Spartan star Cassius Winston’s surprise appearance shocks Cardinal Mooney players

Cassius Winston, bottom right, shocked the Cardinal Mooney basketball players when he appeared on their screens at a virtual team meeting. Winston’s Michigan State Spartans and Mooney shared a similar fate when their seasons were prematurely shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic. Winston told them: “In the pursuit of greatness, that’s where you will find your memories.” (Photo provided by Mike McAndrews)

Former U of D Jesuit standout encourages student-athletes as MHSAA officially cancels remainder of winter, spring seasons

MARINE CITY — At 3 o’clock in the afternoon on March 12, the Michigan High School Athletic Association announced that sports had been “suspended immediately and indefinitely” because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Three Catholic League teams were at the semi-final stage in ice hockey: Novi Detroit Catholic Central, Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice and Riverview Gabriel Richard in respective Divisions 1, 2 and 3.

Catholic Central swimmers were anticipating the Division 1 swim and dive finals two days later.

Four CHSL girls basketball teams were scheduled for regional championship contests, and 10 boys squads had district championships to play for.

Three weeks later, on April 3, the MHSAA made its decision definite, canceling the remainder of winter sports and all spring sports considering Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s announcement a day earlier to close school buildings for the remainder of the academic year.

MHSAA executive director Mark Uyl’s sentiments reflected what all those connected to high school sports were feeling. 

“We are heartbroken to not be able to provide these opportunities for Michigan’s student-athletes, and especially seniors.” Uyl said. “But safety always must come first ... we must all do our part to slow the spread of this virus.”

Mike McAndrews just finished his 22nd year coaching boys basketball at Cardinal Mooney. “I thought we could make a deep run in the state tournament,” he said. The Cardinals (13-6), who made it to the CHSL C-D finals, were eyeing a district championship against Peck at the time of the suspension in March.

“I feel bad for the (nine) seniors,” McAndrews said. “So much has been taken from them. Baseball, track (and other spring sports), the prom, graduation day. All the memories. I had the idea of getting them all together remotely, for a pseudo-banquet, so they could see each other and talk.”

He had another idea, maybe a little crazy one.

“I was swinging for the fences,” McAndrews said.

He called Pat Donnelly, coach of Detroit U-D Jesuit, about what he thought of the possibility of Michigan State University standout Cassius Winston talking to his team.

Winston was a four-year starter for Donnelly, leading the Cubs to three Class A finals, the third time winning the 2016 championship, 69-49, over North Farmington. Winston scored 31 points. 

At Michigan State, Winston was noted for his great passing ability and exceptional vision combined with very good ball skills. He broke into the starting lineup as a sophomore. He was Big Ten Player of the Year in 2019, two years named All Big Ten first team, and for two years named to All American second team.

“His season had something in common with ours,” McAndrews said. “The Spartans’ quest for a national championship was sidelined by the virus as was our run in the state tourney.”

McAndrews opened the team meeting at about 6 p.m. on Friday, April 3. Ten minutes later, Winston appeared on everyone’s screens.

“You should have seen the players’ faces,” McAndrews said. “They were in shock.”

Winston told the players to take pride in their pursuit of a championship, according to McAndrews, and that their memories will come from the hard work they did on the court.

“In the pursuit of greatness, that’s where you will find your memories,” Winston said. 

There was another connection between Winston and two brothers on the Cardinal Mooney squad. In November, Winston’s brother, Zach, died in Albion, where he was attending college, and the brothers on the Cardinal Mooney roster lost their father just before the season started.

McAndrews asked Winston where he found the strength to get through the tragedy.

“From everybody,” Winston said. “You can’t carry a burden like this by yourself. It’s unbelievable.”

About the Spartan star’s willingness to do this favor, Donnelly said, “That’s just who he is. He’s there for everyone. He’s a better human being than he is a basketball player.”

About Donnelly, McAndrews said, “Pat exemplifies why I think the Catholic League is the best in the state. When a coach of a perennial Class A powerhouse goes out of his way to help a Class D team, that’s special. That shows the unity, the brotherhood, in the Catholic League.”

McAndrews added: “You know, for as long as I have been coaching, and for as long as I might be coaching in the future, this will be the best sports banquet I’ll ever have.”

Contact Don Horkey at [email protected].