Thu, 23/03/23, 17:49
"I'm not at the top of my game yet".
Cassius „Cash“ Winston is the second European rookie in the FCBB team next to Freddie Gillespie and he has been the energizer bunny of the Bayern basketball team at the point guard position. The Detroit native has just turned 25 and is experiencing his first adventure outside the States in the EuroLeague, where he is the FCBB's top scorer (11.1 ppg) as he is also in the BBL (14.9 ppg).
We talked to Cash about his tough as well as very friendly relationship with Andrea, about his wild college days with Michigan State ("Spartan Dawgs for life!") and also about the far too early death of his brother.
The interview comes from the most recent FCBB podcast OPEN COURT.
Cash, we're talking right after practice today. How does your body feel at this point in the season with almost 60 games now played?
CASSIUS WINSTON: "It's already tough right now, it's been a lot of games, a lot of training and we all feel that. But we've had a good week, we'll use it to get fit and get back out there."
It's your first season in Europe - can you compare this tough schedule to anything you've experienced before?
"No, not at all. It's completely different. Just the traveling, the practices, the number of games, how physical the games are . . . it's completely different than anything I've done before. This is the first time I've experienced it like this."
Did the physical way basketball is played here in Europe surprise you?
"Of course you hear about it beforehand - but you don't know really and really get it until you're here and on the floor. You see these guys playing so physically, so fast, day in and day out, playing hard every game - you have to get used to that."
What do you do on your rare days off?
"It depends on how I'm feeling. Some days I go out to dinner with the guys, Izzy Bonga, Freddie Gillespie; other days I stay home and just use the day to lay around - I don't get that chance that often."
"The fridge here is so small!“
Do you already know your way around Munich?
"I would say I get to some places pretty well but I'm still learning. It's a big city with a lot going on."
Was there anything about the way of life here that surprised you when you came here? Even a culture shock?
"It's a bit more comfortable here. Munich is a great city, especially for me who is in Europe for the first time. It's easy to find your way around, talk to people, find the things you need. So it wasn't such a huge adjustment. But it's all a little slower, people are more relaxed, minding their own business, it's a little different than over there."
What is the biggest difference for you compared to life in the U.S.?
"Everything is new to me here; I have to be a little more careful, double-check, know what I'm saying. At home, everything is just in the flow, I know what I need. For example, in the supermarket: At home, I go in, know where things are, and get that. Here, I have to read and check everything twice, which makes everything a little slower."
When we talked to Freddie, he told us that he was confused because everything is smaller here, for example, the supermarkets . . .
"Absolutely! You go shopping for a day because even the fridge is so small! It's just different."
Are you as big a fan of butter pretzels as Freddie is?
Probably not so big, no.
He started out as a football player and then became a basketball player. What was that like for you?
"I've always played basketball since I was three or four years old. It was my first sport and I've played it ever since."
You were named by your parents after Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammed Ali. Was there a connection to boxing?
"No, not at all. It's just a great name. He was a great person, a great athlete, and that was something my parents thought about when they picked my name. He's the greatest, and they wanted me to be a great, too."
"Basketball is also an escape from reality".
You grew up in Detroit when the Pistons were really good. Were you also a Pistons fan?
"A huge Pistons fan! Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince . . . All those guys, that was the best team ever put together in my eyes. I'm still a huge Pistons fan."
You were six years old when they won the title . . .
"Yes, still very young, but I remember it well. The city really blossomed, everyone went crazy. Bringing a title to Detroit is not easy, the fact that they were able to do it immortalizes them in our history."
How big is basketball in Detroit compared to the other sports?
"Probably the biggest sport. Football and basketball are the big sports, something people cling to there. People try to make their situation a little better with it, it's also an escape from reality. So, no matter where you go, there's going to be people everywhere playing basketball or football, trying to be the best they can be."
Did you also play football?
Three months - then it got cold outside, and all the hits . . . That's when I said: 'Okay, I guess that's not my thing, I'll stick to basketball.'"
Otherwise, what was it like growing up in Detroit?
"It was good. If you're from Detroit, it's the best city in the world for you - if you're not from there, you probably don't understand it. It helped me be who I am today: my mindset, a certain toughness. My family, my grandparents, everybody was in the city. I love coming from Detroit, I take that with me everywhere and I'm proud of it."
How important were sports in your family?
"Very important. Basketball was one of those things that brought us together, we all love it. It was something we could do together and enjoy. We went to the gym together and had fun."
"Zach had personality"
Your younger brother Zachary passed away three and a half years ago. How do you remember him?
"Zach is one of the people I loved most in this world. My little brother. I watched over him a lot, made sure everything was okay. If you saw us, you knew how close we were, we did everything together. He was a part of us, he's a part of me today. He was always in a good mood, joking with us and making sure we laughed. He always had interesting topics that we talked about. He just had personality."
The day after his death, you played again. How did this decision come about?
"There was a lot going on; it's getting hard to remember everything that was going on then. It was my escape. Basketball is not related to real life for me. When I go on the court, that's all that matters. Whenever there's something difficult, or even something good, my time on the floor is a break. So I had to get out. It was very emotional in our family, everyone was grieving. That was my way of giving my family a break, to think about something else for 40 minutes, because our problems were waiting for us anyway."
You always remember him with a special handshake before the game, right?
"Yeah, that's how I make sure he knows he's here with me, on the court with me. I'm doing this thing that I love, that we shared, that's special. I notice him. Think about him for a second, make sure he thinks about me for a second: 'All good? All is well! Get out, let's do something!' I check into the game with him. He'll always be my brother."
When did you first realize you were talented enough to turn pro?
"In my head, that was always my plan. When I was little, I always said I wanted to go to the NBA, to go pro. That was always my goal, that's where I wanted to go. It became realistic my sophomore year in college when people realized: 'He's got something.' But I actually knew it since I was a baby."
"Tough love“ with Coach Trinchieri
What convinced you to go to Michigan State University?
"They convinced me. They recruited me, Coach Izzo, players that were there before like Denzel Valentine (now Utah Jazz). The whole environment, what they told me about the style of play, the mentality. But the most important thing was how they treated my family. When I was there, my brothers could walk around without me and they were treated like they were me, part of the MSU family. And that was even before I played there. If they needed something, they could just go up to Coach and ask him, and he treated them like I was asking him myself. I've always respected that a lot, that people would look out for my family like that. That shows a lot about the character of the people who work there. That's when it was clear I was going there, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made."
Coach Izzo is a legend in college basketball who has shaped many careers and has been very successful. How would you describe working with him?
"It's interesting. He's a legend, and not without reason. He's very respected, is a great coach, he pushes his players to do the best they can. There are high expectations of you when you go there, you grow up quickly. When you're 18 or 19, you think you know everything - and then you get into a situation that shows you that's not the case, with a coach who pushes you. You have to navigate through that. But if you can do that, you're very grateful for the experience."
He is described as a tough dog. Can you compare that with Andrea Trinchieri?
"It is a little bit similar. It's a similar approach, with tough love. But once you understand they want what's best for you, it's easy to embrace that."
From the outside, it looks like Coach Trinchieri has a lot of communication with you. How would you describe your relationship?
"I'm glad you guys noticed it too! It's growing. You have to understand where he's coming from and what he wants. He tells me that he wants the best for me, wants to push me and he's going to give me an opportunity to play at this level. And that's all I can ask for. It's another situation where someone trusts me and wants me to go out there and get better - and I want that, so I understand that. And once you understand that, it only gets better."
Is it the case that you are the coach's extended arm and that's why you are often criticized the most?
"Yes, absolutely. I'm the front line, the guy who holds everything together. My voice is probably the one you hear the most in the Audi Dome. So, if there's a message that needs to be delivered, it's usually going to be through me. Point guards have always had to live up to a high standard, that comes with the position and I was signed to play that position."
You're the one who initiates plays, directs teammates. Has it always been like that?
"No, it took time. I've been playing for a long time and I have to thank all the coaches who have taught me everything along the way from student basketball in the AAU to now. Different tips, lots of little pointers, and I have to see what I take from that into my game to get better."
"Sofas burned on campus"
Did you have an idol, a player as a role model?
"Growing up, my favorite player was Paul Pierce; also Chanuncey Billups. The way they played, created plays for themselves and others, I always admired that."
You had a lot of success in college: two years you were in the second round with MSU, then the third year you were in the Final Four. What do you remember from that time?
"Just how good we were as a team. We found the perfect balance, it didn't matter who we were playing, we just took care of us. That was our mindset, we built that during that time. We focused on us, that was all we needed."
For those of you who aren't as familiar with college basketball: Can you explain what's so special about March Madness?
"All the teams are at the peak of their year - and anything can happen! You can play anybody, anywhere in the country. That's when the big games happen, and the only thing that matters is the game you're in. The fans know that, the coaches know that, the players know that - this is the best basketball time of the year."
What is it like on campus during this time?
"It's crazy! We came back from the Final Four, having won the quarterfinals before, and there were I don't know how many people sitting in the gym; there were couches on fire on campus, the bars were packed, it was wild. The whole university, right down to the alumni, supports you. And to have everyone rallying around that one goal is unbeatable."
That probably connects you as a team for life?
"Absolutely, we are Spartan Dawgs forever, this is my family, this is a part of my life."
"Some draw the short stick"
When you reached the Final Four in 2019, were you thinking about turning pro at the time?
"Yes, but I found I could still improve. I didn't regret coming back. Our season ended early because of Covid, but if we'd had the chance, I'm sure I would have achieved a few more of my goals."
Because of Corona, you couldn't crown your career - does that still feel like something left open?
"Yes, absolutely. We didn't have a chance, so it doesn't concern me too much - it was out of my control, I couldn't have done anything differently. You can't control the universe. But in another world, I would have liked another chance to see what we could have done in the Tournament."
At least you were able to graduate.
"Yes, I did my master's in advertising management. As I said, it was a good decision, I grew as a person. I have absolutely no regrets."
Can you imagine doing that after basketball?
"I'm still figuring out what I want to do. Right now I want to go into business, so hopefully that will help."
After college, you were drafted in the second round into the NBA. What did you learn there about the business of basketball?
"When you get to that level, it's a business. You can't deal with contingencies: At any time, an opportunity can come for you and then you have your chance. But every experience is a personal one. That's what I've learned. Some people draw the short straw, others get lucky. That's part of it."
Do you feel like you could have done something differently?
"No, that was out of my control. The opportunities I had, I took advantage of. Some things worked, some things didn't. And today I'm here, so I can't say I failed because I'm in a really good situation and I'm lucky to be here. A lot of guys never get into this situation here. It's a perspective thing."
Last year you played for the 76ers in the Summer League, but then joined the FCBB. Did anything else in Europe surprise you besides the schedule?
"As I said, you hear a lot, but some things you have to experience. The court is smaller, the game is slower. You think, 'I'm a basketball player, they're playing basketball - it works.' But you have to make those adjustments. The staff here is great, everyone around it cares and supports me, through ups and downs."
Does it take longer to make that adjustment as a point guard?
"Absolutely, no question about it. You have to understand how to read the game, when to attack. The windows close super fast, so you have to hone your instincts - you have to learn that all at once. Your job is to control the game, so you have to learn, sometimes take it and just keep going."
"I still have to learn and grow"
What do you think about the level of the EuroLeague?
"What a league! Great talent level, some of the best players in the world. The difference between a lot of players here and in the NBA sometimes is just opportunity. You can trade players and they would have success in the NBA, too. The difference is small. There are very talented players here."
Have any players here surprised you?
"Sure you run into a lot of talent, players I had never heard of, but who are very good. Who have played here for eight, nine seasons, real veterans who understand the game, know when to score. There are players like that all over the place here."
Can you think of any players?
"Yeah, Lorenzo Brown from Maccabi. Sure, everyone tells you he's good, but then you go out and realize how easy the game is for him. It's a whole other level."
Are you more of an NBA player or a Euroleague player?
"I think I can fit in anywhere. I can dribble, pass, shoot. That should fit anywhere. I think I've had success in the NBA, I think I've had success here, and if I'm in Europe for a few more years, it'll be even easier for me."
Do you feel that you have arrived by now?
"Yes, but I don't think you get that experience within a year. I feel good, but I'm not at the top of my game yet. I still have to learn and grow, understand things. But if I keep doing this, it will work out."
Are there specific areas you want to improve in?
"I think my decision-making, my timing, when to be where - that only comes through experience, there's no shortcut. Just seeing that is not enough, you have to try it out. Those are such little things that you just have to experience in the game."
Do you analyze your games afterwards or is there no time for that?
"I'm trying. The coaches do a great job with the videos and in practice. You don't learn everything in the game, you have to look at yourself and figure out where it didn't work and what works. It's a mix of everything.
A month ago you won your first title with the cup - how was the party afterwards?
"Very nice, very nice. We came back from Oldenburg and everyone was there, coaches, the office, you feel this energy and see how many people are actually working here. Sure, we work as a team, but there are so many people contributing. The fact that everyone was there celebrating, that energy - that was a cool time."