LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

Detroit — There only are two rounds in the NBA Draft, 60 slots in all. Yet, there are well more than 100 college players who have declared for early entry into the NBA Draft.

Can you say square peg, round hole?

And quite remarkably in this era of college basketball, one of the early entrants isn't Michigan State's Cassius Winston, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year and an All-American — first-team or second-team, depending on your publication of preference — who announced a month ago he would return for his senior season in East Lansing.

Winston made that decision despite knowing full well he's a better player than many of those who are leaving school early for a shot at the pros.

"It's just, I feel like there are a lot of things I can accomplish and get a lot better at as a player, for sure," Winston told The News on Thursday afternoon. "It's not about just making it (as a pro), but trying to make it last.

"I mean, you can take away all the accolades, and what it means. As a player, I can improve, I can be stronger, I can take my game to another level."

That's music to the ears of Michigan State, which is considered a national-championship favorite for 2020 after making the Final Four in 2019.

Winston already is looking ahead to 2020, and excited about the team's prospects.

That said, he's got another big issue on his mind these days. Winston is teaming up with Beaumont Health, which on June 1 will provide free heart screenings to students at the Heilmann Community Center in Detroit. The screenings will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., for children between the ages of 12 and 18. The screenings are free.

Winston, the former U-D Jesuit standout and Mr. Basketball whose father Reginald is recreation programmer at the Heilmann Center, will be on site from 10 a.m. to noon. (Sign-up is required HERE.)

Winston didn't have his first heart screening until he was in college, and it was a scary experience — even though everything came back clean.

"I wanted to get involved," said Winston, who graduated from Michigan State earlier this month. "Kids get physicals and all types of things, but they don't get the opportunity to check on if their heart is operating right or if they have regular beats. So this is big for them.

"It's definitely one of those things, it's better to be safe than sorry."

Winston feels the same way about his eventual jump into the NBA — better to be safe than sorry, or at least fully prepared when he hits the ground running.

That's a big reason why he's coming back to Michigan State. 

Another reason: The sting of that Final Four loss to Texas Tech. So close, yet so far.

"That was tough, just to see we came so far, just to come up short," Winston said. "It definitely hurts.

"Once you get a little taste of it, you want the whole thing. It's not enough just to make it there. You have to finish the job. And to have that opportunity is kind of hard to pass up."

That's not to say passing up the appeal of the NBA was an easy decision. It wasn't, just like it wasn't for his teammate Nick Ward, who is leaving early to go pro.

"There wasn't really a wrong choice," Winston said. "Both of them were good options.

"It just came down to which would benefit me in the long run."

Winston, 21, averaged 18.8 points last season, setting a Big Ten record of 291 assists in a single season.

He was Most Outstanding Player of the Big Ten tournament, which Michigan State won in following up its regular-season co-championship. He also was MOP of the NCAA Tournament's East Regional.

Winston did all that while battling a balky left knee, on which he received a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) infusion a month-and-a-half ago. He said he's now back to 100 percent, crossing off one area of potential for concern heading into Michigan State's next season. The Spartans don't have many concerns, not with another good recruiting class, and a whole lot of returning talent. ESPN and Sports Illustrated have Michigan State No. 1 in their "way-too-early" rankings for the 2019-20 season.

Things are more precarious down the road in Ann Arbor, where Michigan lost three standout players to the NBA Draft, plus coach John Beilein to the NBA, as well.

"I wasn't ready for that," said Winston, who was recruited by Beilein out of high school. "I was shocked by that one. That came out of nowhere."

Winston may just join Beilein in the NBA someday.

But that day can wait.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE