Nick Ward leaving for NBA, while Cassius Winston will return to MSU
East Lansing — While Nick Ward is ready to chase his NBA dreams, Cassius Winston is putting similar plans on hold as he is set to return for his senior season at Michigan State.
Ward, who entered the NBA Draft last season before returning to Michigan State, announced on Friday he was again entering the draft and has hired an agent. While new rules mean Ward could still return to Michigan State, the school announced the junior center intends to end his career at Michigan State.
Winston, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, will put the NBA off until after his final season with the Spartans.
“Playing in the NBA has always been my dream, but I have other dreams as well,” Winston said in a statement. “This was an incredible season with an amazing group of teammates, but I believe there is still more to accomplish. From the moment the season ended, I started thinking about what else I could do and how I could improve, to help us reach the goals we want to reach.
“It will always be my goal to play in the NBA, but that’s a dream that can wait a year. I look forward to improving as a player and continuing to get stronger. I know my teammates are equally committed to improving and I can’t wait for what our future holds.”
Winston was a consensus second-team All-American, earning first-team honors from The Sporting News and the Associated Press. He averaged a team-best 18.8 points per game and set a Big Ten single-season record with 291 assists. He was named Most Outstanding Player of both the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA Tournament East Regional.
“I was in full support of Cassius entering his name in the NBA draft process, because I know that’s his dream,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “But I’ve come to understand that he also has some other dreams. Since the Final Four, he’s been talking about the goals he has both for himself and the team. Cassius is an unbelievably smart player, so he knows that there are no guarantees. But he’s willing to work to improve and better himself and his team for next year and beyond.
“As a coach the ultimate goal is to get to watch a player live his dreams. So if Cassius dreams of becoming one of the best players in Spartan basketball history and leaving a legacy, I look forward to doing everything I can to help him make that a reality.”
Ward was an All-Big Ten third-team selection by the coaches and the media this season. He averaged 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds a game while shooting 58 percent from the field, good for fourth-best in the Big Ten. Before being sidelined by a broken hand in mid-February, Ward was averaging 15.3 points and 7.1 rebounds.
In 104 career games, Ward scored 1,359 points, a 13.1 per game average, which ranks No. 26 all-time at Michigan State. Ward also shot 60.5 percent from the field, which ranks fifth all-time at MSU.
“I’ve learned so much at Michigan State and am thankful to the coaches and my teammates for helping me become a better player and a better person and reach a lifelong goal of getting to a Final Four,” Ward said in a statement. “Based on the feedback I got last year and discussions with Coach Izzo, I’m ready for this challenge and look forward to this next chapter. I am a Spartan for life.”
Ward missed the final five games of the regular season because of the broken hand but returned for the Big Ten tournament and NCAA Tournament, coming off the bench.
“Nick did everything I asked and more, improving as a player and becoming a better teammate,” Izzo said. “I was impressed with his attitude and commitment as well as the way he grew his game throughout the whole year. I also knew Nick’s desire to begin his pro career following his junior season, and I’m fully supportive of his decision. He has worked very hard over the last three years to put himself in this position and I look forward to helping him reach his dreams.”