Cassius Winston’s NBA journey is far from over. With the 2021-22 season roughly a month away, the Michigan State product is ready to show what he can do at the pro level.
Winston was undoubtedly one of the best guards in the country when he was at Michigan State, winning Big Ten Player of the Year in 2019. He was then selected by the Oklahoma City Thunder with the 53rd pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. His draft rights were then quickly traded to the Washington Wizards.
The Wizards gave Winston some playing time as a rookie, but it was tough to find minutes in a backcourt that featured two of the best guards in the game in Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook.
Although his role wasn’t that significant during the 2020-21 season, Winston has found himself a place to call home in the nation's capital. In late August, he re-signed with the Wizards on a two-way contract.
With the 2021-22 season roughly a month away, The Spun caught up with Winston to discuss his outlook for Year 2, what he has learned thus far in the NBA, his thoughts on the NIL rule and much more.
The Spun: You recently signed with the Washington Wizards on a two-way deal. Why was that the right move for you?
Cassius Winston: I think the franchise has been very good to me, supporting me, wanting to give me an opportunity. They’ve seen me put the work in and things like that. Hopefully, that’ll open up an opportunity for me to get out there and play. I love D.C. and I love what we got going on, so it was an easy decision to come back.
The Spun: Last season was tough for G-League players because of COVID-19. What are you hoping you’ll be able to show in the G-League and on the Wizards' main roster?
CW: I hope it opens up those opportunities for me to show what I can do. I want to have an actual G-League season and have a chance to play on the main team. I got to keep improving my game and help the team win, whichever team it is.
The Spun: Do you have any goals for the 2021-22 NBA season?
CW: I want to be in the rotation, that’s my goal. I want to be a player who’s in the rotation, makes plays and helps the team win games. If I can do that, I can continue to improve from there.
The Spun: What were you able to learn from Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook last season?
CW: A lot of things. I was around some really good veterans who want to teach you, guide you and make you get better. Those two were great to me. Being able to pick their brain about anything - time and situation of the game, stuff outside of basketball - is great for me.
The Spun: You were extremely popular during your time at Michigan State. When you see these NIL deals getting done, do you ever think “They couldn’t have done that earlier?”
CW: For sure. If they just did it a year earlier, that would’ve been cool with me [laughing]. I think it’s a good rule. They have to figure some things out with this new era, but they’re going in the right direction.
The Spun: Do you have a favorite moment from your time at Michigan State?
CW: That’s tough. Going to the Final Four was great - beating Duke was a good one. My last game there was another one. Winning a Big Ten championship is something I’ll remember for a long time as well.
The Spun: What would be the recruiting pitch for someone deciding between Michigan and Michigan State?
CW: I would say going to Michigan State is a place where you can learn how to bring it every single day. There’s no other way to do it, you need to bring your A game every single day. If Coach Izzo can bring that out of you, it’ll take your game to the next level. It’s a challenge, but if you can get through that, you can make it anywhere.
The Spun: How excited are you to play in front of full crowds again?
CW: I’m excited, I’m excited. I remember watching NBA games when I was little and seeing those crazy atmospheres. I want to see it from the other side now. I want to put on a show for the fans and give them something to root for.
The Spun: Washington revamped its coaching staff in the offseason. Have you been able to interact with the new staff and get a feel for what they expect from the team?
CW: We’ve been here working together and going through concepts. We’re trying to win, that’s the goal. We’re trying to be a playoff team. Everybody has bought into the culture and that’s why we’re already working out together.
The Spun: Is there one area of your game that you’re trying to improve?
CW: I think I spent a lot of time this offseason getting stronger, getting my body to that point where I can get to my spots better. I also want to get more consistent with my shots. I need to knock down shots to give some of our guys more space.
The Spun: What does Cassius Winston like to do during his free time?
CW: I’m big on family. I talk to my family and go out to eat with them. That’s probably one of my favorite things to do. I love to watch movies, play video games and go to arcades. I spend my free time doing exactly what I want to do at any moment.
The Spun: Do you have a favorite show or movie?
CW: My favorite movie of all time is "Shrek." I can watch "Shrek" at any point. So either that or the "Dark Knight" trilogy.
The Spun: What would be your advice for this year’s rookie class?
CW: Just embrace it and enjoy every part of this journey, the ups, the downs. No matter how you start, there’ll be a lot of ups and downs. Embrace the grind and continue to work on your game.
The Spun: How would describe your basketball career thus far, and where do you hope to be in 3-5 years from now?
CW: My basketball career has been a journey. I’m just rolling with it, constantly getting better and taking advantage of my opportunities. I hope that in four or five years from now, I’ll be even better and be one of those names in the league that every night has a role on the team. I’m looking forward to improving each year, and I like my chances with that.
It wasn't until Winston's second season with the Spartans that he became a household name at the collegiate level. Perhaps we'll see a similar leap from Winston at the pro level in the next year or so.
Winston always had the IQ and creativity to play a role on the Wizards. Now, he'll finally have a chance to show what he can do in the Wizards' rotation.
You can read more of our interviews with athletes or media stars here.