Maccabi Tel Aviv heads to Bayern Munich shorthanded for a critical Euroleague Gameday 11 matchup on Friday night. The yellow-and-blue who enter the contest with a 5-5 record have yet to win away from home this season as Oded Katash’s squad will look to pick up their first road victory of the campaign.
However, Maccabi will be without two key players who both played for Bayern in the past as guard Wade Baldwin and swingman Darrun Hilliard will remain in Tel Aviv. Baldwin is nursing a slight hamstring injury and the club doesn’t want to put him at risk while Hilliard has been suspended for the team’s practice sessions in the near future as well as the game at Bayern.
The yellow-and-blue have lost the last three games that they have played in Munich but hold a 6-4 record overall in their previous meetings. Andrea Trinchieri’s squad will be led by first year guard Cassius Winston who leads the team in scoring with 10.4 points per game. The Michigan State product played with Israeli Deni Avdija on the Washington Wizards between 2020-2022 and is currently in his first season in Europe.
Just ahead of the game, Winston spoke to The Sports Rabbi about his time in the NBA, his relationship with Avdija, Michigan State and of course how the transition has been to European hoops.
“The season so far has been going pretty good and I have been making the adjustments to playing overseas. I’m working on that and it’s been going well.”
Winston, who was selected in the second round of 2020 NBA Draft by the Oklahoma City Thunder with the 53rd pick overall was subsequently traded to the Washington Wizards where he signed a two-way contract. Having played in both the NBA and The G-League, Winston decided over this past summer to make the move abroad and see how best he could hone his skills and continue his basketball career.
“It was a better opportunity for my career. The staff and coaches are giving me a chance to play a bigger role in the best competition here and it’s been good for me so far,” the guard explained.
The 24-year old grew up in Detroit where he had the opportunity to see the Pistons first hand when they won the 2004 NBA Championship which left an impression on the youngster at the time as he patterned his game after one of the leaders of that team along with another eventual champ as well.
“Chauncey Billups was huge for me as I grew up in Detroit as well as Paul Pierce so those were the guys I really looked at when I was growing up.”
Winston helped lead his high school team as a senior to the state championship and was also named “Mr. Basketball of Michigan” which led him as a 4 star recruit to Michigan State and their legendary head coach Tom Izzo where he thrived and continued to grow.
“It was great and it was a huge part of my development and growth as a person and player. Coach was really big in helping me know that you need to work hard every day and how to be successful by not taking any moments off. Michigan State was a place where you are playing big games and playing in a big environment which was incredible.”
The floor general who averaged close to 19 points and 7 assists during his Junior and Senior years with the Spartans where he also was named the 2019 Big Ten MVP was able to play in the NCAA Tournament three times and came very close to winning it all in 2019 but fell to Texas Tech in the semifinals.
“It was tough to make it that far and to come up short, knowing you can’t get it back and just be a bit short from that ultimate goal. The experience was out of this world and all of that was just something that was so cool.”
Following four years at college it was off to the NBA for Winston where he was able to share the floor with the likes of both Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook on the Wizards while also playing against top NBA all-stars in Dame Lillard, LeBron James and many others. This opportunity was not only head turning but also gave him a lesson as to where he could take his own career.
“Just to see the best players in the world, to get drafted in the NBA and share the same court with these guys is an honor in itself. You can see how much better you can get and that they started from somewhere and grew from the work that they put in to getting better. One can see how you are in comparison and you also get to see them up close and personal to the point until they figure it out which inspires you to keep working.”
Winston was also a rookie with Israeli star Deni Avdija who he was able to share a laugh or two both in the lockerroom and beyond, “Deni is a cool guy. He was silly, funny and worked hard. He goes out there and plays hard and represents the country well. He is a talented guy and we always laughed and joked around and listened to music together.”
While right now Winston’s goals are to be the best he can be with Bayern Munich while improving as a player a return to the NBA is always going to be in the back of his mind but not at any cost.
“I just become the best possible player I can be. It’s the first year in Europe and it won’t be a smooth each and every day, but I want to get better and be the best player that I can be. As for the NBA, absolutely, that’s always the goal, but whatever comes from it and my game and development is what I am going to take. The NBA is always a goal but if it’s not the best opportunity I will stay with what is.”
As for Bayern’s clash with Maccabi, Winston will have the opportunity to go up against European champion Lorenzo Brown and that is something he is relishing to do, “It’s going to be a very good matchup against an established guard and it will be tough. But we have what we need and can compete with that as we need to win as well.”