17 per game last year while leading Louisville in rebounding with 7.6. He also led the Cardinals with 77 3-pointers and made 37% percent from the arc as a sophomore.
The 7-1 Wiseman was widely regarded as the top prospect of the 2019 recruiting class and gave Penny Hardaway a huge boost in his second season as Memphis' coach by opting to play for his hometown college. Wiseman has good mobility for his size, can create his own shot and has been projected to be the No. 1 in pick in next year's NBA draft.
The Associated Press' 2019-20 preseason All-America men's basketball team, with school, height, year and votes from a 65-member national media panel (key 2018-19 statistics in parentheses):
Cassius Winston, Michigan State, 6-1, 185, senior, 65 of 65 votes (18.8 ppg, 3 rpg, 5.2 apg, 84.0 ft pct, 1.0 steals)
Markus Howard, Marquette, 5-11, 180, senior, 57 (25.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.9 apg, 40.3 3-pt fg pct, 89.0 ft pct, 3.5 3-pt fg/game, 1.1 steals)
Jordan Nwora, Louisville, 6-7, 225, junior, 47 (17.0 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.3 apg)
Myles Powell, Seton Hall, 6-2, 195, senior, 47 (23.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.9 apg, 36.0 minutes, 84.0 ft pct, 2.0 steals)
James Wiseman, Memphis, 7-1, 240, freshman, 32 (Memphis East HS: 25.8 ppg, 14.8 rpg, 5.5 blocks, 1.3 steals)
Others receiving votes: Kerry Blackshear Jr., Florida, 23; Cole Anthony, North Carolina, 10; Udoka Azubuike, Kansas, 8; Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati, 8; Tre Jones, Duke, 6; Sam Merrill, Utah State, 5; Devon Dotson, Kansas, 4; Charles Bassey, Western Kentucky, 3; Mamadi Diakite, Virginia, 3; Anthony Edwards, Georgia, 1; Tyrese Maxey, Kentucky, 1; Reggie Perry, Mississippi State, 1; Payton Pritchard, Oregon, 1; Lamar Stevens, Penn State, 1; Isaiah Stewart, Washington, 1; McKinley Wright IV, Colorado, 1.
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