EAST LANSING — With everything that has happened, the last thing on the Michigan State Spartans’ mind is a basketball game.
“I will say this he’s (Cassius Winston) been more communicative and it made it easier because I can talk to him about things,” said Head coach Tom Izzo. “He came in today and we sat down for a half-hour, just talked and that’s what I got to do a lot right now is talk to my guys. Tonight I got a couple meetings it’ll be talk, talk, talk and try to get everybody in the right frame of mind and go from there.”
Just Saturday night, they learned Zachary Winston, Cassius’ brother was struck and killed by an Amtrack train near the Albion campus. The next day, Winston using basketball as an escape, suited up for an emotional victory over Binghamton where he tallied 17 points and 11 assists.
Now, they have to prepare for what Izzo’s called their toughest test of the young season, heading on the road to face No. 12-ranked Seton Hall.
“The most difficult part is to get guys to practice and focus In right now, Its been hard. Its been hard for the coaches, its been hard for the players,” said Izzo. “I thought today Cassius was better today, yesterday was a tough day for him and we’re just going to keep on trucking.”
They will have to find a way to contend with the Pirates big men down low in 6-foot-11 junior Sandro Mamukelashvili and 7-foot-2 senior Romaro Gill while playing with a somber weight on their shoulders.
Just a couple hours until @MSU_Basketball tips off its season and @MSU_WBasketball is underway now.
Get ready for the season with this video courtesy of our own @IanGilmour04. pic.twitter.com/sXLjF1ZKVw
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Averaging 14 points per game and five rebounds through two games, Mamuklashvili is a talented big with the ability to step out and hit three-pointers.
Gill is a force down low who averages nine points and six rebounds so far this season. He’s also a competent shot-blocker who averaged a team-high 1.2 blocks a season ago.
Those two will be the main contributors for a Seton Hall team that will likely be without star guard Myles Powell who sustained an ankle injury in their last game against Stony Brook.
For Michigan State, Winston’s status is still up in the air. Izzo said after practice on Tuesday that all signs point to him coming on the trip and if he does come he will play, but it is his decision.
There’s no question that this season will be a long one for MSU, they will have to take things day by day and rally around their star guard. Talking after practice, sophomore forward Marcus Bingham Jr. said it best.
“Death is always in the back of our head, but we’re trying to really help Cash (Cassius). Just trying to rally around him, get him back going, let him know that the season is for Smoothie (Zachary Winston) now as this tragic thing has happened and just let him know we’re there for him,” said Bingham.
The Spartans will head to Seton Hall this Thursday. Tip-off is set for 8:30 p.m. as MSU takes on the Pirates in one of the eight games during the Gavitt Tipoff Games.
Julian Mitchell is Impact 89FMs lead men’s basketball reporter and co-host of the Green & White Report, which airs Sundays at 11 a.m.