Spartans' Winston takes his sibling rivalry to the hardwood

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing – Growing up, Cassius Winston never took it easy on his younger brothers.

From playing pickup basketball to video games, competition was always intense for Cassius, Zach and Khy Winston.

Cassius Winston

Now, as No. 1 Michigan State gets set to host Albion in an exhibition game on Tuesday, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year has no plans to change his approach, even as he gets the rare chance to share the floor with Zach and Khy, both members of Albion’s team.

“Yeah, I think they think they’re gonna come in here and win and I feel like we’re gonna blow them out,” Cassius Winston said on Monday. “That's kind of how it goes. I kind of want to embarrass them, but it's all out of fun.

“I'm the big brother and I’m gonna assert my dominance no matter what the setting is, so I’ll make sure they know that I'm big brother for a reason, and then after that we’ll get to have some fun.”

So, no, Cassius Winston isn’t about to take a break on Zach, a sophomore at Albion, or Khy, just beginning his freshman season with the Britons.

It’s the first chance, and likely the only chance, for the three brothers to be on the court at the same time. Cassius and Zach played two seasons together at U-D Jesuit, but by the time Khy came along, Cassius had moved on to Michigan State.

When Michigan State coach Tom Izzo heard about the idea of setting up the game with Albion, he jumped at it.

“I think this will be good,” said Izzo, who often likes to set up exhibition games that mean more than just practice. Michigan State will often play teams that have some sort of connection, from playing family members to seeing former teammates, like in 2014 when the Spartans hosted Russell Byrd and The Masters College.

Zach Winston

This time, though, will be unique with all three brothers on the floor.

“When we found out we were all definitely smiling and laughing, like, ‘Oh my God, this is crazy, being on the college level with all three of us playing with or against each other,’” Zach Winston said. “That is pretty sweet to see how all of our hard work has paid off and led us to this point.

“It means a lot. It’s gonna be a lot of fun. All we do is talk trash about it and stuff like that, so it’s gonna be a lot of fun. I’m excited for it for sure. It’s another chance for all three of us to be on the same court again. It kind of reminds us of being in the backyard growing up.”

With Albion playing at the Division III level, it seems clear which team has the upper hand. However, none of the brothers are about to give up any ground.

There will be no cut-off on when the trash talk stops. Zach says that will continue right up until game time, and he’s happy to have Khy, who he said is the best at giving his brothers an earful.

“Just because being the youngest he’s got to figure out smarter ways to get around the issue,” Zach said of Khy’s ability to talk. “Bullying and fighting is definitely not the option for him, so talking was definitely his way to get under all of our skin, for sure.”

Khy Winston

The playful back and forth is to be expected. After all, if you can’t give your brother a hard time, then what’s the point?

However, with the Winstons, it would never be confused with any sort of animosity.

“Just to have this moment to be out there with my family, with my brothers, you know, it doesn't get any better than that,” Cassius said. “So I want to go out there and just enjoy every moment of it.”

He’ll be doing so trying to beat his brothers but understanding that Zach and Khy are two of his biggest supporters. The trio has been there along the way as Cassius Winston became one of the best players in the country at the same time they were chasing their dreams.

But to Zach, Cassius has never changed.

“It’s odd, but I’ve never seen him as this big superstar,” Zach said. “I’ve always seen him as my older brother. So seeing all these accolades have definitely made me proud of him for sure and seeing how much he’s worked to get to this stage. But I’ve never seen him as a superstar. I saw him at the earliest stages, so it’s a cool thing to see it and how humbled he is by it all as well.”

Cassius doesn’t brush off that sort of admiration from his brother.

“It means the world, just to know those guys kind of look up to me and are kind of following me in a lot of ways,” Cassius said. “To make them proud, that's huge for me.”

Mom and dad are proud, too.

Life will at least be a little less hectic this season for Reg and Wendi Winston. With Zach and Khy back on the same team, the schedule won’t be quite as crazy. That makes Tuesday night’s game all the more convenient.

None of the brothers know how their parents will react once the game begins. Zach said he’s sure they’ll have some sort of color combination that includes green and purple.

What they are certain of, though, is that mom and dad will be on cloud nine.

“It’s definitely way bigger for them,” Zach said. “They’ve been like, ‘We’re so proud of you. You set out a goal and look how it’s all playing out.’

“It’s a pretty cool thing to be a part of, for sure.”

Michigan State vs. Albion

Tipoff: 7 Tuesday, Breslin Center, East Lansing

Radio: WJR 760

Outlook: This is MSU's only exhibition game. ... MSU leads the series against Albion 10-1 but the teams have not played since 1945.

Twitter: @mattcharboneau