The questions came at Justise Winslow fast and furious Saturday afternoon at his basketball clinic.
The 50 or so fifth and sixth graders who earned special invitations to the clinic (by writing short essays detailing a community service project that would benefit future generations) and spent the day playing on the Miami Heat’s practice court at AmericanAirlines Arena weren’t going to let the 21-year-old get off easy.
How hard did you have to work to get to the NBA? “You’ve got to work really hard...,” he answered. “Mentally you have to be really strong, be able to take criticism and L’s.”
When you play Mario Kart who do you play with? “Luigi.”
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What’s your motivation? “For me it’s always going to be being better than my Dad.”
Who do you look up to? “For me probably my brother Josh and then after that guys like James Harden, Tracy McGrady and [fellow Houston native] DeAndre Jordan.”
Who is the hardest guy in the NBA for you to guard? “I’m not going to say one person, but [Kevin Durant], Carmelo [Anthony]. DeMar DeRozan, Paul George are always fun matchups. Gordon Hayward gives me problems all the time. But don’t tell him I said that.”
What’s the most points you’ve scored in a game? “43.”
Who is your favorite player? “James Worthy. You don’t know who that is do you? Google it.”
What was your favorite college growing up? “I kind of grew up a North Carolina fan, but then I got older and started to understand things about life and that’s not really where you want to go to school. But I grew up a University of Florida fan.”
Who is your favorite point guard? “Probably Goran Dragic.”
What has been your worst injury? “Last year. My shoulder. I had to have surgery.”
For Winslow, the Heat’s 2015 first round pick, that’s really where the story of his third season in the NBA begins.
Last January he went under the knife to repair a torn labrum in his non-shooting, right shoulder. The rehab and recovery the next six months were rough.
His mother, Robin Davis, and sister, Bianca, who were at Saturday’s event organized by Winslow’s foundation Robin’s House, helped out the best way they could. Every time Justise was in the gym in Miami one of them was in the gym back home in Houston, sending him photos so he knew he wasn’t alone in his struggle.
“We all vouched we were going to live better, eat better, do better and just get our bodies back,” Davis said.
Winslow has. He’s shed between 12 to 15 pounds and says he’s at his lowest body fat percentage ever. Although he admits he felt some soreness in his shoulder after the Heat’s first preseason game, he says he hasn’t since.
The issue now is getting in game shape and finding his rhythm. Though he did a good job rebounding and distributing the ball, his shooting results this preseason (12-of-33 shooting for 36 points in a team-high 146 minutes) were not good.
It’s an issue he’s dealt with his entire career and something he’s working overtime with the Heat to fix.
But it’s time to step up – even if he’s not fully ready.
The season starts Wednesday in Orlando and because starter Rodney McGruder will be out for at least three to six months with a stress fracture in his leg, the Heat can no longer afford to slow-play Winslow’s comeback like they were hoping to.
“Obviously we don’t like to see teammates go down – that’s unfortunate – but our mentality is always next man up,” Winslow said. “So, most likely, that’s looking like me. My role is going to be increased earlier in the season. I’ve just got to be ready.”
Winslow, though, doesn’t expect to be in the Heat’s starting lineup initially.
“[Spoelstra] hasn’t talked to anyone really about Rodney or who is going to start,” he said. “But my prediction is I’ll probably be in the second unit just to start the season.
“Speaking for myself, I’m not really where I want to be as far as the rhythm and the flow. I think that's the big deal for me – to be able to have the ball and make plays for other people, especially at the beginning of the season. Once I get into a better flow, we’ll go from there.
“For now, I’m just going to go out there give my teammates what I can defensively with energy, just try to get back to that wild, rookie year kid who is making plays defensively, offensively and just making a difference in the game.”
Eventually, Winslow says, he wants to get to where Josh Richardson is. The Heat’s 2015 second round pick, and Winslow’s close friend, has battled back from his array of injuries last season and shined arguably better than anyone else on the Heat this preseason.
“I’m super excited for him,” Winslow said. “For us, we’re like brothers in this together. To see him playing like that, I don’t want to take away from that at all. So I’ve just been feeding him even more confidence. He’s been trying to get me to that level as well.
“We’re like a little duo in terms of just kind of doing everything together. We try to make each other better. Hopefully I get to the level of play where he’s at and we can get back to that Rook 1, Rook 2 stuff we did.”
Like Richardson, who signed a four-year, $42 million extension this summer, Winslow hopes his future is tied to the Heat long term. The Heat picked up his option for next season and could discuss a long-term extension with him next summer if he proves to be the player Pat Riley believes he can be.
“I love the organization,” Winslow said. “I love the people here, the city. We’ll definitely be interested to see what that extension says next year.”