Michigan State star Cassius Winston returning for senior season, but Spartans' Nick Ward leaving for NBA Draft

Michigan State fans got some good news and some bad news Friday. First the good news. Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston, Sparty's stellar point guard who propelled Michigan State to the Final Four this March, announced he's coming back for his senior season. 

But the bad news is that Nick Ward, the Spartans' reliable big man, is not returning to school. Ward announced that he's signed with an agent and intends to end his Michigan State career after a solid junior campaign.

"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."

Ward went through the NBA Draft process last year but ultimately elected to come back for another year. As a junior in 2018-19, he posted averages of 12.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game, all career lows while starting only 21 games as he battled injuries off and on.

With Winston returning and Ward's talented counterpart Xavier Tillman returning, Michigan State is set up for immediate success again in 2019. Winston may open the season as the favorite to win National Player of the Year. Coming off a 32-win season in which they came up just shy of a national title game appearance, Winston says he has more to prove.

"Playing in the NBA has always been my dream. But I have other dreams as well," Winston said. "This was an incredible season with an amazing group of teammates, but I believe there is still more to accomplish. From the moment the season ended, I started thinking about what else I could do and how I could improve, to help us reach the goals we want to reach. 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. 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."

Ward's departure is a significant blow for a team that was the early No. 1 team in the CBS Sports Top 25 (and 1), but it is not an insurmountable loss with Tillman returning and a pair of talented power forwards, Malik Hall and Julius Marble, set to enroll as freshmen this summer.

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