Albion, Mich.— Mike Turner huddled with Albion College head basketball coach Jody May inside Kresge Gymnasium Monday afternoon while one of the players worked on his game with assistant coach Stephen Draper.
Turner, the former longtime head coach, had May as his assistant for 10 years until retiring in 2008. The two were in unchartered territory, trying to take the next step for the program after the tragic death of sophomore guard Zachary Winston, who was killed Saturday night when he was struck by a train in Albion in front of the Dow Center. Authorities said Winston intentionally stepped in front of the train.
Winston, the younger brother of Michigan State All-American guard Cassius Winston, helped Albion win the MIAA championship last season to reach the Division III national tournament.
Macomb Dakota head basketball coach Paul Tocco brought his son, Mark Tocco, back home after Mark received the news Saturday evening while returning to Albion following the 10-hour bus trip from Albion’s football game in the U.P. against Finlandia.
“He’s (Zachary Winston) been friends with my son,” said Paul Tocco, pointing out his son has been playing football and basketball the past few weeks at Albion College. “He’s a great kid, good friend of my son. My son actually had to go home, he’s not even at Albion. He’s broken up about the whole thing.
“He traveled with the football team, so he was on the bus heading back when he heard the news. Since late Saturday night he was broken up and we got him home yesterday. We’ll try to get him back on campus (Tuesday) morning.”
Tocco is trying to find the right time to get his son back to any type of sense of normalcy, which will be tough. The same can be said for other parents, including former Albion College basketball legend Milton Barnes, whose son, sophomore guard MJ Barnes, was roommates with Winston last year.
News spread fast of the tragedy Saturday night with Albion College — a private liberal arts college — being a close-knit family with an enrollment of approximately 1,500 students.
Mitch Wiltzius, a sophomore from Kingsford in the U.P., took a few minutes to talk about Winston while brushing off several inches of snow from the windshield of his car Monday.
“It was a very tragic loss,” Wiltzius said. “We’re a very small school, and it’s very unfortunate. The college gave several opportunities for students to speak to counselors.”
Carlton Williams, a senior from Oak Park, spent some time with Winston this past summer. Williams is also a student broadcaster, working some of Albion College’s basketball games.
“Zach was a ball of energy; any time he came into a room he had a huge smile on his face, just a very down-to-earth guy,” Williams said. “I just saw him last week, asked how he was doing, and he seemed upbeat.
“We worked together at orientation last summer. He was awesome. He was a ton of fun, often times led the chants, sang our fight song.”
Lige McKinney, a senior right tackle from Hillsdale, knew of Winston since they were Albion College athletes. He was shocked with the news.
“He was always a happy kid with a smile on his face,” McKinney said. “I just can’t believe it. On Sunday one of my buddies told me it was Zach and I couldn’t believe it. It just doesn’t seem right. We were all shook up by it.”
Mercedes Pace, a lifelong Albion resident and senior, got emotional while talking about Winston.
“I saw him a lot over the summer,” Pace said. “Zach was just really outgoing. He’s one of the students on campus that everyone knows. Even if you don’t know him intimately, you’ve seen his face. He’s waves to you. He helps make the school what it is today.
“I read all the articles (about Winston’s death) and just couldn’t believe it — still can’t.”
Zachary Winston carried the torch after Cassius led U-D Jesuit to the Class A state championship in 2016 and moved on to MSU. Zach scored 17 — 10 during the fourth quarter — to help his team come back from a 46-40 deficit to earn a 64-55 win over Warren De La Salle in 2018 to hand the program its sixth consecutive Catholic League title.
Zachary Winston said after the game: “This feels amazing to say the least. Really, the most important thing that we did was talk and we just had each other’s back, especially during the fourth quarter and that just led to more steals, more fast breaks and more open shots.”