Long Live Smoothie: A Tribute to Zachary Winston

November 14, 2019

The news of the untimely passing of Zachary Winston, the middle brother of three to Michigan State basketball star Cassius Winston, struck the Michigan State, U of D Jesuit and college basketball community very hard. 

It was reported that Zachary Winston had died around 8:30 p.m. on Saturday night. Many stories and articles on Zachary have been about his death. This one, however, is about his life.

Growing up behind his older brother Cassius, Zach always had big shoes to fill on the court. As a freshman starting on the varsity team in high school at the University of Detroit Jesuit, Cassius had already made a big name for himself in the City of Detroit. 

In Cassius’ sophomore year he led U of D’s team to the longest playoff run in the school’s history, a regional final appearance. The next three years Cassius would lead U of D’s trips to the Breslin Center, finally topping it off his senior year with an undefeated season and a state championship trophy. All with his brother Zach at his side. 

Cassius would go on to bigger and better things at Michigan State and would make the Winston name known all across America. But back home, it was Khy and Zach’s turn to shine on the U of D Jesuit hardwood. 

In Khy’s junior and Zach’s senior year, U of D was not expected to be the same stellar team as they were in year’s past under Cassius. The Winston duo fooled everyone. In their 2017 campaign, Zach was a starter for U of D. 

Known for his “bow-and-arrow” celebration and silky smooth shooting stroke, Zach helped lead U of D to another state quarterfinal run in which they fell short to inter-divisional rival, Warren De La Salle. 

After high school, Zach would announce his commitment to play Division III collegiate basketball at Albion College. In his freshman season for Albion, Zach averaged 2.6 points per game, 1.9 assists per game and 1.4 rebounds per game, and was a key freshman off the bench who helped lead Albion to an MIAA Conference Championship.

Image via Twitter/ @Zsmoothie13

During this same time, Khy would continue his senior year at U of D and help lead the Cubs back to a state championship appearance in which the team lost on a buzzer-beater to Ypsilanti Lincoln. Khy would later announce his intentions to join and play with his brother Zach at Albion. 

With Cassius’ biggest year (his senior season) ahead of him at MSU, and the Winston duo teaming up again at Albion, head coaches Jody May (Albion) and Tom Izzo (MSU) decided to schedule an exhibition matchup between the two teams. 

This matchup, taking place just two weeks ago, would be the last time all three Winston’s would meet together on a basketball court. The same place they had grown and bonded together for so many years before. 

Khy and Cassius played in the exhibition game. Khy ironically scored his first college points, a 3-pointer, with his brother Cassius’ hand in his face. However, Zach was sidelined by a hamstring injury. 

Just 11 days after all three Winston brothers were found smiling as they always did on the Breslin Center court, the news of Zach’s passing would hit the family late in the night. To those that didn’t know Zach personally, his life revolved around basketball but was so much more than the game he loved.

Zach was a stellar student at U of D Jesuit. Getting nominated into the National Honor Society, and perfectly embodying the school’s motto… “Men For Others.” 

I too went to U of D Jesuit and got to know Zach on a personal level. He was regarded by students and faculty at the school as one of the most genuine and happy students around. 

One Halloween, Zach, being the goofy kid that he was, came to school dressed in a Winnie the Pooh bodysuit with ears and a big belly. Everyone loved the costume and multiple laughs were shared that day; Zach even promised to come back with a better costume next year. He did just that. It was another onesie, this time a dog with gray fur and big floppy ears.

Image via Instagram/ @alexavierreeves

Zach was one of the most fun and happiest kids at U of D. Whether it was him shamelessly rocking his overalls and mismatched shirt-and-tie (all in accordance with the dress code of course) or the non-prescription gold-rimmed glasses he was so famously known for, “Smoothie” didn’t care what other people thought and just made everyone happy. 

Zach was not only a heartbeat of joy and laughter in the U of D community, but he was also a natural-born leader. Every year at U of D, the seniors have the option to go on a four-day Jesuit retreat known as “Kairos.” There are four different months in which a senior can elect to go on this retreat. 

Zach went on the first trip available. As he grew closer to God and with his faith, Zach came back glowing, and always carrying the infamous “waffle cross” known to Kairos retreatants. 

Zach even enjoyed Kairos so much, he decided to become a student leader on the next available retreat. He even missed a week early in his senior basketball season, so he could go and lead his fellow brothers on their journey at Kairos.

The Winston trio of Cassius, Zach and Khy are one of the closest knit brotherhoods you will find. Anywhere you go if you find one Winston, you can usually find another nearby. With their signature “#LuvGang” and black heart emoji visible across each Winston’s social media, it doesn’t take a keen observer to realize how much love the Winston family shares for each other.

Image via Instagram/ @cassiuswinston5

If you talked to anyone that knew Zach personally, all descriptions would sound similar. An absolutely loving, charismatic, genuine, happy and caring person that made everyone smile. 

A former media teacher at U of D, Matt Dery, described Zach much like many of us would, “His smile was infectious. He got along with everybody at U of D and even though I never had him in class… he always said hello and was welcoming.” 

There was not one person Zach ever talked bad about and nobody disliked him. The resounding support on social media, whether it be friends from high school, coaches and faculty, Cassius’ and Zach’s teammates, makes it clear that Zach left a mark on every life he touched. 

If there’s one thing to remember in light of all of this, it’s to tell your people you love them. Always check in on your friends, family, coworkers, strangers, everyone. Sometimes, we just need to be reminded that we are loved. Zach was the best at that, anytime he talked to you, he made you feel loved. We should all strive to be more like Zach Winston.

We love you Zach, and we miss you so much. Keep letting that rock fly in heaven and always shoot that arrow. #LLZ

Brendan Schabath is a sports reporter with Impact89FM and a freshmen journalism student at Michigan State and University Detroit-Jesuit graduate.

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

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