The USA U-19 Basketball Team hopefuls were released today and the list has a Duke flavor to it. On a day when Duke Head Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski was named the coach of Team USA Basketball activity within the program begins.
As most of you know already, rising sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon is one of the kids on the preliminary roster and he is joined by two key Duke prospects.
Those two prospects are Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow. Okafor is the nations consensus top rated prospect. Okafor is a key Blue Devil target and a player the coaches will follow up until his decision.
Winslow is one of the top wing prospects in the country and he too is a vital recruit for the Blue Devils in that they backed off some other big time prospects to go somewhat all in with the Texan native.
The chosen few will begin practice on June 14th and this means they’ll be off the AAU circuit for a good while in the case of Okafor and Winslow. The team will face Ivory Coast on June 27th.
Stay tuned to Blue Devil Nation who has followed Team USA Basketball for a decade, for more coverage and updates as they happen.
Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova
Bryce Alford, UCLA
Brandon Ashley, Arizona
Robert Carter, Georgia Tech
Damyean Dotson, Oregon
Kris Dunn, Providence
Javan Felix, Texas
Michael Frazier, Florida
Marcus Georges-Hunt, Georgia Tech
Shaq Goodwin, Memphis
Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Jerami Grant, Syracuse
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona Jahlil Okafor, undecided
Rodney Purvis, UConn
James Robinson, Pitt
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke
Devin Thomas, Wake Forest
Mike Tobey, Virginia
Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington Justise Winslow, undecided
I take a look back at the Nike EYBL Session 2 and give my thoughts on prospects and how they may have improved from a season ago. Here is my take on some of the key Duke prospects with some added tidbits -
Justise Winslow - The thing that most impressed me about Justise Winslow was his court vision which makes him a really good passing wing. Winslow plays on a very talented team which is interchangeable at some positions. There are times when he [private] brings the ball up the court which is a testament to his getting better with his overall handle since a season ago. Winslow is a team oriented player who seems well versed in what he can and cannot get away with in that he is in touch with his capabilities. He can take his man off the dribble an moves strong to the rack when he gets his man on his hip or a screen is set. Winslow can also battle inside due to his strength. I can certainly understand why Krzyzewski and the staff prefer him over Theo Pinson. IMO, Winslow has done a better job of harnessing his skill set and it certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s a high character kid on and off the court, valuing education and showing a wise mind when dealing with media and teammates alike. Duke is in sold shape here and Winslows’ brother probably prefers the Blue Devils but he glows when talking of Arizona too, so there is work to be done and this one will likely come down to the wire.
Theo Pinson - The athletic wing has moments where he seems to lost his focus and that does not always allow for a consistent effort. But when he is on, he’s a very talented young man who plays at a high level. Pinson still needs work on his stroke and finishing better on drive. Actually, he would be better served kicking out more often when he finds traffic on drives instead of trying to create a sensational shot. Duke is still recruiting Pinson but it is clear that he is their second choice to Winslow at this time but as we know in recruiting, things can change in a days time.
Tyus Jones - Jones is a flat-out competitor and a cool customer. I have said in the past that he’s a silent killer at times and this season he demands the ball even more when the game is on the line. And his Howard Pulley teammates want the ball in his hands for he always seems to come through at crunch time. Pulley seems to always play in close games and they overachieve due to Jones play. I joked with him during an interview that he was “Jack Frost,” in that he is so cool in the clutch, almost always coming through. In fact, it would be story worth and draw attention if he flopped when the game is on the line for it is so rare it happens. Jones has a shifty speed which is not jet like but is effective in that he changes speed well. His handle is solid and he can get shots off even when everybody in the gym knows a shot is coming often getting to the line. He’s also a deadly three-point threat even when not open and he can find the seams in the defense making him a ridiculous stat stuff with concerns to assists. Jones maintains that he will be a package deal with Jahlil Okafor and Coach K and Izzo among others were at all of his games.
Devin Booker – Duke is still recruiting or staying in touch with Booker despite getting a verbal from Grayson Allen. Booker has good defensive footwork and likes playing on ball defense. He has a nice stroke from the outside or can break you off the dribble. He also hustles non stop or at least he did in my views. He seems well versed in the game of basketball and plays with a quiet, cool confidence.
Elijah Thomas - He is not a super flashy big man, just one who gets the job done, defends well and can throw down dunks with ease. Thomas is still getting use to his frame and he can intimidate opponents. He plays with enthusiasm and confidence and is alight hearted kind of kid off the court, whose Mom plays a huge role in his life. He is a big time prospect in next seasons class that likes Duke a lot but he has other schools who are right there as well. Thomas will draw more and more attention, so strap yourself in for a long recruitment on this one.
Harry Giles - Coach K really, really like this kid and was the first coach in the gym to see him in his opening game. Giles? He’s a long, lean, sure-fire talent who is incredibly coordinated for his height and age. Potential. He’s oozes in it and he was one of the few kids playing on the 16U teams which drew a bevy of major college coaches, Giles mentioned that he is already tiring of the media process, so stay tuned. He seems a bit shy off the court but not so much so on it. While he can not always be super vocal, he does talk on the court and directs teammates for he understands spacing well at his age. He took it the length of the court for slams, made sweeping hook moves where he kissed the ball off glass and attributes his handle to wanting to be a guard when he was growing up. Ridiculous upside. [/private]
LOS ANGELES – Over the years Texas has mostly been known as a football state. High school football runs rampant in small and big towns all over the state. It’s become a ritual for cities to flock to their local high school games on Friday nights and watch the stars of the future. However, there’s been a change over recent years in Texas. What once was a football state has now brought out some of the top basketball talent in the country. One only needs to look at the team listings for the Nike EYBL and see that the state of Texas alone has four AAU teams in the league, more than any other state.
Next year Duke will sport two players from the state of Texas in sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon and incoming freshman Matt Jones. Duke will hope to continue the Texas pipeline by adding 2014 wing Justise Winslow. Winslow, who attends St. Johns School, a very strict academic institution, has been on Duke’s radar for quite some time now. The 6’6 wing has a chiseled frame that would allow him to step onto a NCAA court right now. Recently he was awarded the Gatorade Boys Basketball Player of the Year for the state of Texas, an honor that was won by Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart last year.
Winslow, who hails from Houston, credits his excellent academics to his brothers, specifically his older brother, Joshua Winslow, who plays defensive back for Dartmouth. Being an excellent student, Winslow says that academics will be a factor in his decision. His brother Joshua is pushing him to [private] choose the best academic school possible when Justise makes his final decision.
In the first session of the EYBL in Los Angeles Winslow’s Houston Hoops team went 4-0 with an average margin of victory of 24.5 points. His team is filled with athletic Division 1 prospects which include future North Carolina Tar Heel Justin Jackson, Khadeem Lattin and Kelly Oubre. On a team filled with talent Winslow still shines through. Winslow ran point-forward for Houston Hoops and looked very natural doing it. Perhaps his best attribute is his passing skills which allow an offense to be run through him. His strong frame allows him to get to the basket and finish through contact. Winslow also has a knack for not taking bad shots, a quality lost on many young basketball talents. In 4 games of the first session Winslow averaged 14.5 points, 4.3 assists, 6.8 rebounds, and 52 percent shooting from the field.
BlueDevilNation caught up with the top priority prospect and discussed his recruiting, his high school, why he likes to read the Wall Street Journal and other topics.
BlueDevilNation: What do you feel like you’ve most improved on over this past year?
JW: I think really just being a leader out there. Someone who my teammates can respect. Also my shooting and ball handling, reading pick and rolls and things like that.
BDN: What do you feel you still need to improve on?
JW: Well everything. You never can be satisfied, but, you know, especially my shooting and ball handling.
BDN: I don’t believe I’ve seen one yet but have you made a final list?
JW: No, not a final list. I’m down to 10 right now.
BDN: Who are those final 10?
JW: North Carolina, Duke, Florida, Kansas, Texas A&M, Baylor, University of Houston, Arizona, UCLA, and Stanford.
BDN: Do you have a timeframe for when you’d like to make your decision?
JW: I’m going to narrow it down pretty soon, probably going into June. Hopefully I can sign and be committed by November.
BDN: So the early period then.
JW: Yea, hopefully.
BDN: You had a few in-home visits recently. Take me through the Arizona one if you could.
JW: Well they were my first one. It was Thursday at noon. They came over and it went pretty well. Coach Miller thinks I’m the key to him getting to his first Final Four. But, you know, over the years I’ve built a good relationship with Coach Miller so it was really a comfortable visit.
BDN: You also had one with Duke as well. Could you take me through that visit?
JW: You know, Coach K, I had an unofficial visit with them this past spring also. Coach K thinks I can come in and step in and be that elite wing that they’ll be missing in the next couple of years with probably Jabari leaving and Hood leaving also. They just think I can come in and have an instant impact. And just the Duke brand and education.
BDN: What’s your relationship like with Coach K?
JW: Great. He was the USA basketball coach and I made the USA 17U team so I got to meet him there and talk to him there. He’s a great guy.
BDN: Speaking about your USA experience. Do you think that has translated over to your high school and AAU playing?
JW: I think with the USA experience, you know, no one’s really playing selfishly so it kind of helps you identify your role on whatever team you’re playing with. I think that’s something I carried into school and into AAU just to know my role and try to play to the best of my abilities.
BDN: Have the Duke coaches compared you to anyone by any chance?
JW: Well they compared me to Gerald Henderson and Grant Hill, things like that. But they also say that I’m special and unique in my own way.
BDN: You ran a lot of point for Houston Hoops, does that differ from your role in high school?
JW: Ah not really. I would just say in school ball I have the ball in my hand a lot and I run the floor. But out here, I do whatever the coach wants me to do and it goes back to just knowing my role and playing my role.
BDN: Are you taking any official visits soon?
JW: Official? No. I think I’m going to try and take an unofficial to UCLA soon because I haven’t been out there with Coach Alford there. So that’s something I’m looking to do.
BDN: Have you spoken with Coach Alford recently?
JW: Yea I had an in-home with him.
BDN: How do you like him?
JW: Oh he’s cool. He’s young, energetic. I like his style of play.
BDN: Other than a school championship next year, what are your personal goals?
JW: To win the Gatorade Player of the Year again for Texas.
BDN: You won it this year. Congratulations.
JW: Thank you. You know, to make those McDonald’s All-American game and the Jordan Brand game.
BDN: Did you get a chance to watch those games this year?
JW: I watched the McDonald’s game but I didn’t get a chance to watch the Jordan Brand game. You know that’s just one of my goals since growing up.
BDN: Oh absolutely. I wanted to ask you about your fantastic competitive drive. Where does that come from? Was it natural or did you learn it over the years?
JW: I think that just, being the youngest in my family, never winning, I just tried so hard to win. I used to get, not picked on, but, my older siblings would bug me and pick on me a little bit. Toughen me up. So I think that’s really what makes me a tough competitor.
BDN: You have an older brother at Dartmouth, correct?
JW: Yes sir.
BDN: What’s his influence on you like?
JW: He’s a great influence on me. He wants me to be the best player, but, in this recruiting process he wants me to go to the best academic school possible.
BDN: Well he’s at a great school. I saw you recently tweeted a picture of you reading the Wall Street Journal. Do you read that often?
JW: (laughs) Kinda, not really. But I think it’s good to be up to date with the current events, with the things going on in Boston and Korea. It’s good to know about those things.
BDN: Do you have a favorite subject in school at all?
JW: Math and physics.
BDN: You also said you recently saw the movie 42 (Jackie Robinson Story). How was that?
JW: Oh it was great. In school ball I actually wear 42 kind of for that reason. So that’s just a big role model in my life because he did so much for baseball and for other sports.
BDN: Oh I had no idea. You go to a fantastic academic school in St. Johns. How did that decision come about?
JW: Just, you know, my siblings, my brother, the one at Dartmouth went there. He was a big role model in my life. Going back to the academic thing he just wants me to go to the best academic school possible. So going there provided me with a chance because if basketball doesn’t work out..
BDN: You’d have something to fall back on..
JW: Exactly. Exactly.
BDN: Thanks a lot for your time. Good luck the rest of the weekend.
Tom Konchalski is a 6’6″ sexagenarian who can walk into a basketball gym from South Side of Chicago to Harlem and South Florida to Maine and be enthusiastically greeted by coaches at all levels, anxious players, and grateful parents. Modest, focused, loyal, industrious, pious, honest, and generous, Mr. Konchalski embodies all of the qualities that his heroes, Mother Theresa and C.S. Lewis, championed.
For the better part of five decades, the Queens, NY native has analyzed recruits, coached players, and advised coaches, parents, Athletic Directors, and players. A devout Catholic, Mr. Konchalski has prayed on the behalf of everyone from the ’69 Mets to Coach Jack Curran, his high school gym teacher and future Basketball Hall of Fame inductee who passed away last month at the age of 82.
A consummate workaholic, Mr. Konchalski travels via public transportation and the generosity of his legions of friends to observe recruits on an almost daily basis with the ferocity of a hungry lion eying cheetahs. His omnipresent yellow legal pads and Bic Cristal pens have been the tools of choice to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of everyone from LeBron James as a freshman to seniors looking to catch on at a Division-III college. In a world of three-minute YouTube highlight videos misconstrued as scouting tapes and fly-by-night internet recruiting charlatans looking to broker players, Mr. Konchalski is refreshingly anachronistic.
Three days ago, a pair of his friends, Bernard King, who invited Mr. Konchalski to join him on his official trip to the University of Tennessee, and Rick Pitino, who worked closely with Mr. Konchalski as a counselor at the Five Star Basketball Camps, were announced as inductees to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Author John Feinstein ’78 once wrote that Konchalski, the publisher and editor of the HSBI Report, was “the last honest man in the gym,” but the statement doesn’t quite convey all that he has done for this game and the people involved in it at all levels.
Recently, Mr. Konchalski, a friend and mentor, gave his assessment of the 2013 Duke commitments and some Blue Devil recruits.
Jabari Parker: Well, obviously he has a great combination of size, skills, athleticism, and savvy. To proclaim him the best player since LeBron as Sports Illustrated did last year is that it raises the one question about him that I have which is whether or not he can be an assassin. LeBron was an assassin. Kobe was an assassin. I think he was better as a junior than Kobe was. I saw Kobe a lot. Kobe was always an assassin. Obviously, he has great skill, size, and athleticism. He’s productive and has a very mature understanding of the game. He’s also got very good character and he’s coachable. He’s thinking about staying two or three years. It would be a wonderful thing if he did. It would be a breath of fresh air. It would be a tremendous thing for college basketball if he did. I would say the closest player to him at Duke would be Grant Hill because they’re forwards, they’re both big forwards. Eventually, he’s going to be a three-man. He’s a hybrid forward right now. He’s closer to being a three-men offensively than he is being a three-man defensively. He’s just a forward right now, a hybrid forward, that’s got to tighten his body.
I’ll tell you what he did. Between his freshman and sophomore year, he really tightened his body. He lowered his percentage of body fat. He became much more athletic and much more explosive. He’s got to continue to streamline his body, maybe see a nutritionist, and get on an exercise regimen. I guess the closest comparison would be Grant Hill although Grant Hill was a different physical type, but overall, Grant Hill is the closest comparison in terms of Duke players.
The one reservation I have about Jabari…here’s a guy who has an obviously high basketball IQ. When he’s in shape, he has good athletic ability. He had improved his athletic ability towards the end of his sophomore year and towards the beginning of his junior year and he has skill. The one reservation that I had was whether he had a killer’s instinct. I didn’t know if he’s an assassin. He’s developed more of a disposition to take over games and to be assertive in the last year. Now, that’s something that I think runs contrary to his nature. He’s got to overcome his off-the-court temperament. He’s got to be bipolar or sort of a schizophrenic to be a good basketball player. You have to be a lot meaner on the court than you are off, but I think he’s making strides in terms of his aggressiveness and assertiveness and willingness to take over games, not to defer to other teammates and whatever..to be the go-to guy..and that’s what he’s got to do because I think Kobe always had it and LeBron always had it, but, for the most part, it’s something that you’re born with..that kind of toughness and aggressiveness and wanting to really take over games. Crush the opponent and when they’re down to sort of put your foot on the neck and that sort of thing. And I think he’s made strides in that regard. I hope he gives serious thought when he goes there not to be an automatic one-and-done. Not that it may not happen, but he should have an open mind in that respect.
Semi Ojeleye: Semi Ojeleye..his win or strength is his versatility. He can defend multiple positions. Now, I think he’s going to be even more valuable to them on the defensive end of the court. He’s an inside-outside player who I really liked. He plays a lot much more for result rather than effect. He’s not a guy who goes out there to showcase his different skill sets. He’ll step out and hit the three, he’ll handle the ball, he’ll play a little bit on the perimeter, and he can go inside and bang a little bit too and generate some points inside. He’s really..I’ll tell you what he does..he plays quick. I really think he’s going to be a terrific Duke player because I think it’s more likely that he’s going to be a three or four year player. He’ll really stay around and help them on the defensive end and he can guard the four-man, he can guard the three-man, even at times be able to guard a two. I really think he’s a major recruit for them. I hadn’t really paid attention to him at the Boo Williams, but you had mentioned him and I didn’t really remember him, but when I saw him down at the Peach Jam, I really, really liked him.
Matt Jones: Matt Jones has a very unorthodox shot. He’s a bit streaky as a three-point shooter. He’s long and lean, he’s got to get a little bit stronger. He’s a big guard who I think has growth potential as he gets stronger and shoots the ball. You know, he doesn’t have good rotation on his shot. He has an awkward shot, but it puts the ball in the basket. For the most part, it’s been effective for him. He’s another guy who’s going to be a three or four year player with them. Hopefully, Jabari will stay for more than one year and if you get a Jabari, you’ve got to take him, but you’ve got to build the program more around guys that are going to be there three or four years. You’ve got to have balance.
Jahlil Okafor: Jahlil is a guy who has terrific skill for a big guy and another guy who is a very intelligent person like Jabari. And, you know, he’s not an explosive athlete, you know he’s not a bad athlete and he runs okay. Obviously, I think he can really streamline his body and, when he gets to college, people are going to get him into the weight room. He’s going to do an awful lot of work. His percentage of body fat with drop dramatically, but he has terrific hands and really good skills for a post player. You know that he can step out, shoot the elbow jumper, he’s a good passer, he can pass out of the post, and he’s not quick-reacting to the ball, he’s not quick moving laterally to the ball in the lane around the basket. That’s what I think he’s got to work on- his body and also his lateral movement. But just in terms of overall, he has a big strong frame, he has a superior basketball IQ for a big man. Usually big, young guys don’t understand the game as well as he does. He’s very intelligent and, you know, another nice guy who can be, you know, because of his size, he can be down the road, you know, I’m not saying he’s more skilled than Jabari Parker, but because he’s 6’10″, 260 or 270 or whatever he is, I think he can be an even greater influence on the game than Jabari Parker. I would say he’s about 6’10″, they list him at 6’11″. I think he’s a legitimate 6’10″ when I stand next to him. He’s a major weapon both on the high-post and the low-box. He can be a major, major factor in college. On the defensive end, I don’t think he’s as much of a shot-blocker. He impacts the game through intelligent positioning.
Quickness is comprised of two components. It has a physical and an extra-physical component. The physical component is just how naturally quick you are. The extra-physical component is, first of all, mental preparation and correct technique. You could be quicker just by being mentally prepared and alert. And the other part using correct technique, but I think he’s a guy, I think any big guy, ought to live with a jump rope. Both those guys, in particular, should live with jump ropes. They both have the kind of bodies where they can put on weight and where, if they’re not careful, but I think both of them should live with it as their daily routine for both of those guys. They’re both guys who are extremely intelligent and have very good skill and they both, I think, can be really dominating players at the college level if they stay around long enough and possibly dominating players at the level beyond that. I think at the college level, Okafor is a center. He’s a center because he’s a force. If a college coach can fill the middle of his lineup with a point guard, a leader, someone who’s going to run the team and with a quality post-man like that, well, then that’s the team. Everyone wants that one position down…Fives want to be fours, fours want to be threes, threes want to be twos, twos want to be ones, and ones probably want to coach the team. But if you look at even a great team, they’re teams that have dominating big men and great guards. The wings fill in around those players, but that’s what you need. You need someone that’s going to run the team and organize the floor, hopefully contain the point guard at the other end of the court. Hopefully contain the ball at the other end of the court. Stop dribble penetration from their point guard and you need a big guy in the post. You need to be able to score easy baskets. And even the thing is, even as 3 point arc-oriented as most teams are and as many college teams are, and how Duke has become increasingly, still, the more post-offense presence you have, forget about even on the defensive end, the more open 3′s that show up. Most 3-point shots are shot off of inside-out action or relocation. Things like that. Just in terms of the half-court, the more you can draw the defense in, the more you can open up the spot-up outside shooters. In the past, Duke sometimes has become too reliant on that and not as much of an interior offensive presence. Both of those guys are going to be terrific players.
Trey Lyles: Trey Lyles is a 6’9″ kid with good skill, good body, and the guy who has a real good feel for the game. He has a high court
IQ. Usually that’s a term that’s more applied to perimeter players. When you talk about guards..especially point guards…in terms of high court IQ, but he plays for result rather than effect and he’s very efficient. You know he can score. He doesn’t need to have the ball on the floor in order to score, although he can put the ball on the floor some from the high post. But the main thing is that he’s very efficient. He does an awful lot offensively without the dribble. And he’s a guy who, you know, can score. Can score from the high post and down in the low box. When he went to Basketball Canada when they had their camp at the end of the summer and they had Steve Nash, who’s the Jerry Colangelo of operations of Basketball Canada right now, they had all of their guys…Jamaal Magloire came in to work with the big guys and everyone was there and they had all very good young players. Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, Myck Kabongo, then they had Andrew Wiggins, and Tyler Ennis, and Trey Lyles. Trey Lyles, from what my brother told me, is as impressive as any player that they had in their program. They are really, really high on him. When they played down in South America in FIBA Tournament, you know, he had a very good tournament. When he came back, people in Basketball Canada are as high on him as they are on Andrew Wiggins. He doesn’t have quite the athleticism that Andrew Wiggins has, but what really, I think, makes him different is his understanding of the game and his efficiency for a big guy. Usually, big young guys aren’t as..well, they don’t have the feel for the game that he does and they don’t play with the degree of efficiency with which he plays.
Tyus Jones: He’s a point guard, combination guard, a high scorer. He can handle the ball, control the tempo, he plays at different
speeds. He’s very good. He has a very good tempo to his game. He has a very good sense of ball security with his game. He shoots the ball extremely well.
Kevon Looney: He has size. He was 6’7″, 6’8″ when I saw him in Chicago. He can play on the
perimeter and in the low-post, he can defend. He’s probably a better low-post defender than he is a perimeter defender right now. Well, certain players he can defend on the perimeter. He’s got a nice stroke, he sees the floor well, he’s a good passer. I really think he can be an elite level player. Now, I’ve only seen him once. I can’t think of any more skilled power wing players in the class of 2014. In terms of position, assuming he grows, I think he’s more of a perimeter player..because I think at that size with his skill set, it makes him more valuable.
Theo Pinson: Pinson is a big kid with a lot of quickness. He’s got good skill level, he can shoot the ball, he handles the ball well, he uses his great athleticism to defend multiple positions. I don’t think he’s a knock-down shooter, but he’s pretty good.
Justice Winslow: He’s a lefty from Houston Hoops. He’s an intense competitor. He’s versatile. His versatility is one of his greatest strengths. He’s strong enough and athletic enough to post and score inside. He can rebound. I don’t think he’s much of a three-point threat right now, but he has a good mid-range game. He’s a pretty good passer. He’s a kid that’s very strong, great body, and he really uses his strength to post-up in match-ups against others. He’s really a very difficult matchup because of his versatility and his range. He’s also very skilled with the ball. He can get to the basket. He’s a very difficult matchup because of his strength, his quickness, and his ability to get the ball to the basket. He really plays hard. He’s a very intense competitor.
Malachi Richardson: People talk about him being a second guard, but I don’t really think that he quite is now. He can shoot the three and he’s a very good three-point shooter, but he’s, you know, a big wing who’s probably more of a 3/2 than a 2/3 right now. He’s a guy who has a great touch, who has a lot of athletic ability, and has a good body. You know he’s grown an inch since his freshman year at Trenton Catholic Academy and he’s got a lot of potential. If he wants to be a two guard, he’s got to be a little better playing off of the dribble, a little better playing with the ball, and he’s got to work awfully hard at guarding a two guard because, right now, his better defensive nature is as a three man. What he is right now is a skilled wing with good size and a lot of athleticism..and at an early age, in terms of only being a sophomore, so he has an awful lot of potential.
Isaiah Briscoe: Well, I mean, he played terrific against St. Anthony’s and didn’t play like a sophomore. He was very assertive, he was very aggressive, looking to take the ball to the basket, and really forced the issue. Here’s a guy who has size, can shoot the ball, he has aggressiveness, he is not intimidated at all. The one thing here, I think, about him is that he’s got to be very careful about his body. It’s going to be very imperative for him to get on a good diet and to stay in as good a condition as he possibly can because he has the kind of body type where he can put weight on. He’s a decent athlete, but he’s not a great athlete. He’s not a tapered athlete. He’s not someone that when you look at him you think “athlete”. When you look at him, you see someone who is a scorer and a guy who scores primarily on his aggressiveness, which is based on his temperament. He has a scorer’s temperament. He doesn’t defer to anyone. He’s ready to play against the best teams in the country right now. He won’t be intimidated. He won’t back down.
He’s about 6’3″. I don’t think he’s really a lead guard. I think he’s a combination guard right now, but he can handle the ball. You know what they try to do. They try to take anyone who can dribble the ball three times without kicking it into the seventh row, they try to call him a point guard or a lead guard. That’s not it at all because, first of all, not only do you have skill with the ball, but it’s more of an attitude. It’s more of a temperament, it’s more of a disposition to try to make other people better, and really, you know, a real good leader. A real point guard or a real lead guard is someone who thinks, he probably thinks pass before he thinks shot and I think that’s not the case with Isaiah. You know, he’s a guy who can handle the ball and will make plays for some other people, but his first instinct is to look to score himself. Almost by definition, there are more piano carriers than there are piano players, so I mean, anyone that can score like him, you don’t want to take that away from them. You don’t want to domesticate him too much and it’s easier to find someone to set the table than to find someone that will put the ball in the basket. Coach Taylor is probably going to give him the opportunity to display with the ball in his hands next year, but I don’t think there are many synthetic point guards or lead guards. I think it’s more something that you’re born with. Leadership and temperament are what makes a true point guard. [/private]
It’s difficult to make any hard and fast judgments about players based on a game like the Elite 24, because it is a glorified pickup game, there is little defense played, and the guys are all just playing loosey-goosey and enjoying it as an end-of-summer outdoor event on the courts of Venice Beach, California. I mean, the final score was 164-138, OK? Nevertheless, there are always things to learn about guys any time you watch them, especially when playing against other elite-level players. Here’s what I saw on Saturday.
First, the “Marques Johnson” team had a huge advantage. Why? Coaching. Head coach for the squad was Duke’s own Kyrie Irving. While Kyrie spent more time on his phone texting than he did strategizing, it was good to see him out there and it was obvious how much respect he has from the guys. At halftime, he spent almost the entire time talking with uncommitted Pennsylvania forward Rondae Jefferson, but he also hung out with Julius Randle too, and they seemed to have an easy rapport as well.
OK to the game. Starting with the kids Duke is known to be recruiting heavily:
Might as well start with Julius Randle. First of all [private], he has a pro body right now. He’s been downgraded in some circles for having short arms, as that supposedly makes it harder for him to finish against length. His arms didn’t look short to me, especially when he was taking over the game in the second half, scoring five consecutive hoops en route to his game-high 27 on 13 of 14 shooting. He also has a very good handle for a guy his size, and likes to utilize it. When he does so and gets into the lane, he’s so big that the defense just sort of parts for him because they know they’re not going to stop that freight train. In real games, of course, guys will step in and try to take a charge, and he’s going to have to adjust to that. But seeing his game and his body, I don’t think he’d have any trouble playing some 5 in college if his team needed him to, though PF will obviously be his primary position.
Justise Winslow also has a very solid body and is much more athletic than I anticipated. He led his team with 21 points and scored them in a variety of ways. He drove to the hoop, he pulled up for short jumpers, he got put-back dunks, and he got out on the break (though everyone did in this game!) for some throw-downs as well. One thing I really liked was Winslow D-ing up one-on-one against stud guard Aaron Harrison and forcing Harrison to retreat after attempting to drive, and then to take a very difficult three-pointer instead. Justise took on that challenge, even in a game like this, and won it.
Marcus Lee out of California is a real string bean. He’s 6’9″ or so, but there’s no meat on the bones at all. He has excellent hops and blocks shots very well, including a big one Saturday against Kuran Iverson right at the rim and another on Austin Nichols as well. But Marcus didn’t display any offensive game at all, scoring only one point in a game in which his team scored 138. He looks like he’ll be better defensively in college than Casey Sanders was, but his body type and his lack of offensive game reminds me of Sanders, including when he airballed a free throw.
When you watch Tyus Jones play, you can tell the Minnesota point guard is an outstanding player. No. Better than that. He’s a special player. But he didn’t have his best game on Saturday. His handle wasn’t as crisp as it usually is, and he never really fully got into the flow of the action. One thing I did note is that when he and Andrew Harrison went one-on-one on a couple of occasions, Tyus seemed to have a hard time staying in front of Harrison when he went to the hoop, but at the other end Harrison bodied up on Jones and made him take tougher shots on his drives. But I wouldn’t be concerned about Jones at all, especially given the setting. The kid is a flat-out stud ballplayer, and Duke would be very fortunate to get him.
Austin Nichols, 6’8″ out of Memphis, impressed me with his athleticism and his body. This kid is not skinny at all. He’s not rocked up to the degree of a Wayne Selden or Justise Winslow, but he has some mass to him, and he’s going to gain more weight this year. He can jump too, though, and he runs the floor very well. He has good hands and finishes well. He didn’t shoot many outside jumpers in this game — not many of the kids did — so I couldn’t evaluate that, but what I did see of his game, I liked.
Other quick takes:
I thought the best player on the floor was 6’7″ Aaron Gordon out of San Jose. This dude has it all. His handle is very smooth, he’s got a strong body, he can shoot it, and he jumps out of the gym. If there was a gym. He wowed the crowd with a series of spectacular dunks midway through this game, and scored his 25 points in a variety of ways. The whole crowd was talking about him all day.
Carolina signee Nate Britt has a real good handle, but his lefty shot is awkward. And he shoots too much, or at least did in this game.
I really like the Harrison brothers out of Texas. Andrew is the point guard, and he has a very smooth handle and gets to the rim at will. He reminded me a little of Will Avery, but maybe even a little quicker. Both brothers are highly athletic but seemed to have kind of a strange affect out there, like they weren’t that engaged. Well, Aaron was engaged enough to score 25 points on 11 of 14 shooting, so I guess he was paying enough attention to do that. Really, though, these twins are killer ballplayers.
Uncommiteds Jabari Bird out of California and Kuran Iverson are both long, athletic, and active, and they both jump very well. While he’s a couple of inches shorter, Iverson, with his body type and his style, reminds a little of Kevin Garnett. A little. [/private]
In the well air-conditioned Durango High School gym in a city with the dry heat of a sauna, Las Vegas, 6’6″ Justise Winslow ended his summer in fitting fashion, with a championship trophy and an ankle wrap filled with enough ice to keep the Kennedy clan refreshed for a night in Palm Beach. Winslow’s AAU team, Houston Hoops, won the Las Vegas Classic 54-53 in overtime over the Mac Irvin Fire, a Chicago-based AAU program. Despite injuring his ankle in three games prior, Justise prevailed and defended all five positions, including fronting one of his best friends, 6’11″ Jahlil Okafor, in the title game of the Las Vegas Classic.
A year after not making the USA Basketball U-16 team in Colorado Springs, CO, the determined Houstonian Winslow not only made the United States Men’s World Championship U-17 squad, but played such an integral role on the squad that he made the All-World Championship U-17 team in Kaunas, Lithuania. Justise, a resilient young man, roomed with Jahlil Okafor of Chicago, Tyus Jones of Apple Valley, Minnesota, and BeeJay Anya of Gaithersburg, Maryland. Bringing efficient decision-making, defensive versatility, toughness, explosive athleticism, an on-court tenacity and maturity, Winslow started the last five games for the United States, registering four consecutive double-doubles at one stretch. In the championship game against Australia, the rising junior scored thirteen points, grabbed eleven rebounds, and generated four steals to help the team capture the coveted gold medal. Soon after, the gold medal-winning team was flown more than fifty-seven hundred miles away to Sin City, watching the United States Men’s team prepare for the Olympics. Justise was able to meet with the Olympic team members and observe Coach K run a practice and scrimmage against the USA Select team. Less than two weeks later, the four-time NCAA Champion head coach would offer Justise Winslow a full scholarship to Duke University.
The MVP of the World Championship and fellow Duke recruit Jahlil Okafor said of Justise, “Justise Winslow is an amazing player. He’s one of my best friends. He’s a freak athlete. He can shoot it, he can dribble, and he’s like 6’6.” He’s really strong and a tremendous defender. He’s an amazing player. He was my roommate and, so, we obviously hung out a lot. You know how we’re both really humble. We’re like-minded. We’re both very serious basketball players. We don’t listen to all the other stuff influence us. We have a lot in common. We’re both just very focused on basketball and improving.”
St. John’s School in Houston, an academically rigorous institution with an average SAT score more than 130 points higher than the incoming freshman class at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, had not won a basketball title in thirty-two years. In his first year of high school, Justise helped add a banner to the rafters by scoring a career-high forty-three points, grabbing fourteen rebounds, and making the game-winning assist to his older brother Josh in the waning seconds of the championship game against the Episcopal School of Dallas to win 69-67.
Following the loss of ten seniors from the first title-winning team in three decades, the Mavericks of St. John’s had some initial growing pains, including Justise receiving a controversial ejection from a December game after a crowd-electrifying dunk against Antonian Prep of San Antonio. Once again, however, Winslow, a now sixteen year-old with the physique of a young defensive end in football and the reserved demeanor of a fourteen-year veteran NBA player, willed St. John’s, alma mater of director Wes Anderson, to a second consecutive Southwest Preparatory Title, registering a near triple-double of twenty-five points, ten rebounds, and eight assists, against arch-rival Kincaid in the title game. For the season, the southpaw earned MaxPreps Sophomore All-American distinction, after averaging 22.5 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 3.2 assists en route to a second consecutive Southwest Preparatory Title.
The son of Rickie Winslow, a member of the University of Houston’s famed Phi Slamma Jamma, who played professionally in the NBA as well as in Europe, and fellow Cougar Robin Davis, Justise’s statistics belied the overall importance that he played on this year’s Houston Hoops team. The rising junior averaged 9.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.5 assists, while shooting 51.4% from the field in the Nike EYBL regular season, but, infused with the confidence of his success in Lithuania, took his game to another level at the Peach Jam in North Augusta, SC, where he averaged sixteen points, over eight rebounds and three assists in five games against a superior level of EYBL competition.
His head coach with the Houston Hoops, which also produced McDonald’s All-American and incoming Duke freshman Rasheed Sulaimon, is Tim Schumacher. Coach Schumacher said of Justise, “He’s a phenomenal kid. He’s a phenomenal athlete, which is obvious, but he’s also a high IQ basketball player. When you put those things together, the great personality, the great work ethic, and the phenomenal athlete, I mean the sky is the limit for Justise. He’s really got the ingredients to be a very special player.”
Of Justise’s experience with both making and achieving a high level of success with USA Basketball, Coach Schumacher continued, “Well, I think it was great for Justise because he didn’t make the team for the sixteen-and-under and he was really disappointed about that. He really spent about a year with that as his goal and the fact that he achieved his goal and then, when he was there, he had so much success, it really gave him a lot of confidence and swagger, which I think he needed to get. He’s so unselfish and he makes all of the right decisions to such a point that, as a coach, I sometimes want him to be more selfish. Sometimes, I want him to be more aggressive with ball because he is so good. He’s a very efficient player. With his work ethic, the better that his jump shot gets, the higher that his game is going to go.”
Justise Winslow spoke with me in Las Vegas and Oakland about a wide array of topics, including his new offer from Duke University, his gold medal-winning experience with USA Basketball, what he’s looking for in a college program, his father’s advice, and his relationship with Jahlil Okafor.
Let’s start with the most recent championship run.
Well, coming from Peach Jam, we went four and one, but didn’t make it out of the pool. Here, we just played with a chip on our shoulder. It was a lot of fun to be able to play and win with some of these guys…some of them we’ll never play again with. We just got the job done.
Now, in retrospect, talk about the strength of this team, the wings and its versatility.
Yeah, I mean we had a lot of versatile players playing with us. Some of them were playing with us for the first time like DeAndre and James, but, you know, we found a way to get it done. At the end of the day, that’s what it all comes down to.
Then, today, in this game specifically..
Yeah, I struggled a little bit with..
Well, you had that great play along the baseline…
Yeah, I had that dunk, but I struggled a little bit with Jahlil’s size down low. He’s a great shot-blocker. So, that’s why I need to go home and work on finishing at the basket, hitting that mid-range pull-up, and stuff like that so that, in these types of games, I can become more useful when I’m on the floor.
Well, you’re obviously quite useful, but what happened with your ankle?
It’s hurt. It actually hurts a lot.
Was that from before this game?
Yeah, it intensified in this game, but it really started about three games back. There’ll be plenty of time to rest it.
Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.
Yeah, yeah. Thanks.
What was your experience like both playing with USA Basketball and making the team this year?
That was a great experience being able to make that team and then being able to play alongside all of those high-major caliber players. It was a once in a lifetime experience..being able to be so young and be able to travel the country with so many great players.
You guys were rock stars.
Yeah, and, you know, when we won, I was just so happy and it was because everyone was going for the team. Everyone was playing for a common goal, which was to win the gold medal and so it was really a great experience generally. I’m really proud of that.
To a degree, it was really your coming out party internationally. You really set yourself apart through your physicality and versatility.
Well, when I went out there, the coaches told me that my role was just to play hard and to rebound. I just took that and ran with it. You know that I got a lot of opportunities through transition buckets by hustling and through our press. Also, I tried to help through not allowing the other team to get buckets. I really just tried to play my role and fortunately it turned out well for all of us. It was a blessing.
Who did you room with over there?
I roomed with Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, and BeeJay Anya over there.
Jahlil had mentioned that. I asked him for a scouting report on you and he’s also very close with Tyus (Jones). What’s your relationship like with them?
Yeah, I mean we’re very close and, frankly, us three are looking at going to the same school together.
Is that fairly serious?
Yes, it’s serious. We’ve talked about what schools we like and stuff like that, but..
They’re good kids.
Yeah, and I really enjoy being around them. They’re some of my best friends and they’re not from my city or even state. I like them a lot.
Good taste. Now, the other major thing since we last spoke was that Duke offered you a scholarship.
When I got back from Lithuania, once I got to Vegas..
I was actually there that day and ran into Jahlil.
It was crazy.
Yeah, yeah, definitely. So we saw Coach K that day, you know, working, but the day before I spoke with the assistant coach and he told me that they were going to be offering me pretty soon or, well, he actually texted me.
Coach Capel or Coach James?
Coach Capel..and so a couple of days later, Coach K called me once I got back home and offered me a scholarship.
And what was your initial reaction?
I mean I was ecstatic to be offered a scholarship from a high-major school like that with a lot of tradition and one of the greatest coaches ever. It was really a blessing.
What do you know about them?
I just know the tradition and how good of a coach that Coach K is and how many NBA players that they have produced. Also, it’s a great academic school.
I remember that you go to a great high school academically as well in St. John’s.
Yes, it is.
Do you have any visits planned?
On August tenth, I’ll visit UCLA.
No, not yet.
In terms of your overall timeline, do you view this as still early in the process? Middle? Late?
It’s transitioning to the middle. I’m trying to decide by Christmas of my senior year.
I know that you had an extensive list to start with. Are you planning on cutting that down to a more manageable number in the near future?
Yeah, I’m trying to narrow it down to ten by the early Fall.
Ten. Do you view this as the best basketball that you’ve played so far in your life?
I mean I think I can play better.
In the future, sure, but as of this point..
I think that my jump shot is better than I’ve shown. I just need to focus on improving..
Actually, efficiency, recognizing what is working in a given game, and playing within yourself are some strengths that you have that are usually developed through experience by older players. I think those are some of the distinguishing strengths of yours. What is your mindset?
I mean I just start off each game with the mindset that I need to score. If I’m not making jump shots, then I’m not going to take them unless I’m open. I’m going to try to either find an open shooter, drive for a closer shot, or look to finish around the basket.
I assume that your shooting is one of the main things that you’re trying to work on.
Yeah, I focus a lot on my jump shooting. The crazy thing is that back home, whenever I’m in school ball, I can make everything. I can make my jump shots consistently, but, for whatever reason, out here, I just can’t make them.
I’ve seen your crazy numbers and they clearly indicate that you’re capable of it.
Yeah, I just try to not let it get to my head and just think that the next one is going in.
Now, do you work with your brother? Your father?
Yeah, my brother, my father, and Coach John Lucas.
Oh, John Lucas. That’s quite a trio. What’s been your father’s advice? Obviously, he was successful in college and had a professional career.
Well, one of the main things that he keeps telling me is to just keep playing. Don’t focus necessarily on an individual play. Know that the next shot is going to go in.
Does he often guide you? I’m trying to figure out the relationship dynamics.
He guides me, but..
Does he take a backed-off approach?
Yeah, he sort of backs off because he’s been through it all. I would say that my mom is more involved with, for example, the recruitment right now.
What are their thoughts right now with what you accomplished with USA Basketball?
My mom is very proud of me. My dad is too. Well, my whole family really. She just wants me to stay humble, not get a big head, and keep working on my game.
Great advice. What are your goals for next season? You’ve had two successful runs. What are your goals, both collectively as a team and individually for the next high school season?
I mean we won our state championship for the last two years and so that is definitely our first goal. We’d like to win more games during the regular season as well too. As far as me, I’d just like to keep playing my game and then, hopefully, during my senior year, I’d really like to be a McDonald’s All-American. I just want to make my teammates better. I’d like be able to help showcase them and I’d like to be able to play in and compete in national tournaments.
I know that you had seven sophomores this year. Do you have a fairly loaded team next year?
No, not really.
Sorry about that. For the audience members that have never seen you play before, can you describe your overall game? You’re about 6’5″..
Yeah, I’m about 6’6″ 212 pounds. I’ve got pretty good size arms for a guard. I can play the point, well, really the one, two, three or four really. I can guard all of those positions. I’m athletic. I can handle the ball. I can knock down my jump shots. I can protect the rim and rebound.
Do you work on strength and conditioning as well?
Yeah, I do a bunch of drills..some simple conditioning drills like jumping over hurdles and things like that.
I think that there are so many young people that don’t focus on that aspect until it’s much later and wind up using up their first year of college to prepare themselves physically for the next level.
Yeah, exactly, I’m preparing now so that I’ll be prepared to contribute early. I’m definitely focusing on all aspects.
You’ve won two state titles already.
Yeah, it’s been cool. It definitely helped me grow as a player. It was just fun being able to do it with two different teams and to be able to win it with my friends.
On the first one, you were able to win it with your brother.
Yeah, that was really cool.
You had forty-three points, drove the lane at the end, and dished it down low to your older brother to make the game-winning bucket.
Yeah, that was great to be able to share it with him.
I read in one interview that you actually really liked football, but that it was obviously a necessary sacrifice.
Yeah, I mean I really like football and all that, but basketball is just a better sport for me.
You had also suffered a concussion earlier when you were going against some NBA guys.
Yeah, I did unfortunately. I mean they’re just bigger guys and one of them just knocked me around when I was younger.
Who was the guy that did it to you?
I think it was Gerald Green.
Your father went to the University of Houston and was part of that Phi Slamma Jamma. What would you say that you’ve gotten most from your father?
I would say my athleticism. That and he always says to remain humble.
Your high school, St. John’s, is regarded as one of the best in the country academically.
Yeah, it’s a challenge. It’s definitely a challenge to balance the academics and athletics, but it’s one that I can handle.
Has it been difficult to balance the two?
It’s definitely been necessary to learn how to balance the two. It’s difficult, but I like the challenge.
What’s your relationship like with your AAU roommate Justin Jackson?
We work out together on occasion, but we’re not too close. We’re getting along better.
Do you plan on visiting Duke?
I don’t know if we definitely have a visit planned, but I know that one of my coaches has been talking to them.
What are you looking for in a program, whenever you do decide?
The coach. I’d like a really coach and a comfortable environment.
Unselfishness is something that repeatedly comes up when I talk to others about you.
Yeah, I guess that I’m pretty unselfish. I mean it’s in my nature, but my coaches often’ll say that I need to be more selfish out there on the court. I don’t know. I guess it’s something that I need to work on or balance. It’s not something that I think about too much when I just play, but I guess I’m unselfish.
On the AAU circuit, part of it was out of necessity, but you’ve played a lot of point guard and created some mismatches for your opponents. How about playing the point guard position at the next level?
I think I’d need to work on my ball-handling a lot more.
What has been your primary role on this Houston Hoops team?
From your perspective, what went on the time that you were thrown out of the game after dunking the ball?
I dunked on this guy. The ref said that I looked upset at him. I didn’t say anything. Then, they gave me a tech. I said I didn’t say anything and then he ejected me.
Another adjective description that comes up with you is efficient.
Yeah, I try not to take bad shots. If a teammate has a better shot, I try to get it to them and they should take it. I try to make the shots that I can and move the ball when I can’t. If I’m not feeling it in a given game, I’ll try to drive to the basket more.
What do you consider your strengths and weaknesses?
I would say that my strengths are probably my athleticism and my IQ and my weakness is probably my jump shooting.
What would you like the audience to know about you away from the court?
I’m a fun guy. I’m pretty serious on the court, but I like to have fun away from it.
Is there a player that you try to model your game after?
Probably James Harden
James Harden. Well, he’s a similar size.Were you a fan of any teams growing up? I thought I heard that you were.
Yeah, Florida and the University of Texas football teams.
That’s what I thought, but no basketball ones.
Who’s been the toughest guy that you’ve had to guard so far?