The 2nd Annual Justise Winslow Invitational Clinic in Houston was a rousing success.
50 campers assembled at the Miami Heat forward’s high school alma mater, St. John’s in Houston, for the two-day clinic held on June 24th and June 25th puffed up with boundless energy, as if they were diminutive superheroes, tasked with the simplest of missions–have fun.
And how could it not be fun?
To get their golden ticket to the event, which is one of the many programs offered though the Robin’s House Family Foundation, which was established to “encourage and guide children and young adults to discover their highest potential through education, recreation, and community outreach,” the kids had to write essays about how they would change the world.
“We couldn’t accept everybody, so we wanted to do something fun and creative,” Winslow said. “And I just like to see how kids think, even just talking to kids about different stuff like the draft or LaVar Ball, I just to see what they think. It’s interesting just to hear their perspective on things. We asked about community service, one thing they would do to help out the world, so they answered with things like helping the homeless, giving back, feeding the needy, that sort of thing. It’s just a great way to see how kids think and see how genuine their hearts are.”
Q-tipped with brand new adidas sneakers gifted by the brand to all those lucky to attend, the incoming 5th and 6th graders ran drills, shot jumpers, dribbled to the rim for layups and dove for loose balls as if their very lives depended on it.
All under the watchful eye of Winslow, who, despite the pull of today’s youth towards shooting three balls from well beyond the arc, worked directly with the young players, continuously sharing the importance of playing swarming, stingy defense.
“It really is tough,” said Winslow, about teaching the kids the merits of lockdown defense. “You see the way the game is going and everyone is in love with the three ball and that sort of thing, but I try to ingrain some of those fundamentals and just simple basketball principles. A lot of people forget that defense is 50 percent of the game, so we gotta keep hammering that home to the next generation so they don’t lose those fundamentals.”
As he runs up and down the court, refereeing games and stopping kids to deliver on-the-spot advice, it’s easy to see just how much the former Duke Blue Devil cares about the youngsters and their grasp of the fundamentals of the game he loves.
“I’ve been blessed and very fortunate in my life, so I feel obligated to give back and to help those less fortunate,” Winslow said. “When it comes to kids, I’ll do anything for kids because I know what it means to be inspired and be motivated by a role model or someone like that. When it comes to kids, I’m down for anything that puts a smile on their face, I’m down for it.”
Winslow’s penchant for giving back stems from his strong family upbringing. As a youth, his mother, Robin Davis, made sure he knew the value of helping others.
“For Justise, giving back is just like walking,” Ms. Davis said. “This is the way they grew up, it comes natural.”
As for the campers, Ms. Davis and her son, who is signed to Jay Z’s Roc Nation sports agency, want them to go home with an understanding that of what it means to give and that you don’t have to have money or material things to do it.
Additionally, they want the kids to leave with a higher basketball IQ.
“We learned how to take what’s coming at you,” said 11-year old Justin Mitchell. “If the refs call a bad call, you just have to accept it. And play as a team and make quality shots.”
Speaking of quality shots, Winslow, who is coming off a sophomore campaign that was cut short by a shoulder injury, has spent the better part of the offseason improving his shot.
“I’ve definitely worked on my perimeter shot, getting the three ball down,” Winslow said. “But I’ve always felt versatile. I’ve always worked on all aspects of my game. I’m just trying to get in the best shape possible, get healthy.”
While recovering from surgery to repair the torn labrum in his right shoulder, Winslow had to watch as his teammates gutted out the second half of the season and almost making the playoffs.
“It was hard to watch, but at the same time, those guys, they don’t know how much they motivated me during my recovery process,” Winslow said. “Just seeing them come back from being 11-30 to being 41-41, I was back there working just as hard as them because they were inspiring me with their play. We came up short and everybody was disappointed, but we were still in the gym trying to build on what we had going, so next year should be bright for us.”
Going into his third year, Winslow will be asked to improve his offensive game, as well as build upon his plus/minus. Last season, when he was in the game, he boosted his team’s net rating by 4.6 points.
While no one seems to be giving the Heat any chance to dethrone or challenge the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors or Cleveland Cavaliers, Winslow believes his team will be able to compete for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
“I think we can,” Winslow said. “I think we got a good group. Obviously, we’ll see how free agency turns out, but the second half of the year, we were right up there, a top 5 team in the league. We were handling those top teams. So we just gotta be more consistent with that and start off that way this coming year.”
Photos courtesy of Aaron M. Sprecher.