CHARLOTTE – Justise Winslow is a machine. The Houston native is here for the USBA Boys National Championships, and he’s slotted for a 30 minute Q&A session in a ballroom full of teenagers and parents looking for any kernel of knowledge from Winslow that could give them that extra edge. An hour later, and Winslow is still answering every question the kids have.
From what he thinks his NBA 2K18 rating will be when the game drops in October (78, though he thinks it should a bit higher) to who’s the hardest person he’s guarded in the NBA (Gordon Hayward), no subject is taboo for Winslow.
“[Hayward] doesn’t waste movement,” Winslow says. “He’s not a guy who will sit out there and pound the ball or do all these crossovers, he’s getting right down to what he is trying to do. There’s no wasted dribbles, no wasted movements. He’s super skilled and his game is simple in a good way. He’s not doing anything extra, you always gotta be ready.”
Then it’s off from the ballroom to the tournament floor, where he’ll be taking pictures for another hour, but his route to the MET-Rx booth – a brand he’s been using for years but only recently made formal with an official partnership – however is cluttered by kids wanting to take selfies with Winslow.
He stops, takes a couple and keeps on moving to the photo booth for more selfies, and more pictures with young players who all someday are dreaming of being the next Justise Winslow. The line to take selfies is the second biggest gathering in the entire building. The largest, of course, is LeBron James sitting down courtside to watch his sons play a game.
The photo session also runs long, as entire USBA youth teams want to take pictures with Winslow to mark this occasion. Kids want Winslow to autograph their shoes or shirts, and some kids have nothing and are left asking him to sign a Starbucks napkin. Now it’s off to the interview, as an even bigger crowd follows him up the escalator for more selfies, more questions and more autographs. This time, the crowd is so big that the MET-Rx folks have a hard time holding them off, primarily because the former Duke star stops and talks to each and every single one of them until they left.
When he gets into the interview room, he pauses for a second, then finally gets his bearings.
Winslow starts off mentioning that the shoulder he injured in January is totally healed and he’s fully cleared to start the season in October. Winslow, who only missed four games in his rookie campaign, only played in 18 last season. The shoulder injury was the first major injury in his career.
“At first it was surreal when we came to the conclusion that I needed surgery,” Winslow says. “I had never been hurt for an extended amount of time really. It was something new I was kind of nervous, not so much for the surgery but for the whole process. It was just so new to me I didn’t know what to expect in the recovery process and things like that. The process was fun, and I just treated it like any other workout. My teammates were great. They kept my spirits high. It was a blessing – and a curse – but more so a blessing.”
For Winslow, rehabbing the shoulder wasn’t tough; it was the monotony that would wear on him. Winslow would be unable after shoulder surgery to pick up a two-pound ankle-weight, something that used to be routine and an afterthought. What made it worse was watching from the sidelines Miami losing six of their next seven games after his surgery.
The former 10th overall pick was frustrated that there wasn’t a way that he could help the team due to his injury. Then something bizarre happened, the Heat went on to win 30 of the next 41 games to finish the season at 41 wins, barely missing the playoffs. Winslow, though credits the team’s resurgence in helping him get through rehab.
“I was happy for the guys cause they were putting in so much work that no one was seeing and at first it was a lot of losses,” Winslow says. “Then the tide changed. Even more than that their play and their work ethic motivated me. I was in the back doing sprints in my sling, biking in my sling. I knew I probably wasn’t going to come back this season, the time didn’t add up. But they kept me motivated to push forward.”
During the downtime, Winslow added something the Miami Heat and a few other teams had picked up from Olympic Sports: the concept of mindfulness. Mindfulness is defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, and is used as a therapeutic technique. One could see how it’d be beneficial to NBA athletes, with the rugged grind of an 82-game schedule, as anything to help keep players sharp without putting extra mileage on their bodies can be a boost.
“They (mindfulness experts) say that these videos you watch are better than going and working out because you make every shot,” Winslow says. “Watching yourself make 500 shots is almost more powerful than you going out and making them because it builds confidence.”
Another confidence booster: having your team president publically have confidence in you. Heat President Pat Riley cited Winslow’s abilities on the court as forming the backbone of the team during Miami’s season ending press conference.
“I’ve been around players like Justise Winslow for a long time,” Riley said. “He is a warrior, defender, cares about winning, has tremendous energy. The guy had a tough ride this year. He had a sprained wrist and played with it. Separated his shoulder, had that surgery. Give him a chance. He ain’t going anywhere. I’ve read where you can package him here, package him there. He has something to prove. There’s no doubt. He will prove it. He’s a winner.”
Winslow appreciated the public support from Riley, but at the same time he understands it’s a business.
“I like where I am, and I like Miami to hear that and the affirmation that I’m here and here to stay,” Winslow says. “It felt good to know that something was stable in my life. Having the leader of an organization say that it gives me confidence to go out there and play knowing that I have his back and the whole coaching staff’s back.”
With the organization showing confidence in him, Winslow has been back in the gym focusing on getting ready for the 2017-18 season. It was necessary to going back to the basics, focus on being a playmaker and use a combination of mindfulness and actual reps to improve his jump shot. If it starts to come together, Winslow will become the steal of the 2014 NBA draft, much like many predicted when he was drafted by the Heat.
It’s ironic in Charlotte, a town where he could’ve been drafted had the Hornets selected him instead of Frank Kaminsky, that he got mobbed in this setting. Winslow, however, doesn’t think much about what could’ve been.
“I didn’t use the whole nine teams pass on me and slipping in the draft as motivation as much as people might think,” Winslow says casually. “I’m a pretty self motivated person. I don’t really need all that to motivate me. The Celtics tried to trade four draft picks to get me and that’s cool. I like North Carolina. I like hearing Tar Heel (fans) go crazy, I like hearing the NC State fans talk trash, and believe it or not there’s not that many Duke fans in North Carolina. Especially not in Durham.”
Whether in Durham, Charlotte, Miami, or elsewhere, plenty of people are watching how Winslow bounces back in his third NBA season. The Heat’s core is set for the near future, with James Johnson and Dion Waiters locked up this offseason along with the signing of Kelly Olynyk, and Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic rounding out the crew.
The team’s lynchpin is, and will continue to be their wildcard in Winslow. And that’s just the way he likes it. Folks would be mindful not to sleep on him moving forward.