A little over a year ago, when everybody was fawning over the recruiting class that Duke had put together, most of the attention fell on Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, a couple of top-10 recruits that together had very publicly decided and declared to play for the Blue Devils.
It’s not that fellow Duke recruit Justise Winslow was necessarily disregarded – he, too, was a top-20 recruit – but he was by no means the center of attention coming into this past college basketball season. Okafor was, which made it easy to overlook the fact that Winslow also would very likely be a top 10 pick in the following year’s draft.
Now that the following year’s draft is almost nigh, Winslow is almost as big a name as Okafor, with some mock drafters pitting the two as neck-and-neck on their big boards. After an NCAA championship in which he performed masterfully, Winslow is definitely the center of attention now, as evidenced by how many teams he met with during the NBA Draft Combine this week.
“I think I’ve met with about half the league,” Winslow joked during Friday’s media session, during which he talked about meetings with the L.A. Lakers (“Very professional group. A lot of history, a lot of wins. They’re a championship organization, and you sort of got that sense.”), the Boston Celtics (“[Brad Stephens] is a young coach, recently in the college game who went to a Final Four, so he knows what it means to get there. I enjoyed that meeting.”) and the Charlotte Hornets (“That was my college [NBA] team because it’s so close to Duke. It’s a fun group.”)
Most interesting, though was Winslow’s time spent with the New York Knicks, who will pick somewhere between the first and fifth selections next month. He talked most freely about his experience there and seemed most interested in playing for them. If players could choose where they were drafted, it seems Winslow would end up in New York.
“It was great to be with Mr. [Phil] Jackson, just to see how he works, his thought process with things,” Winslow said. “Derek Fisher was in there too, so it’s cool getting to meet with guys that you know.”
One of those guys was Carmelo Anthony, who already seems to have taken the young man under his wing.
“I did go with ‘Melo to the Yankees game the other night too,” Winslow said. “It wasn’t anything about the Knicks, just was about him helping me adjust to the pro game.”
Of course, should he end up in New York, that mentor/mentee relationship will have already been forged, and it’s hard to ignore the fact that Winslow would almost certainly handle the big city (and the big-city media) about as well as anybody projected to be drafted in the top five. Small forward is nowhere near their biggest need, but they’d find a place for a kid that talented and that well-rounded.
Any team could, honestly, especially considering Winslow’s penchant for defense.
“I’m a versatile player with the ability to do a lot of different things,” he said. “I’m a good defender, and I can score.”
In the national championship game, Winslow put his defensive talents on display. His talent there along with his build and musculature have drawn him comparisons to Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard, which are great for any kid coming into the league.
“Defense is the ability to stop your opponent from scoring. It’s as simple as that,” Winslow said. “There are a lot of ways to do that, but if you can find a way to do that, you’ll find a team to be on.”
That’s not his only calling card, however; offensively, Winslow believes he’ll be much more prolific in the NBA, where the rules and spacing are a little bit different than they were in college.
“With the way the NBA goes, the floor spacing and the defensive three seconds, I think I’ll be able to capitalize a little bit more on isolation,” he said.
The bottom line is that right now, Winslow knows his stock is as high as it’s ever been, showing just how far he’s come in one short year creeping out of Jahlil Okafor’s shadow.
“I had goals when I came into Duke and just based off the year I had and my dream of going to the league, coming off a national championship I thought it was the best thing for me,” he said.
Soon, it will be a pretty good thing for the team that drafts him too.
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