Behind the scenes with Justise Winslow

He was the last commitment from the class of 2014, but he could also be one of the most productive next season. So what was it like behind the scenes of the Justise Winslow decision making process over those critical final days and hours? We got an inside look at the decision and how deep the Duke ties truly ran and factored in.

After watching and assisting in her son's recruiting process for more than two years, Robin Davis was both excited and relieved when Justise Winslow selected Duke over offers from virtually every high major program in the country. Recently, Ms. Davis sat down with TDD to relive the decision, the process, and much more.

in general, can you recap the recruiting process from your perspective?

Robin Davis, mother of Justise Winslow: Justise's recruiting experience was great, I can't say anything bad happened through the entire process, which was great. We took a lot of visits, and I think that might have been our downfall because the relationships with the coaches, it just grew stronger each time we took a visit. I can't say, Justise keeps being humble, he's an even keeled person and we try to keep him grounded with school. Our perspective is that basketball will take care of itself, but I always want him to be in a position to succeed, especially academically. 

How does his drive translate off the court?

He works hard and plays hard. I can't say anything other than he's competitive in everything and the school he attends, it's one of the top academic schools in all of Texas and in the nation, so academics is always competitive and he's been in that environment, so I really didn't have to do too much, just keep him focused really. His ninth grade year was harder with just getting on the radar that year and then that year he didn't make the USA Team, so it was pretty hard year for him, but the community we live in, the people that are around us kept supporting us and he told me that if he had an opportunity to be asked to go back to USA Basketball, he would go and try out again and he said he wouldn't get cut again and he would all around have perseverance. It just turned everything around the beginning of his sophomore year.

How do you think the USA Basketball experience helped him?

Well his father played ball in Europe after his time here in the states, so Justise was always used to traveling out of the country. It was on a different level because it's USA and you have those three letters on your chest, so that took it to a totally different level, both with the team and as a person.

You were able to travel with him as well, correct? How did you enjoy the experience?

I haven't missed a trip yet! It's awesome not just for Justise, but just to watch the other boys, like Rasheed and Marcus, just to watch them and to get to know them through the process. Every time they play now, we always try to tune in and watch their development. I'm happy to be along for the ride.

What's it been like for you building the relationships you have with other parents involved in USA Basketball?

Well first I have to say credit is due to the staff because they make you feel so comfortable, they always have had a great group of boys to come together each time, so it's always really easy for us as parents because they are all on the same level and we all want the best for our boys. I think through USA Basketball I've been able to get closer with Theo Pinson's mom and of course with Debbie Jones and with Crazy Chuck and it's been a great experience for us as parents.

That sounds like a really funny nickname for Chuck Okafor, how did he come to have that?

Haha, Jahlil and Justise have been playing against each other for a long time now, so when they play against each other, Chuck and I always bet against each other who is going to win and it's always like, I've got dinner or you've got dinner, it's always a fun thing. Every time when Chuck sits next to me when I'm sitting next to other parents from Justise's team, so once we played each other this past summer, I don't know if you have ever seen Chuck and I at our kids games, but we're always crazy towards each other, but in a really fun, good way and we have a great time with it. So after this summer I had to pull Chuck over to the side and I was like, "Chuck, I gotta tell you a secret, I don't know if you know this, but every time you sit next to me and the rest of the parents, we always win." So more than anything, it' s just a really funny thing between us as parents, he is such a funny person and we always enjoy being around Chuck.

In talking with Debbie Jones, she mentioned that the relationship between her, Chuck and yourself has grown to be very strong. What's it been like for you with both seeing that relationship grow while also seeing your sons compete against each other in the EYBL?

Really it's just, seeing the boys together, they have their own special language, almost like their own team, it's a way of communicating together that in a way it's made it easier to be in a relationship with Chuck and Deb and just to build on that. I just think being around each other, just like the boys are on the road, we're on the road. Like I was in Lithuania when Deb was there, so we'd dinner and we did so much and it was just so easy, it just came natural you could say. Watching the boys, I'm the type who I'm cheering for everybody, if they make a good play, I'm cheering for them whether I know them or not. 

Ms. Jones also mentioned how you and Chuck and her had a lot of conversations during your sons recruiting process as you guys were evaluating various schools…

Well, the boys always had, like with Tyus and Jahlil, they always talked about playing together at the same school and then Justise got involved a little later with that. He was always thinking about what was best for his family but he always thought how great it would be to play with those guys, and he worked through what was best for him and his family. So, when we as parents would talk, it was always serious conversations, a lot of times we would compare notes and the whole time, I can honestly, I could call Deb up, I could call Chuck up, they could call me and I knew that whatever we discussed, it would stay within us. I never heard anything out there that I had said so our relationships got even stronger as time went on. I'm going to be honest with you, I didn't know where Tyus and Jahlil were going, I was watching TV just like everybody else that day. 

So what was going through your mind watching Jahlil and Tyus on their decision day make their decision knowing that Justise was still in the middle of his decision making process?

I wanted him to get it over with. I didn't want it, Justise wanted to wait until that period was over, but I wanted it over. When we were all at Duke together, we just had a great visit together, it was funny because, I'll tell you how strong our relationship is, we would sit, a couple of times we would sit together and we'd all sit at one end of the table and we'd be talking and I remember Coach K coming down there and we're having a good time and laughing together, and Coach K would be at the other end of the table and I remember him one time coming down to the end of the table and asking, "what's going on down here, aren't we supposed to be sitting with you guys and having fun too ?" It just goes to show you how close we are. 

So when you say you wanted Justise to get it over with after seeing Tyus and Jahlil make their decision, was that the moment where you felt like you were hoping he would decide on Duke, or did that come at a different point?

To be honest, I think, Chuck kinda like knew that I wanted Justise to go to Duke, but there were other schools that were very interesting to us that Justise might have wanted to go to. He would always say to me, you can't have Duke to yourself, but it didn't hit me until after the fact what he was saying where they were going to go. I just wanted Justise to get it over with and to enjoy his senior year and to let it go and to have fun for the rest of his senior year.

For you, what do you think caused the switch to flip from you guys have all these great schools to choose from to feeling like Duke was the place that you wanted Justise to go to?

Well it's funny, once, in the beginning of his process, Justise said that he really wanted to win a national championship. And then he said, I just want to play hard, if it happens, it happens, but I just want to play hard and develop into a better player. Then he goes back to well, I could play with my boys and have a good chance of winning, so that was the basketball side, being with his boys and having a good chance to win a national championship. On the academic side, it's a continuation of the school he goes to now, it's just a little bit larger. It just seemed like Duke was the next step and it felt easy to take it to the next level academically.

Did that realization come in the last few days leading up to the announcement?

That was earlier in the process, the last month it was more of a question to him, "where do you feel comfortable  and where do they have the best interest for you with where you want to go?" So when Justise spoke in his interview with you, did he speak about the family atmosphere he felt there? Because for us, that was a really big thing, our family is important to us and on our visit there recently, seeing them and seeing the daughters and seeing them mess with the grandchildren, it was just you know, seeing the kids begging Coach K for keys to the gym, it was just, feeling comfortable and feeling like you belong and like it's your family. I guess to me, you want your child to be happy and you want them to feel like if I call and I need to talk with someone about my son, I know I can call the coaches, or the coaches wife and say, "Justise is sick, can you just go put your eyes on him and make sure he's ok" and I feel like I can do that at Duke. That was very important for me.

Was there any specific instance that helped you reach that level of comfort with the Duke coahces?

Yes, I felt it, I believe they felt it, I just felt really comfortable and I'm not saying that I didn't feel that way with the other schools, I just felt really comfortable with the whole package at Duke. Everything that I wanted for him, I saw there. 

What kind of things does the Duke staff and their families present to you guys as parents when you are on visits there?

It's generally not basketball, it's more like, in talking with them, it's more every day conversation, little things, not anything big, and it's definitely not basketball.

It sounds like what you experienced on the various Duke visits was what really solidified your opinions. Is that fair?

Yeah, very fair. Also with outside of the visits, it was more basketball focused during phone conversations and telling us about the program and where they project Justise to be after this year and the next year and so on. I try not to discuss that it's a one year or a two year timeframe, because I always want him to make a four year, which I call a forty year decision and I would like him to look at like he's going to be there for four years, and if something happens, it happens. But in his head, i've always told him to make a four year, and 40 year decision.

How did you come to that thought process knowing that Justise might have the option to go pro early?

I was always like that. I've had another child who went to Dartmouth, so education was always important and being in the community and environment that we're in, I always just want to make sure that if he decides to go, he can always go back and get a good education and a good job. Whether he leaves early or not, I always told him that with basketball, it's funny, people will ask what we talk about at home, and we really don't talk basketball, we talk about school and everything else. When we're home or in the car, outside of basketball, we're done and our world doesn't exclusively revolve around basketball, does that make sense ?

How does it make you feel knowing that it looks like Justise is going to a school where he's got everything you guys seemingly wanted, both on and off the court?

Makes me feel happy, it makes it much easier to sleep at night, of course I'll always worry about him but it makes me extremely happy that I know he's going to be going to a place where basketball is loved and on the academic side, he's getting a great education. I can sleep easier at night because of that.

As you guys were moving towards a college decision, what were the things you were bringing up in conversations with Justise?

We always believe that he had good choices basketball wise, so, the next thing for me was academics. So, when we narrowed it down, it was who was going to take care of him, who was going to look out for him, who was going to develop him and so, I just didn't want Justise to linger on with his decision. It wasn't stressful, it wasn't really that hard because I didn't want to make it hard for him. We talked and out of the blue, he said Duke and he started crying and that was it. It wasn't that he was crying because it was Duke, it was that and it was over, it was a weight that was lifted off him.

What was it like for you being at the school for his announcement and having that behind you?

I was excited, I was happy for him and I'm just glad that the process part of it was over and now we could start thinking about the next stage and making sure he's prepared mentally for basketball and for college. 

With the recent visit you and Justise had to Duke, what was it like for you being on campus and around the team after they had a close loss?

We've been to Duke a couple times before that and so, practice was practice, it was a little bit more focused, with everything else with Coach K's brother passing away, so it was practice, the boys went at it, so for them to play the way they did, it surprised me because they were going hard like that in practice.

Did you get much opportunity to talk with the staff and their families' since it was a relatively short visit?

No, not much to be honest, they asked me before and after the game, was there anything that I needed to do or talk about and I told them no, I'm like, where they were, coming off the loss, Coach K's brother passing away, now i'm on the other side, all my questions were answered and if anything comes up, I can always call, so I just said I'm here to relax and to have a good time and to sit back and be a fan on the other side now.

What was it like for you seeing Justise during the game go over and cheer with the Cameron Crazies?

I was happy, I was glad he did that. Justise, that morning got up around 7:30 or 7:45 and I asked him where he was going and he told me that he was going to work out and going to watch practice and I was like ok and through Twitter I was able to see that he was also on the Duke bus and he was having lunch with friends and so that, to see him walking alone back to the hotel and knowing his way around, it just felt good, it felt like I was very comfortable and I was glad that we had the opportunity to go back to the game and just watch Justise get comfortable with the campus before he's officially there to report, does that make sense ? And of course, we are going to go back again. We're looking potentially at the Duke vs North Carolina game hopefully and also, most likely another one, but that Duke vs UNC game, that would be a good one to go to. 

Since you mentioned getting more of a feel of campus on this last visit, I'm curious, what kind of questions were you personally asking when you were on campus for visits prior to the decision?

It's funny because I'm really, I watch basketball, but i'm really not an Xs and Os type person with it, so Coach K, they would always tell Justise where they would play him, how they would play him and I would always ask him, what did they mean by this? I would ask more questions related to the academic side, like how many tutors do they have, how many hours a week do they meet with them, those type of questions.

Now that you've learned about the Duke academic support structure for student-athletes, what are your thoughts on it?

I mean, when you say Duke, people will say, oh yeah, he's going to get a really great education there, but when you are being recruited, you just know that of course when they started recruiting him and you start reading things, you just know, it was really elevated for me because you know it's Duke, and they are going to do everything to give him a great education.

When Justise was discussing Duke with you, what areas did he focus on when he was evaluating them with you?

Like he says, we didn't talk that much, I guess you can say that I trusted his thought process and so, you instill things in your children and sometimes you think they aren't listening when they really are, he's not a person that I can, like when we are on the way to airport or on the way home, he has to sit back and think and he likes to examine things a lot. Like he would write down about his visits and in two years of taking visits, we took a lot of visits and for him to go back and look at all those notes, we really didn't start really talking about schools until after his USA last summer. I tried to keep him focused on school and being a kid and having fun and the USA thing is always important to Justise because of his first time not making it. When it came time for us to start talking about things, I didn't even read his notes, that was for him, he did that on his own. 

In closing, I wanted to ask you how it feels for you now that you are a part of the Duke family and that Justise is going to be playing for them?

Oh wow, I think it's huge, to be part of the Duke family, to be a part of Coach K's legacy as a parent, I think it's special. Justise always says, Coach K looks for special people and for him to be chosen to be recruited, it just means a lot. Also, for the Cameron Crazies, wow, we're just happy to be a part of the family.

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