Michigan State's Kenny Goins, Matt McQuaid, and Cassius Winston talk about preparing for the FInal Four. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — Cassius Winston insists he never thought he’d be where he’s at today.
At least, the Michigan State guard didn’t think he’d be piling up the individual awards as his junior season comes to a close. The Spartans playing in the Final Four? Yes, that was always the goal.
But as Michigan State prepares for Saturday’s showdown with Texas Tech in the national semifinals, Winston was busy adding to his resume, as he was named a first-team All-American by The Associated Press.
“They just told me,” Winston said Tuesday afternoon. “That was crazy. Just, I don't know, it was hard to picture. I really didn't picture myself in that position at the beginning of this year and for it to come out, it's a year full of blessings for sure.”
Winston is joined on the AP first team by Duke freshmen Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. They are the second pair of freshman teammates to ever be named to the first team in the same season, joining Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall in 2010.
Also on this season’s first team are Tennessee’s Grant Williams and Ja Morant of Murray State.
Winston and his Spartan teammates just eliminated Williamson and Barrett in Sunday’s East Region final of the NCAA Tournament, cutting short a Duke run many expected would lead to a national championship.
Instead it’s Michigan State that has the shot at a third national title in program history after reaching its 10th Final Four, eighth under coach Tom Izzo.
One of the biggest reasons has been the play of Winston. He’s averaging 18.9 points a game and is 7.6 assists per game ranks third in the nation. Winston is also shooting 40.4 percent from 3-point range and has scored 20 or more points in a game 17 times, including Sunday’s win over Duke when he scored 20 and handed out 10 assists.
“He’s kind of covered the entire gamut,” Izzo said of Winston. “He scores points. He's playing better defense. He's making other players score points, and he almost gets to coach the team a little bit.
“I think that's what Mateen (Cleaves) did for me. I know that's what Magic (Johnson) did for Jud (Heathcote). So he's trekking down the right road. … Cassius has done enough to set himself in that same footprint with those guys, just the way he's led, the way he's handled a lot of situations in the last couple of years and the way our players respect him."
The AP honor is the second time Winston has been named first-team All-American. He also earned first-team honors from The Sporting News and was named a second-team honoree by the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) and the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC).
The Big Ten Player of the Year is also a candidate for several national awards. He is one of five finalists for the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award and is on the national ballot for the John R. Wooden Award.
Ahrens almost certainly out
Don’t expect a miraculous recovery for Kyle Ahrens.
“I don't expect him to play at all,” Izzo said. “I saw him running on the treadmill yesterday and gave him the three thumbs up. But it's 99.5 percent he'll not be ready to play.
“If it got to the point we could suit him up in case, in case, in case, I'm sure we would. But I would inform you of that. I don't hide that stuff. As of right now, he hasn't touched the floor.”
The junior wing suffered a Grade 3 sprain of his left ankle in the win over Michigan in the Big Ten tournament championship game on March 17.
The fourth-year player who has battled injuries dating to high school, shed the walking boot last week and talked about his desire to be back next season and finish his final season as a Spartan.
“Absolutely,” Ahrens said. “I’m here. This is where I want to be. Finish what I started. I couldn’t pick a better program than this one.”
MSU's NBA plans 'last thing from my mind'
With at least one more game to play and potentially two, it’s safe to say the focus for the Spartans remains on the court with Texas Tech up next. However, some players might have decisions to make after the season about potentially leaving early for a shot at the NBA.
Not surprisingly, that topic wasn’t anywhere on Izzo’s radar.
“I will say it in a non-insulting way that we're playing in a Final Four. It's probably the last thing from my mind,” Izzo said. “And I think what's different about this team is that’s the last thing in their mind. I wouldn't want anything else from them to focus — I've got enough outside people focusing on everything else.
“So, I do appreciate the sincerity. You have the right to ask the question. I have the right to not insultingly say, ‘but are you crazy?’ We're playing in a Final Four.?”
ASSOCIATED PRESS AP ALL-AMERICA TEAM
Statistics through March 17
Zion Williamson, Duke, 6-7, 285, freshman, Spartanburg, S.C., 22.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.1 apg, 69.3 fg pct, 1.8 blocks, 2.2 steals (64 of 64 first-place votes, 320 points).
Grant Williams, Tennessee, 6-7, 236, junior, Charlotte, N.C., 19.0 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 3.1 apg, 56.5 fg pct, 82.6 ft pct, 1.4 blocks, 1.1 steals (49, 286).
RJ Barrett, Duke, 6-7, 202, freshman, Mississauga, Ontario, 22.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 4.1 apg (44, 275).
Ja Morant, Murray State, 6-3, 175, sophomore, Dalzell, S.C., 24.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 10.0 apg, 50.3 fg pct, 81.0 ft pct, 1.8 steals (43, 272).
Cassius Winston, Michigan State, 6-1, 185, junior, Detroit, 18.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 7.6 apg, 40.4 3-pt fg pct, 84.0 ft pct (42,268).
Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga, 6-8, 230, junior, Toyama, Japan, 20.1 rpg, 6.6 rpg, 60.9 fg pct, 1.0 steals (25, 207).
Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech, 6-6, 195, sophomore, Lubbock, Texas, 18.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.4 steals (15, 188).
Markus Howard, Marquette, 5-11, 175, junior, Chandler, Ariz., 24.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 4.0 apg, 40.6 3-pt fg pct, 3.5 3-pt fg/game, 88.7 ft pct, 1.1 steals (11, 186).
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin, 6-10, 237, senior, Milan, Ill., 17.5 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 4.6 apg, 53.1 fg pct, 1.3 blocks, 1.1 steals (6, 139).
Carsen Edwards, Purdue, 6-1, 200, junior, Atascocita, Texas, 23.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.0 apg, 84.3 ft pct, 3.3 3-pt fg/game, 1.4 steals (6, 133).
De’Andre Hunter, Virginia, 6-7, 225, junior, Philadelphia, 15.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.1 apg, 53.0 fg pct, 45.7 3-pt fg pct (3, 125).
Dedric Lawson, Kansas, 6-9, 235, Memphis, Tenn., 19.1 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 82.4 ft pct, 1.1 blocks, 1.3 steals (3, 110).
Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga, 6-8, 215, junior, Phoenix, 16.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 69.3 fg pct, 3.1 blocks, 1.2 steals (4, 92).
PJ Washington, Kentucky, 6-8, 228 sophomore, Dallas, 14.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 51.5 fg pct, 41.9 3-pt fg pct, 1.2 blocks (1, 79).
Kyle Guy, Virginia, 6-2, 175, junior, Indianapolis, 15.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.2 apg, 46.3 3-pt fg pct, 83.6 ft pct (1, 44).
Honorable mention (alphabetical order)
Keith Braxton, St. Francis (Pa.); Ignas Brazdeikis, Michigan; Tookie Brown, Georgia Southern; Chris Clemons, Campbell; RJ Cole, Howard; Jeremy Combs, Texas Southern; Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati; Mike Daum, South Dakota State; Jordan Davis, Northern Colorado; Cameron Delaney, Sam Houston State; Lamine Diane, Cal State Northridge; Daniel Gafford, Arkansas; Jon Axel Gudmundsson, Davidson; Rapolas Ivanauskas, Colgate; Ty Jerome, Virginia; Cameron Johnson, North Carolina; Anthony Lamb, Vermont; Fletcher Magee, Wofford; Caleb Martin, Nevada; CJ Massinburg, Buffalo; Garrison Mathews, Lipscomb; Luke Maye, North Carolina; Drew McDonald, Northern Kentucky; Sam Merrill, Utah State; Jaylen Nowell, Washington; Miye Oni, Yale; Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s; Myles Powell, Seton Hall; Admiral Schofield, Tennessee; Marial Shayok, Iowa State; B.J. Stith, Old Dominion; Matisse Thybulle, Washington; Jake Toolson, Utah Valley; Marques Townes, Loyola of Chicago; Tremont Waters, LSU; Coby White, North Carolina; Justin Wright-Foreman, Hofstra; Cameron Young, Quinnipiac.