Big Ten POY Winston returning to MSU

Cassius Winston, the Big Ten's 2018 Player of the Year, will be back for his senior season at Michigan State, the school announced Friday afternoon.

Winston led the Spartans to a Final Four berth this past season while averaging 18.8 points and 7.5 assists per game. Head coach Tom Izzo said he encouraged the veteran point guard to explore his NBA options, but Winston said through a release from the school this week that he felt he still has more to accomplish before leaving East Lansing.

"It was surreal to be compared to some of the all-time great Spartans during the tournament, because in my mind I still have something left to prove," said Winston, who was ranked No. 78 on ESPN's Top 100 draft rankings list. "Those goals will motivate me throughout the offseason. It will always be my goal to play in the NBA, but that's a dream that can wait a year."

Izzo said his relationship with Winston has grown "to another level" thanks to the discussions they had about his future in the weeks after Michigan State's trip to the Final Four. Winston's return will help cement the Spartans' status as a favorite to repeat as Big Ten champions in 2019 and compete for a national championship. Michigan State was ranked as the No. 1 team in the country in a "way-too-early" Top 25 on ESPN.com earlier this month.

Next year's team will likely be without forward Nick Ward, who announced Friday he plans to enter the NBA draft. New NCAA rules allow Ward to change his mind and retain his final season of college eligibility if he reverses course before the end of May. Ward is not ranked on ESPN's Top 100.

A statement from Ward released by the school Friday makes it seem unlikely that he'll be back in 2019.

"After talking things over with my parents and Coach Izzo and the staff at Michigan State, I've decided to take the next step in my career and enter my name for the NBA draft," Ward said. "I've learned so much at Michigan State and am thankful to the coaches and my teammates for helping me become a better player and a better person and reach a lifelong goal of getting to a Final Four. Based on the feedback I got last year and discussions with Coach Izzo, I'm ready for this challenge and look forward to this next chapter."