Cassius Winston remembers the first time Michigan State coach Tom Izzo saw him play basketball at U-D Jesuit.
“Freshman year he walked into one of these games and the place just went crazy,” Winston said. “You know: ‘Tom Izzo in the gym . . . Tom Izzo in the gym.’ I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know him, but after that game he constantly kept showing up, showing up, showing his face.”
For the next four years, Winston will show his face at MSU.
Winston, a 6-foot, 185-pound point guard, committed to MSU on Friday afternoon at U-D Jesuit’s homecoming pep rally. The gym nearly exploded when the No. 1 player in the state put an MSU hat on his head.
The commitment boosts MSU’s 2016 recruiting class significantly. A top 30 player in the country, Winston joins consensus top 20 wing Joshua Langford (6-6) from Madison, Ala., and top 50 big man Nick Ward (6-9) from Columbus, Ohio.
One of the best uncommitted players is Winston’s friend — Miles Bridges, who grew up in Flint and plays at Huntington (W. Va.) Prep. He is visiting Kentucky this weekend but is also considering MSU and Indiana. Winston told Bridges of his decision before the prep rally.
“That’s my guy,” Winston said of Bridges, who is expected to make his college choice Oct. 3. “I let him know, but really, his decision is up to him. Whatever he wants to do, I hope and pray that’s best for him.”
Winston, who averaged 22.4 points, 7.1 assists and 5.2 rebounds last season, narrowed the field to a final three schools that also included Stanford and Pittsburgh. Michigan was in the mix until last week when point guard Xavier Simpson of Lima, Ohio, committed to the Wolverines.
This was a decision Winston struggled with for months before deciding on MSU.
“This was a very tough decision,” he said. “I was dealing with a lot of opportunities, a lot of great schools, a lot of great coaches, so this really took a lot of praying, a lot of talking to my family, a lot of talking to my friends to come down to this decision.”
The clincher came last weekend when he took his official visit to MSU. It was reunion weekend for the Spartans, and Winston had the opportunity to play in an open gym setting with former MSU players.
“It’s just the atmosphere when I went there,” he said. “They play as a family, they play together, they’re trying to win games, they want to win a national championship, and those are the goals I have for myself.
“Right after that visit, I realized this was the place for me, this is the place I want to go.”
But the biggest reason Winston chose MSU was Izzo, the guy who kept showing up at U-D Jesuit games.
“He’s been great to me; he’s been loyal to me for four years,” Winston said. “I’ve been building a great relationship with him for the last four years so we’re pretty close now.”
Izzo also sold himself to Winston’s parents, Wendi and Reginald.
“I love Coach Izzo,” Wendi said. “I think it’s a great program for him. To me it was more about a fit and how comfortable I would be sending my boy to a coach, and he just made us feel like that family extended beyond the basketball court.”
U-D Jesuit coach Pat Donnelly said he believes Winston is an ideal point guard for Izzo because of the way he distributes the ball and makes his teammates better.
“I don’t think I’ve seen a high school player that’s a better passer, in my era, than Cassius is,” he said. “I think he’s going to be a great distributor, a great floor general, and he’s also adding some scoring punch. He’s developing his jump shot more, he can score off the dribble. He’s a great free-throw shooter.
“He’s an all-around package. He just doesn’t have the glitz and glamour because he’s not a high-flyer, he’s not a jet offensively or athletically, but very few offensive players that I’ve seen are that intelligent as basketball players.”
Winston has guided U-D Jesuit to the last two Catholic League championships as well as carried the Cubs to their only two Class A semifinal appearances in school history.
The youngster didn’t hesitate when asked why he is Izzo’s type of point guard.
“I win games,” he said. “Any coach wants you to win games. That’s exactly what I do.”
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.