Detroit – U-D Jesuit coach Pat Donnelly watched Cassius Winston, then a 13-year-old seventh grader, play in open gym with his varsity players. Donnelly knew Winston would be a high school star. In fact, Donnelly felt Winston could have played on his varsity then.
Winston has since put Jesuit on the map, becoming the school’s first Mr. Basketball award winner after helping the Cubs become the first team to win four straight Catholic League A-B Division championships since Detroit Catholic Central in the early 1950s.
Winston, a 6-foot-1 point guard headed for Michigan State, was named Mr. Basketball Monday during a ceremony in downtown Detroit. He received 70 percent of the first-place votes to top Michigan-bound center Austin Davis of Onsted by a 4,286-2,829 points margin.
"First off, I just want to say, wow, I'm actually Mr. Basketball,” Winston said. “This is one of things I've been dreaming about for a long time and it's actually a reality. There's a lot of people that have been in my life that have been there to give me what I need to succeed -- guidance, leadership, love, support, just overall willingness to put up with me. So, I want to say thank you to those people.
“Right now at this moment I’m the best basketball player in Michigan and it’s a great feeling and no one can take that away from me. I’m honored to be your Mr. Basketball.”
Winston led Jesuit to the state finals at the Breslin Center, his next home, the past two seasons, falling in the Class A semifinals both years. Jesuit, 25-0 and ranked No. 1, will play Ypsilanti Community in a quarterfinal Tuesday at 5 p.m. at Calihan Hall with the winner moving on to Friday’s semifinal in East Lansing.
Winston, who averages 23 points, six assists and five rebounds, found out he was Mr. Basketball Saturday when Donnelly gave him a call, telling him of the news.
“I was excited,” he said. “At first I was kind of scared that I wasn’t going to get it, eventually I was kind of worried. But then when he told me I felt pretty good. “It’s a great feeling, that all my hard work has paid off.
“Mr. Basketball was definitely a goal, but my biggest goal was state championship and I feel like my high school career is not successful if I don’t win a state championship.”
Winston believes this is Jesuit’s best shot to lift the championship trophy at Breslin. The Cubs have been ranked as high as No. 6 nationally.
“This year I definitely became more of a leader,” Winston said. “Last year I was more of, I’m just going to play my game and win the game like that. But this year I’m trying to bring everyone with me so everyone plays at my level.
“This is definitely our best team. We have young kids who are hungry, older kids who are trying to make a name for themselves. We have dudes who just play a role -- they just want to win a state championship -- so it’s a perfect team.”
When asked how it felt to stay in Michigan after other top players have left in recent years, including Detroit’s Josh Jackson to California and Flint’s Miles Bridges to West Virginia.
“Hopefully, I’m just representing,” Winston said. “Them two leaving probably helped in Mr. Basketball, I’m not going to lie. But I stayed here, represent the state, represent my city, and that’s what I tried to do.”
Bridges will join Winston at MSU and Jackson will make his decision later this month with the Spartans still in the mix.
Donnelly is thrilled Winston stayed home, feeling he has made him a better coach.
“He was playing in open gym with our varsity guys in the seventh grade and could have played with us then,” said Donnelly of Winston. “This past year I think his biggest development has been in his leadership and his ability to handle opposing defenses and take double-teams and traps in stride. He didn’t force anything.
“He’s always been one of the most unselfish players I’ve ever been involved with. We rely on him for so much and never once has he complained. He’s a great kid, a humble kid and one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around, and this is my 30th year of coaching.
Winston is U-D Jesuit’s first Mr. Basketball winner.
“I’m extremely proud of him, extremely proud for the school,” Donnelly said.
Donnelly is looking forward to watching Winston play this week with the Cubs, then with the Spartans.
“I have to get ready,” said Winston of playing for the Spartans. “I know my body’s not there for that level and my game’s not there, so I have a lot of work to put in this summer. But when I get there I’m looking forward to contributing and being part of the team.”
MR. BASKETBALL VOTING
Cassius Winston, U-D Jesuit -- 4,286 points
Austin Davis, Onsted -- 2,829
Spencer Littleson, Rochester Adams -- 1,640
Corey Allen, Ypsilanti -- 1,597
Kamari Newman, Detroit East English -- 1,024