Michigan State Spartans men's basketball team helping Cassius Winston through grieving process of brother's death


AP Basketball Writer

LAHAINA, Hawaii — Cassius Winston’s voice, already measured and low-key, has been tinged with melancholy these past weeks. A glint of sadness has been evident behind droopy eyelids. His game, until a recent outburst at the Maui Invitational, lacked the usual rhythm, high level of production.

The Michigan State star lost his brother and best friend to a tragic accident less than three weeks ago.

The grieving has been incomprehensible, the steps in the healing process nearly infinitesimal.

Winston, his family and his basketball family are trying to find a way to wade through it.

“We always try to make games or events in our life, life and death,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “This was life and death. And it’s hard.”

Winston was an All-American last season, a preseason All-American this year and a popular pick for national player of the year in 2019-20 after deciding the NBA could wait.

Winston’s return and a loaded roster led the Spartans to a No. 1 ranking in The Associated Press preseason poll.

Michigan State took a hit before the ball went in the air for the first time, losing starting shooting guard Joshua Langford until at least January to another foot injury.

Then the unfathomable happened.

According to police, on Nov. 9, Zachary Winston took his own life by stepping in front of a train in Albion, Michigan. The 19-year-old known as “Smoothie” was a son, a brother, a friend, seemingly a beacon of joy to everyone who came into his orbit.

Zachary’s death rocked the foundation of the Winston family, sent shockwaves across the Michigan State basketball program and campus.

The next day, Cassius Winston, one of college basketball’s most respected leaders, took the floor with his teammates to face Binghamton. A moment of silence was held before tipoff to honor Zachary. Cassius had the game’s first assist, sank his first shot, finished with 17 points and 11 assists in the Spartans’ rout.

Winston and his two families grieved quietly until he broke his public silence on Nov. 18. Speaking after a blowout win over Charleston Southern, he took the microphone and thanked Breslin Center crowd for all the flowers, messages and cards with a short, heartfelt speech.