EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) —  Big Ten Player Of The Year could be a Spartan.

 

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN – FEBRUARY 24: Cassius Winston #5 of the Michigan State Spartans takes a shot over Zavier Simpson #3 of the Michigan Wolverines during the second half at Crisler Arena on February 24, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan State won the game 77-70.(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

 

Cassius Winston is a reflection of his parents and Michigan State is reaping the benefits.

The point guard plays and sounds like his soft-spoken father, Reg. The junior controls the tempo, speeding it up at times and taking it slow at others, while not saying much to anyone.

 

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN – FEBRUARY 24: Cassius Winston #5 of the Michigan State Spartans talks with head coach Tom Izzo while playing the Michigan Wolverines at Crisler Arena on February 24, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan State won the game 77-70. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

 

“I definitely got that from my dad,” Winston said. “Cool, calm and collected.”

He is driven for success like his mother, Wendi. He aims for accomplishments on annual lists — including being an All-America player and making it to the Final Four this year — and his mother holds him accountable.

 

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN – FEBRUARY 24: Cassius Winston #5 and Kenny Goins #25 of the Michigan State Spartans react after a 77-70 win over the Michigan Wolverines at Crisler Arena on February 24, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

 

“She has always made me write down my goals and chase them,” Winston said.

Clearly, the combination of traits is working.

 

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN – FEBRUARY 24: Cassius Winston #5 of the Michigan State Spartans and head coach Tom Izzo react while playing the Michigan Wolverines at Crisler Arena on February 24, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan State won the game 77-70. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

 

Winston has developed into a player of the year candidate, leading the sixth-ranked Spartans (23-5, 14-3 Big Ten) as they contend for a Big Ten title and perhaps top seeding in the NCAA Tournament while two of their top players are injured. They are tied with No. 14 Purdue for first place entering their game at Indiana (14-14, 5-12) on Saturday.

Winston is the only Division I player, as of Wednesday, averaging at least 19 points and seven assists while connecting on 40-plus percent of 3-point attempts. And, he’s coming off perhaps his best performance. He scored 27 points and had eight assists to lead Michigan State to a 77-70 win over rival Michigan on the road.

 

“We’ve had a lot of point guards come into this building,” Wolverines coach John Beilein said. “I’ve coached some great ones. That was as good a performance as you’re going to see.”

Winston was named the Big Ten player of the week after averaging 27.5 points, eight assists and 3.5 rebounds while making half of his 3-point shots in wins over then-No. 7 Michigan and Rutgers. He has joined three players in conference history to earn the honor at least five times in a season, putting him in an elite class with Purdue’s Glenn Robinson and Caleb Swanigan along with Ohio State’s Evan Turner.

 

PHOENIX, AZ – DECEMBER 13: Phoenix Suns new head coach, Scott Skiles, addresses a press conference 13 December 1999 in Phoenix. Skiles succeeds Danny Ainge as head coach following Ainge’s announcement that he would resign the position to spend more time with his family. Skiles had been Ainge’s top assistant for three years. (Photo credit should read MIKE FIALA/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Just four players in Michigan State history have scored 1,2000 points and had 600 in a career: 2016 national player of the year Denzel Valentine, 2000 national champion Mateen Cleaves and 1986 Big Ten player of the year Scott Skiles.

“I never thought he could become what he is becoming,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “And, I still think he still has a big ceiling of where he can get. He has changed his body a lot.”

 

EAST LANSING, MI – FEBRUARY 20: Matt McQuaid #20 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates his three-point basket in the second half with teammate Cassius Winston #5 of the Michigan State Spartans against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Breslin Center on February 20, 2019 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

 

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Detroiter has reshaped his physique, making more mature decisions than he used to for snacks and meals.

“His pregame meal used to be Starburst and Hot Cheetos,” his mother recalled.

 

LOUISVILLE, KY – NOVEMBER 27: Tom Izzo the head coach of the Michigan State Spartans gives instructions to Cassius Winston #5 against the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on November 27, 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

 

After laughing, her son said that is partly true.

“I high school, I used to eat a pack of Starburst before every game,” Winston said sheepishly. “Looking back, it was probably not the best idea. I didn’t eat Hot Cheetos before every game, but I loved them and ate them a lot.

“I made a big transformation when I got here.”

He has substituted pasta and salad for his pregame meal these days, helping him properly fuel up to play all 40 minutes of a game, as he did against the Wolverines.

 

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 09: Miles Bridges #22 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates after scoring against the Penn State Nittany Lions in the second half during the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Verizon Center on March 9, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

 

Winston has never been the tallest, quickest or most athletic player on the court and yet that hasn’t stymied him. He won Michigan’s Mr. Basketball award in 2016 and led the University of Detroit Jesuit High School to a state championship. He has become a college star after being a role player in his first two seasons in college when former teammate and Charlotte Hornets rookie Miles Bridges led the way.

“He isn’t tall and doesn’t jump out of the gym, so he has had to learn angles, tricks of the trade and to be crafty,” Reg Winston said. “He’s learned how to score with finger rolls, shots high off the glass and floaters. You don’t have to be faster than everyone. You have to play at your own pace. It’s sort of a blessing.”

 

EAST LANSING, MICHIGAN – JANUARY 08: Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans talks with Cassius Winston #5 while playing the Purdue Boilermakers at Breslin Center on January 08, 2019 in East Lansing, Michigan. Michigan State won the game 77-59. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

 

The Spartans were thankful he could do more than just make 3-point shots against the Wolverines because he didn’t make one shot beyond the arc. He was 7 of 13, making an assortment of shots mostly in and around the lane, 0 of 3 on 3-pointers and 13 of 14 at the line while playing every minute against a defense stacked to stop him.

The performance may have pushed him one step closer to one of his goals, winning Big Ten player of the year honors.

 

TULSA, OK – MARCH 19: Miles Bridges #22 and Cassius Winston #5 of the Michigan State Spartans console each other late in their loss to the Kansas Jayhawks during the second round of the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at BOK Center on March 19, 2017 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)

 

It was one of the accomplishments he cited in a group text with his mother and father before the season started.

“He was required by a teacher in high school to write down the things he wanted to accomplish,” Wendi Winston recalled. “That’s what kind of started it and he has adopted that.”

His mother, alas, has something to do with that.

 

NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 03: Miles Bridges #22 (L), Cassius Winston #5 and head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans have a conversation in the first half during semifinals of the Big 10 Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 3, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

 

“Cassius is a kid who has always made a list of the things that he wants to accomplish and I’ve taken it upon myself to make sure we’re working toward the lists,” she said. “You can have a great and that’s awesome. But if our goal is to be player of the year, then we’re going to celebrate for a minute then get back to work. I feel like our work is never done.”

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