One on one with Justise Winslow

The last player to commit from the class of 2014 could have the biggest impact on next year's roster. That's the thinking with Houston area five star small forward Justise Winslow, who sat down with TDD for an in-depth interview discussing his decision to commit, what put Duke over the top in his mind, and how he is being told he fits in next season.

You just returned from visiting Durham, how did the trip go?

Justise Winslow: Oh, it was really great, it was good to be around the guys again as well as the coaching staff. It was a pretty good game and the atmosphere was awesome.

It seemed like this trip came out of the blue with your schedule…

Well, it was pre-planned kind of. I really just wanted to get back to campus because I really can't wait until I get there later on this summer, and my schedule had an opening so I decided to go down there again.

While you were there the team was coming off a difficult loss, was that something you noticed while you were on the visit?

Yeah, they were pretty disappointed in the way that they were playing, so they were being pretty humble about where they where. While they weren't down, they were working hard at playing better. I think it was really great to be around them, to see them be so focused in practice.

Coach K was also going through a difficult time away from the game, was his demeanor different?

Well I think a couple weeks ago when it happened I had talked with Coach K and it was pretty emotional then, but he seems to be doing better now with the loss. That's one of the great things about Duke, that family atmosphere, he got a lot of love and support from not just his family, but also the players and the coaching staff. I think he is doing a little better now.

What was the game day atmosphere at Cameron like for you?

It was a great experience! Virginia is a great team and they had been doing really well in conference at that point, so I knew it would be a great game. Watching the. Crazies, you could tell that it was an important game for them too, so I sat with them in the second half cheering with them on their side and it was a lot of fun.

You moved over to the Crazies' section?

Yeah, it was really kind of a spur-of-the moment type thing, they were calling me to come over, so I just said why not and I just went over there and had a really great time.

Anything you heard or saw surprise you over there?

The big thing was just how much they know about the opposing players and how much they do their homework about everything. They really get behind their team, you can tell they care a lot.

Next season you'll have a much different role in that dynamic though…

Absolutely, and it feels really great to be honest, just knowing how much they want you to win and succeed, it's going to mean a lot to play in front of them.

Outside of the game, what else did your visit entail?

I spent some time around some of the other student-athletes at Duke which was nice. I also walked around campus just to try and get a feel for it, that was the big thing, just get another feel for everything. I really can't wait to get down there and to be a Duke student and player.

On that note, have you picked a major?

Well, I know that the Public Policy major there is pretty popular so I think I might do something there, but I'm not 100 percent certain yet. When I was on campus academics was a big topic of discussion because I got to meet with the academic advisors, they were asking me a lot about what kind of major and classes I was interested in, so that was good to talk about that. I can tell I'm really going to like it there.

Off the court, what kind of things are looking forward to about being a Duke student?

I'm really looking forward to the relationships I'm going to be able to build with other people at Duke and being able to support them as well, like with lacrosse team, I think they won the national championship last year, so that'll be good to support them. Just being able to support the athletes will be good, no matter the sport.

Did the experience you had at your high school influence you at all as you decided on Duke?

Yeah definitely I would say there are some similarities with both. My high school takes academics and sports very seriously like Duke does and I know that I learned how to thrive in that kind of environment so I know that will help me at Duke. I think it made the decision a little easier for me.

Speaking of your announcement and decision, at your press conference you had several speakers from your school offering words of encouragement and support. What did that mean to you?

It was great knowing that I had the opportunities that I had because of the school I attended. It was great having all my teachers and my coaches there to support me. I really loved my school and I felt like it was mutual. Your announcement seemed to touch on several points of your basketball career and several different people…

I thought it was worth it because not everybody gets the credit that they deserve and I felt like in my situation there were some people who were very key in my development and I wanted them to have that recognition that they were important in who I am today.

The world found out on that day, but Coach K already knew your decision, right?

Yes, I called Coach K the night before my announcement, whatever that day of the week was I don't remember. It was a real emotional last couple of days, it was great to finally tell him.

Emotional?

Mainly it was just relief that I was going to be done with my process, and I was really happy with what my decision was, I think that's why it was so emotional along with knowing that it was finally going to be official.

Your announcement was after National Signing Day, so how did that work?

Well I just basically had to make sure that I had my paperwork in by midnight on Wednesday, so I went ahead and signed the papers and took pictures and then sent them off. The logistics were pretty simple with that part. Then I called Coach K that night and talked with him for a little bit. The conversation with him went well, I actually called Coach Capel first and I told him that I was going to be a part of the family and I was excited and I told him that I was going to call Coach K next. Both of them were really excited and it was real emotional for all of us. When I was talking with Coach K, I was on speakerphone with him and my parents and we just had a really great conversation and Coach K was very happy and I was really happy and it was just a great day.

You called Capel first?

I did, and my relationship with him has been great for a long time. Our relationship has been really great because we share the same taste in music, we both love hip hop, that's one of the things that we share in common with each others and that's one of the things I really enjoy about him and that brought us closer together.

Switching gears a bit, with Tyus and Jahlil committing before you to Duke, I'm curious, what were the interactions like with them after they committed to Duke and before you made your decision?

Once they committed, they were recruiting me a little bit, but at that point, everything that they could have said had already been said, so they just told me to do what's best for me. I actually didn't tell Jahlil or Tyus what I was going to do until after my announcement, so they were a little surprised because they didn't know where I was going to go. They were happy for me, at the end of the day we all did what was best for our families and luckily, we all ended up together.

Did their decision have any influence on yours?

I wasn't really waiting on Tyus or Jahlil or anything like that. I was going to make my decision based on me and my situation. Of course Tyus and Jahlil going to Duke helps, but I made my decision ultimately based on what I wanted in a school and looking for. With Tyus and Jahlil going there it was great, but I just made the decision on my own really.

With that in mind, what were your reasons for Duke?

Being a part of one of Coach K's teams and being a part of that legacy was such special thing. We talked about the academics and that really sells itself, but it was really the family atmosphere there, the great amount of guys that have come out of that program and made an impact in the NBA. Plus the environment and the feel of the family atmosphere that I got from Coach K and the rest of the guys and his family and all the coaches families and the players and stuff like that.

You took several visits to Duke during the process, when you looked back were there any specifics that really took hold in your mind?

Really from my official visit, we had a great, I mean a really great dinner at Coach K's house with he and his family. He had several rooms just dedicated to his players and his teams with plaques on the wall and photos and he had so many stories about teams he's coached, and I just really wanted to be a part of that. Also on my visits I got really familiar and comfortable with the campus and I just really fell in love with it, coming from Texas, it's really only two seasons here, it's hot and it's kinda hot, just the weather there was really great on my visit and I really liked North Carolina, so I'm just really excited to get down there.

So the weather played a factor?

I wouldn't say it was a big factor but I would say definitely it was an icing on the cake, and it just made the decision better. I wouldn't have minded to go to a place with weather like say a Syracuse or an Arizona where it's really hot, but the weather definitely helped. UCLA, they were also one of my top schools and their weather is perfect, so, it was a factor, but it wasn't a huge factor in my decision, there were more important things like the team and the players, academics, stuff like that. The weather played a small role, but not anything too significant.

Since you mention those schools, there was a lot of conjecture in your recruiting that it came down to Arizona, UCLA, and Duke…

Well to be honest, a lot of people assumed a lot of things with my recruiting process that weren't true. The schools that I really liked in my process were Florida, being able to potentially play for Billy Donovan with the USA Team, that team was right up there with Duke, as was UCLA. Texas A&M, not so much. But those four schools were pretty much neck and neck and I have a brother out in LA and I'm also pretty good friends with Stanley Johnson and with Coach Miller, we had a great relationship and I told you about the USA experience with Coach Donovan, so all of the schools would have been great. I think all four schools were neck and neck, I just think Duke pulled it out in the end. 

The stories you mentioned Coach K sharing when you were at his house on your visit, can you elaborate?

Well, it wasn't any one particular story, but just how much he cherishes every story and every moment was something that really stood out to me. Just all the stories he had and all the experiences that he's been through, to be a part of another significant story with him meant a lot to me.

Let's discuss the season ahead for you, what are your expectations for your role on the team?

You know hopefully I can go in there and work hard everyday and get in the gym with the guys and get my chemistry going with them on and off the court. My goal is to help the team however it's possible, whether it's with me starting or coming off the bench, that's what I'm going to do. If it's scoring or playing defense or going on the floor for loose balls, that's what I'm going to do. I know that the other three guys coming in with me are also going to be willing to do that. If we could also maybe add Myles Turner to the mix, that would be great too. But I know Grayson and Tyus and Jahlil and I are just really looking forward to getting to campus and working really hard and hopefully be a great team by the end of the season.

Since you mentioned him, are you guys actively recruiting Myles Turner to join you guys at Duke?

Yeah, we text a little bit, I played against Myles this year, but at the end of the day I know Myles will do what's best for him, so I try not to bug him too much but I just told him about why I made my decision for Duke and why I think Duke would be a good place for him. I know he's going to make the right decision for him.

What was his response to that pitch?

He agreed with what I was saying, but he told me that he has some visits to take because his recruitment really started later than others did. Because of that he still has some visits to take and some more things to see and to hear from the coaches, that's what he told me. I'm just letting him  go through his process.

Did he share anything further?

Not that he's said to me, I don't know what he's discussed with the coaches at Duke, but you know when I talked to him there weren't any concerns about Duke that he shared with me.

Going back to your role at Duke early on, have the coaches shared how they view you contributing next year?

Obviously just getting down to campus and really critiquing my game for the first couple of weeks is something they discussed with me. Really they think I can be a special player at Duke and I have the ability like Luol Deng and Grant Hill and Shane Battier. They are really just excited to get me down to campus and start working me out and getting me into film watching and getting to know me even better both as a person and a player.

After those discussions, how do you see yourself earning your keep in terms of minutes?

I'm just going with the mindset to do whatever it takes to be on the floor and to help my team win, so, if that's filling a defensive stopper role or a scoring role or attacking the basket or facilitating, I don't have my mindset on just filling one role on the team, that's not really something I think about.

Looking even further down the road, did the subject of your length of stay in college come up during the recruiting process?

That really wasn't discussed, but if the opportunity to become a professional presents itself, it's something I will talk over with my family and with the coaching staff. We're just going day by day, week by week with that sort of thing because I really don't look too far ahead like that, so I'm just excited to get down there and to keep developing my game.

Last one, as you head into Duke what is your message to Blue Devil fans and followers?

Really, it's just go Duke. What else can you say?


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