Michigan State coach Tom Izzo recaps the season, and talks about juniors Cassius Winston and Nick Ward exploring the NBA. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — Cassius Winston and Nick Ward weren’t thinking about the NBA on Saturday night following Michigan State’s loss to Texas Tech in the Final Four.
However, those decisions will need to come soon, and coach Tom Izzo believes it’s in the best interest of each player to explore the draft process over the next couple of months.
“I would recommend, and I am recommending that both of them take a look,” Izzo said on Wednesday, wrapping up a season that included a Big Ten championship, a conference tournament championship and the trip to the Final Four.
The Spartans lost two players early to the NBA last season when sophomore Miles Bridges and freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. both left and were Lottery picks.
Where Winston and Ward stand will be determined over the next few weeks. The first step will be submitting their names to the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee by Thursday to receive an evaluation where they might go in the draft.
“You can get an evaluation,” Izzo said, “and the evaluation is, are you a lottery pick, are you 15-30, are you 30-45 and are you 45-60?
“At least this will be the teams. They’ll have a group of people give you the most honest opinion. The problem I see is it’s still a very broad opinion but checking that out and making a decision based on that, I think, is an intelligent move for me as a coach, for them as players.”
Depending on the feedback, players then have until April 21 to submit their name for the draft. After that, the deadline is May 29 – 10 days after the NBA Scouting Combine -- to pull out and return to school. Rule changes this year also allow players to hire an agent during the evaluation process while giving them the opportunity to return to school if they decide not to stay in the draft and terminate the relationship with the agent.
As for what decisions Winston and Ward will ultimately make, Izzo wasn’t making any predictions.
“I’m pretty comfortable they’ll make a decision that won’t be a bad decision,” Izzo said, “but I would encourage Cassius to take a look and at least figure out where they have him, which doesn’t mean that's where he gets drafted either.”
Winston is coming off a breakout season that saw him earn Big Ten Player of the Year honors while also being named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press and the Sporting News. At 6-foot-1, though, with limited athleticism, some believe it would be best for Winston to return and get stronger before taking a shot at the NBA.
If he does, he’ll be leading a team that will almost certainly be a top-five team when the season starts.
“The one thing about Cassius is he’s got some unfinished business, too,” Izzo said. “He’s got a chance to set some records that have never been approached by anybody in college. So those are part of his decision.”
Ward went through the process after last season before deciding to come back to Michigan State. He was heading toward what looked like a certain jump to the NBA before a broken hand in mid-February derailed his season.
“I think Nick would like to go,” Izzo said. “But I think the injury hurt him a little bit as far as leaving and helped him as far as learning and understanding how fragile everything is.”
Izzo said junior guard Joshua Langford is set to have more tests and X-rays on his injured foot in about two weeks, and assuming everything is going as planned, Langford could be cleared by the start of June.
“The timetable now is he gets some more X-rays in about two weeks and 3-4 weeks after that, if everything is right, I think he’ll be able to start full go by June, from what I’ve been told,” Izzo said. “He’ll be able to do some things but to get back on the court playing I’d say June 1 is an honest and realistic date.”
Izzo also said they’ll probably explore the possibility of chalking up this season to a redshirt even though Langford played in 13 games. But the belief is Langford wouldn’t be sticking around another season.
“I would doubt if he’ll use it,” Izzo said. “The hope is he’ll have a good year and be on his way, but I would think he’d have a chance.”
Taking a trip
Izzo said Michigan State is planning to take a foreign trip this summer, likely to Spain. The NCAA allows to take the trips every four years and Michigan State last went to Italy in 2015.
“We’re looking at Spain in August, later August, which would be a good experience,” Izzo said. “The last time we went to (my) homeland but this time it looks like it could be Spain. We’ll know within a couple of weeks.”
If everyone returns next season, Michigan State will be at its limit of 13 scholarship players with the arrival of freshmen Malik Hall, Rocket Watts and Julius Marble.
Izzo said he doesn’t expect any changes in the roster outside of the potential of Winston or Ward leaving for the draft. At that point, Izzo isn’t ruling out what might happen to the roster, but he doesn’t expect anyone transferring out.
“Unless one or two of these guys go to the league, I don't see it changing at all,” Izzo said. “I don't see anybody leaving and I don't see us getting anybody else, unless somebody leaves.”