Cassius Winston’s Magic-like passes impress Izzo

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Cassius Winston

East Lansing – There’s no doubt Michigan State will be counting on its heralded freshman class this season, and there are no shortage of playmakers in the group.

One that didn’t have the notoriety of forward Miles Bridges and guard Joshua Langford, both five-star recruits, is point guard Cassius Winston. The U-D Jesuit standout will see plenty of playing time this season for the Spartans and he already reminds coach Tom Izzo of another former Spartan great.

“I told (associate head coach) Dwayne Stephens I thought he could be the best passer since Magic Johnson,” Izzo said of Winston at Michigan State’s media day on Thursday. “Two weeks of practice has not changed my opinion.”

That’s high praise, to say the least, for a player who has yet to play a college game, and while Winston is confident, he’s not quite ready to put himself in the same category as the Hall of Famer who led Michigan State to the national championship in 1979.

“I wouldn’t say I’m like Magic Johnson,” Winston said with a laugh. “Maybe after Magic Johnson, I can buy that a little bit. But just being mentioned in that type of category is an amazing feeling and hopefully I can follow it up.”

It’s likely Winston will share time early with junior Tum Tum Nairn, but the 29th-ranked player in the nation last season by and Michigan’s Mr. Basketball has the tools to be a real difference-maker.

MSU ninth, UM unranked in basketball coaches’ poll

“He's not a lightning-quick guard like Tum, but he plays with great pace,” Izzo said. “He can change speeds. He's a little quicker than I thought. He's got himself in the best shape of his life. He can use his left hand as well as his right hand. Not quite like (Drew) Neitzel where he can shoot from there, but he can definitely drive and finish with his left hand. Very good ball handler with his left hand.”

And if he happens to come close to Magic Johnson, then all the better for Michigan State.

“(He is) just an extremely fun player to play with, because if you're open, he's going to find you,” Izzo said. “With the number of shooters we have this year, I think that could be of great benefit to our team.”

Schilling outlook: ‘Not great’

How long Michigan State will be without center Gavin Schilling is still up in the air, but knee surgery next week will give the Spartans a better idea. Schilling was hurt during practice on Friday and the school announced Wednesday that the senior will require surgery and be out an extended amount of time.

Izzo said surgery has yet to be nailed down, but there’s no avoiding the fact it’s a significant injury.

“The truth of it is, it's not great,” Izzo said. “If you look at what it could be, it could be a little more extended than what we would like. Surgery is scheduled sometime next week. We haven't got an exact date yet. It didn't balloon up, but they like to have, when they have surgery, very little swelling.

“It's a problem. There's no other way to say it. But like I said, we're not going to play with two or three centers, either.”

‘Brutal’ November

Michigan State has never shied away from playing a tough schedule, and the one the Spartans play this season is no exception. Well before Big Ten play begins, Michigan State will play the likes for Arizona, Kentucky and Duke, and that all comes in November.

And if the competition wasn’t enough, the Spartans happen to be traveling more than 13,000 miles to do it, facing Arizona in Hawaii in the Armed Forces Classic, Kentucky in New York in the Champions Classic and Duke in Durham, N.C. In between is a trip to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis.

“The schedule in November will be brutal for me,” Izzo said, “and it's going to be brutal for our players. It's 13,600 miles in 22 days. That is taking on something that we've never really taken on before. With the one and two ranked teams in the country being Duke and Kentucky, we're going to play both of them. The fact we're playing a good Arizona team, possibly a good Louisville team, Baylor, and who knows who else will rear their heads before we're done?”

The coaches’ poll was released on Thursday and Duke checked in at No. 1, Kentucky No. 4 and Arizona at No. 11. Michigan State was No. 9.

“We've never had a November where we played three or four top teams,” Izzo said. “This year we're going to probably have a minimum of four. It means that we're going to find out early exactly where we are, like we always do. The travel makes it a little more brutal, a little more concerning with the number of young guys.”

Twitter @mattcharboneau