Connect with us


Michigan State basketball: The impact of former players returning to campus

Michigan State is a family.



Michigan State basketball
© Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Having former Michigan State basketball players return to campus is great for the program. What kind of impact does it have?

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Hundreds of wide-eye campers spread across the Breslin Center floor. Ears perked as they hung on to every word Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo said.

It was the annual Tom Izzo Basketball Camp. Kids from across the state and sometimes even the country flocked for several days of nonstop basketball. This afternoon, these campers were in for a special guest as one of the best point guards in Michigan State history strolled onto the floor.

Izzo and Cassius Winston embraced with a hug like they were long-lost friends.

“You’re embarrassed I’m finally saying something nice about ya,” Izzo joked.

Just a few years ago, Winston and Izzo routinely shared much less kid-friendly exchanges. Now Winston was already back in town. Former players returning to East Lansing is anything but abnormal.

Michigan State is a “second home” for former players

Many programs across the country throw around the phrase of being a “family” or “brotherhood”. Very few of those programs can actually back that pitch up.

“It’s always good to come back to like a second home,” Winston told me. “Just feeling all the love and being able to come back and just have those memories.”

Winston has his fair share of memories at Michigan State, both good and bad.

As a freshman, Winston had the opportunity to play roughly 20 minutes per game, and right away displayed his impressive court vision. He dished out an average of 5.2 assists per game while averaging 6.7 points per game. Not bad for a freshman.

Anyone with eyes could see Winston had the potential to be special.

Winston would leave Michigan State with his name all over the record books and a wide collection of accolades. He finished as the career leader in assists not only at MSU but in the Big Ten. He finished with 19 awards and accolades according to Basketball Reference including a Big Ten Player of the Year trophy and two appearances as first-team All-Big Ten.

One thing that assisted in his development was the knowledge and guidance from former players.

“Guys came back all the time, that’s just the tradition at MSU,” Winston said. “Come back and try to spread something down so that the Spartan Legacy can just continue to grow.”

Winston spent four years learning from former Spartans like Draymond Green, Travis Walton, Gary Harris, and more. Now he has the opportunity to do the same.

An opportunity to learn

“It’s always great getting to see guys that have been through the program,” junior guard Jaden Akins said. “They always have stories and wisdom to share with us.”

College basketball is something that can be nearly impossible to prepare for, especially at Michigan State. So having the opportunity to hear from guys who have been in their shoes before is invaluable for current players.

“They have been through a lot of the similar things that we have,” Akins said. “So it’s good to have them for a point of reference and just good to see them come back and get the love that they deserve.”

In the era of the transfer portal, Michigan State basketball has been affected significantly less than most other schools. Part of that reason is the culture and the “Spartan Family.” It truly is a family. That type of bond just isn’t available at other schools.

The “Spartan Family” increases the draw to Michigan State basketball

A true family culture is rare, and the Michigan State coaching staff knows it. It also can be enticing to recruits.

“They definitely talked about how former players come back and how it’s just one big family that lasts a lifetime,” Akins said about his recruitment. Not only did coaches tell him about it, but he also got a first-hand chance to see it at “Grind Week.”

In September of 2021, MSU basketball hosted its first-ever “Grind Week.” Dozens of former Spartans flocked to East Lansing for a week of activities including lots of basketball and attending a Michigan State football game.

Some of the players that returned were Draymond Green, Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes, Jaren Jackson Jr., Xavier Tillman, Travis Trice, Derrick Nix, and plenty more.

Current players had the opportunity to learn and compete with the former Spartans.

Lots of coaches try to sell a “family culture” but not many have the actions to back it up.

It’s safe to say the Spartan Family is something special.