Justise Winslow didn't have to blend in. As a five-star recruit out of Houston, Winslow was the type of talent most college coaches would sell their soul to recruit. He could have walked onto almost any campus in the country and been crowned a star if that's what he wanted.
Fortunately for Duke, that's not the type of person or player Winslow has become.
As Duke travels back to Winslow's hometown for the Sweet 16, the 6'6 freshman is part of a larger collective more than an individual standout. Jahlil Okafor is the focus of every broadcast and tanking NBA team, while Tyus Jones draws more attention from opposing defenses. But that's all by design for Winslow, who was the last of Duke's four McDonald's All-Americans in the class of 2014 to commit. Every profile on the 18-year-old almost goes out of its way to mention his humility.
Winslow was raised most of his life by his single mother, but she believed it takes a village to raise a family. Seconds before announcing he would play for Duke, Winslow cried at his press conference thanking Beverly Mosby, a former's teammate's mom who played a pivotal role in his childhood before passing away.
Winslow might not be here without Steve Trauber, either. Trauber is a millionaire investment banker whose son J.T. was a teammate of Winslow's growing up. Trauber essentially bankrolled Winslow's future by funding his AAU team, the Houston Hoopers, and helping him pay for high school at St. John's. Trauber was so influential that Winslow's mother had him and his wife named Justise's legal guardians during junior high.
Winslow blossomed into one of the best prospects in his class while at St. John's. He played on the grassroots circuit with two other McDonald's All-Americans in his class, Kansas' Kelly Oubre and North Carolina's Justin Jackson.
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It's also no coincidence he's been a member of Team USA for years given the uniform he wears now. If Mike Krzyzewski was playing a long game to recruit Winslow, Okafor and Jones, it certainly paid off. Okafor and Jones were part of a Team USA's 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship team, while Winslow joined at the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championships. Winslow was youngest player on the 2013 U19 FIBA World Championship roster. He and Okafor were the only high school players at the time on a roster that also included Marcus Smart, Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton.
Kentucky is the poster child for the one-and-done revolution, but Coach K has joined in, in no small part due to his influence on every level of Team USA. The day Winslow committed, he said that "it's a little early to talk about a national championship, but I think we'll have the team and the caliber of talent to get it done."
It's not too early anymore. Duke is two wins away from the Final Four and four away from a national title. It's all coming together, just as Winslow and Krzyzewski envisioned.
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Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports
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Okafor generates the most buzz, but Winslow emerged to be nearly as galvanizing. He scored 14 points or more in each of Duke's first five games, which included wins over quality teams like Michigan State, Stanford and Temple. He also showed why many believe he can special on the other end of the floor.
At 6'6, 225 pounds and with plus athleticism, Winslow has the tools to be a lockdown wing defender. He's good already, and NBA scouts will tell you he's only getting better. Winslow will be prone to lapses of attentiveness like any young player, but when flashes of defensive greatness come, they hit hard.
Winslow's tally of chasedown blocks has been a talking point all season. He made one against San Diego State in the round of 32 just for the people who didn't watch Duke much during the regular season:
That wasn't the first one and it won't be the last. Winslow will be a top 10 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, and it's moments like this one that show why. Scouts can see the potential of a young Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler: a two-way wing who doesn't need the ball in his hands to impact the game. Justise Winslow has long been noted for being selfless.
But Winslow is already more developed than Leonard or Butler at the same age offensively. Many thought Winslow would struggle shooting the ball this season, but he has hit 40 percent of his three-pointers on three attempts per game. He enters the Sweet 16 averaging 12 points, six rebounds, two assists and over a steal a game on 49 percent shooting. He might not be Bradley Beal offensively, but he's not Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, either.
Winslow is at his best in transition. He's capable of grabbing a rebound, dribbling coast-to-coast and finishing through contact. He was noted for how strong and mature his body was at an early age on the AAU circuit, and few have caught up to him yet.
Winslow projects as having the ability to draw fouls in droves. He's going to the line nearly four times per game in 28 minutes of playing time this season and that number should go up at the next level.
For now, Winslow is mostly a straight-line driver -- you'll remember a similar criticism for Andrew Wiggins coming out of Kansas. But considering Winslow is still two days away from his 19th birthday, there's plenty of time to develop a handle and some hesitation moves. Hardly anyone in college basketball can stay in front of Winslow when he puts his head down and decides to get to the basket.
A matchup with Utah on Friday won't be easy, but Winslow looks like the trump card in an even matchup. Utah doesn't have a wing with his size and athleticism to matchup with him, because hardly any college team does. To find players who look and play like Justise Winslow, you need to go to the NBA.
Winslow will be there before you know it. He hasn't embarrassed people like D'Angelo Russell, but he's worlds better defensively. He may not have Stanley Johnson's offensive outbursts on his resume, but he's much more consistent. He isn't Okafor, but he's a hell of a prospect in his own right.
As Duke's season reaches its most important junction, their small forward's college career is also almost certainly coming to an end. Watch the Blue Devils enough and it's clear this won't be the last you hear from Winslow.
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