Cassius Winston is already in elite company.

The crafty point guard is among the very few to win Big Ten player of the year honors and earn a spot on The Associated Press All-America team. And if he can help the Spartans win two more games, he will join Magic Johnson and Mateen Cleaves as the school’s national championship-winning point guards, too.

“There’s room at the table for Cassius and I’ll even pull the chair out for him personally,” Cleaves told the AP on Wednesday, exactly 19 years after he led Michigan State to its second national title . “I’m excited for him and I think he deserves it. Having won it, I know how it feels and it gets even better as you get older. No matter what, no one can take that away from you and you’re a staple in college basketball for the rest of your life.”

FILE - In this March 29, 2019, file photo, Michigan State guard Cassius Winston (5) puts his arm around coach Tom Izzo following the team's 80-63 win over LSU in an NCAA men's college basketball tournament East Region semifinal, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
FILE – In this March 29, 2019, file photo, Michigan State guard Cassius Winston (5) puts his arm around coach Tom Izzo following the team’s 80-63 win over LSU in an NCAA men’s college basketball tournament East Region semifinal, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

The second-seeded Spartans will play third-seeded Texas Tech on Saturday night in the Final Four, hoping to advance and face either Virginia or Auburn in the title game.

Johnson, a Hall of Famer, lifted the Spartans to a national championship in 1979 and Cleaves did in 2000. Winston acknowledged it would mean a lot to him to join the duo in Michigan State lore.

“Those are the greats, definitely, got to be top two,” he said. “So just to be up there with those guys, to get a national championship for this program, that’s something you can’t replace.”

FILE - In this Feb. 2, 2019, file photo, Michigan State's Cassius Winston (5) shoots past Indiana's Devonte Green, right, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis, File)
FILE – In this Feb. 2, 2019, file photo, Michigan State’s Cassius Winston (5) shoots past Indiana’s Devonte Green, right, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis, File)

The Spartans went into the season needing to replace Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson after they entered the NBA draft as underclassmen. Michigan State also bid farewell to a trio of role-playing seniors.

Then they lost Joshua Langford in December to a season-ending ankle injury, Nick Ward for a stretch of games late in the season with a broken hand and Kyle Ahrens was in and out of the lineup with a back injury before hurting his left ankle in the Big Ten Tournament.

Coach Tom Izzo, his staff and the team overcame the setbacks. Losing Winston would likely have proven impossible.

FILE - In this Feb. 20, 2019, file photo, Michigan State guard Cassius Winston drives to the basket during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Rutgers, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)
FILE – In this Feb. 20, 2019, file photo, Michigan State guard Cassius Winston drives to the basket during the second half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Rutgers, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

Winston is averaging 37.5 minutes during the NCAA Tournament. He was named Most Outstanding Player in the East Region after averaging 19 points and 7.8 assists, including a 20-point, 10-assist performance in a win over top-seeded Duke . He was the only Division I basketball player this season to average 18 or more points per game, at least seven assists and shoot at least 40% from the 3-point line.

Since the 1992-93 season, Winston is one of just six players from the top six conferences to average at least 18 points and seven assists. The short list includes players such as former Michigan State star Denzel Valentine, Trae Young at Oklahoma last year and Damon Stoudamire more than two decades ago at Arizona.

Winston’s success is not surprising to those who watched him grow up in the Motor City, playing with and against top competition at University of Detroit Jesuit and for The Family on the AAU circuit. Don’t be fooled by his 6-foot-1, 185-pound frame.

Michigan State guard Cassius Winston holds up the NCAA men's East Regional trophy as he celebrates with his team after defeating Duke in a college basketball game in Washington, Sunday, March 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Michigan State guard Cassius Winston holds up the NCAA men’s East Regional trophy as he celebrates with his team after defeating Duke in a college basketball game in Washington, Sunday, March 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

“If you just look at his body, you would never think he’s as physical as he is,” said Brandon Boe Neely, who coached Winston from the age of 7 through high school for The Family. “I had three refs in three states one year tell me they’ve never seen a kid that physical after he got hit so hard kids were knocking his headband off.”

Winston has worn a headband since he was in the second grade and his dad traces the tradition to his son’s affection for former NBA player Paul Piece.

Winston creates space with slick ball handling, changing speeds and using angles that he sees before his opponents do. His bag of tricks sets him up for an array of jumpers, floaters runners and passes.

Michigan State guard Cassius Winston (5) begins to celebrate with members of his team after defeating Duke in a NCAA men's East Regional final college basketball game in Washington, Sunday, March 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Michigan State guard Cassius Winston (5) begins to celebrate with members of his team after defeating Duke in a NCAA men’s East Regional final college basketball game in Washington, Sunday, March 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The toughest test of his career might be up next: The Red Raiders are one of college basketball’s best defensive teams.

“I’m sure they’re going to trap and try to take Cassius out of a lot of things,” Izzo said. “Maybe they will, but if they do they’ll do something that not many other teams have done.”

Just four other Spartans have done what Winston has already done, being named All-America and Big Ten player of the year since the conference created the award after Johnson’s college career: Shawn Respert, Cleaves, Draymond Green and Valentine.

Michigan State guard Cassius Winston (5) is hugged by teammate forward Aaron Henry (11) after defeating Duke in an NCAA men's East Regional final college basketball game in Washington, Sunday, March 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Michigan State guard Cassius Winston (5) is hugged by teammate forward Aaron Henry (11) after defeating Duke in an NCAA men’s East Regional final college basketball game in Washington, Sunday, March 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The truly coveted group, though, includes just Johnson and Cleaves.

“Cassius has done enough to set himself in that same footprint with those guys,” Izzo said.

___

Michigan State guard Cassius Winston (5) reacts to scoring on Duke during the first half of an NCAA men's East Regional final college basketball game in Washington, Sunday, March 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Michigan State guard Cassius Winston (5) reacts to scoring on Duke during the first half of an NCAA men’s East Regional final college basketball game in Washington, Sunday, March 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Michigan State guard Cassius Winston (5) arrives to takes his seat for an NCAA men's college basketball individual news conference in Washington, Saturday, March 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Michigan State guard Cassius Winston (5) arrives to takes his seat for an NCAA men’s college basketball individual news conference in Washington, Saturday, March 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Michigan State guard Matt McQuaid, left, guard Cassius Winston, forward Aaron Henry, forward Xavier Tillman and forward Kenny Goins walk to an NCAA men's college basketball individual news conferences in Washington, Saturday, March 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Michigan State guard Matt McQuaid, left, guard Cassius Winston, forward Aaron Henry, forward Xavier Tillman and forward Kenny Goins walk to an NCAA men’s college basketball individual news conferences in Washington, Saturday, March 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
 Michigan State guard Cassius Winston shoots over LSU forward Emmitt Williams (24) during the first half of an East Regional semifinal in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Friday, March 29, 2019, in Washington.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Michigan State guard Cassius Winston shoots over LSU forward Emmitt Williams (24) during the first half of an East Regional semifinal in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament Friday, March 29, 2019, in Washington.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
LSU guard Tremont Waters shoots over Michigan State guard Cassius Winston (5) during the first half of a semifinal in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament East Regional in Washington, Friday, March 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
LSU guard Tremont Waters shoots over Michigan State guard Cassius Winston (5) during the first half of a semifinal in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament East Regional in Washington, Friday, March 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Michigan State guard Cassius Winston reacts to scoring on LSU during the first half of an East Regional semifinal in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Washington, Friday, March 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Michigan State guard Cassius Winston reacts to scoring on LSU during the first half of an East Regional semifinal in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament in Washington, Friday, March 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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