Cassius Winston started for top-ranked Michigan State on Sunday, a day after his younger brother Zachary Winston died when he was struck by a train.
Cassius Winston, an AP preseason first-team All-American, recorded 17 points and 11 assists in the Spartans’ 100-47 rout of Binghamton. He received a standing ovation at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Michigan, when he exited the game with 4:46 to play and shared a hug with coach Tom Izzo and every player and staff member on the Michigan State bench.
Albion Chief of Public Safety Scott Kipp said Zachary Winston was hit by a westbound Amtrak train in Albion, Michigan, shortly after 8:30 p.m. Saturday. According to Kipp, Winston stepped in front of the train as it approached a pedestrian crosswalk just past the Erie Street crossing.
Izzo said he learned the news shortly after midnight, then spent several hours with Winston and his family. It wasn’t clear if the star point guard would play.
“I guess if I was to be honest, I expected him not to play, but everyone grieves a different way, and we left it 100 percent up to Cassius,” Izzo said. “His brothers are the world to him. I’ve never seen a kid over my years that was as close with his brothers. Zachary grew up around the team so much. He grew close to all the guys.”
Zachary Winston was one of Cassius’ two brothers who played for the Albion College basketball team. He was a sophomore at the school.
Michigan State held a moment of silence for Zachary before the game against Binghamton, with both teams lining up on the court. Cassius Winston wore a hoodie and rocked back and forth slightly while the public address announcer spoke to the crowd.
“As you can imagine, there’s a million emotions going on right now with everybody, and I just said, ‘We’re gonna play with a broken heart, but we’re going to play,'” Izzo told the Big Ten Network after the game.
Earlier, Izzo released a statement saying, “Our hearts are filled with sorrow for the Winston family. Their pain over the sudden loss of Zachary is unimaginable. It’s impossible to find the right words in this moment, other than to say that we will support the family in whatever way they need.”
Michigan State assistant coach Dane Fife also tweeted about Zachary Winston’s death.
Rest easy, Brother Z. That smile always lit the room/gym up. We will take care of your family. Appreciate all that you did! #ZachWinston
— Dane Fife (@CoachDaneFife) November 10, 2019
Michigan State faced Albion in an Oct. 29 exhibition game in which both Cassius and Khy Winston played. Zachary Winston sat out because of a hamstring injury.
Albion College president Mauri Ditzler said Zachary Winston was “deeply loved and will be deeply missed.”
“As a community, our hearts are broken today as we share the news of the passing of one of our students, Zachary Winston,” Ditzler wrote in a statement. “Zach was a finance major, a student in the Gerstacker Institute for Business and Management, and [a] member of the Albion College men’s basketball team. Beyond that, he was an extremely charismatic young man with an infectious smile. Zach was a recognized leader who was well known across every facet of our campus. He was a fantastic student with a world of potential before him. He was deeply loved and will be deeply missed.
“Our hearts go out to his brothers, Khy, who is a freshman at Albion, and Cassius, who is a senior at Michigan State University, his parents and his extended family. We echo the family’s request in asking everyone to respect their privacy at this time.”
Izzo thought the game might have been an adrenaline rush for Cassius Winston.
“He was spectacular,” Izzo said. “The assists he made in that first half, I caught myself saying, ‘Wow.'”
Izzo concluded his news conference with a bit of a lesson.
“When you leave here tonight, whoever it is — son, daughter, older mother, father, wife or husband — it would do you good to tell them you love them and you appreciate them,” he said. “It would do you a lot of good, and any of the people closest to you, that you say that. You say it, and you say it, and you say it. Because one morning you wake up, and everything’s one way, and by 9 o’clock that night, everything’s another way. And then you don’t get a chance to say it.
“So I told my team after I loved every one of them.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.