Just Watch Winslow: A Father-Son Bond Built On “Making It Awkward”
When I do defensive drills with my son’s youth basketball team, I like them to repeat three words: “Make it awkward.”
They think it’s hilarious and it usually sends them into prepubescent giggle fits. But after the laughter fades and the whistle blows, the words gain their desired effect.
My players proceed to stare holes through their defensive assignments as they maintain an almost uncomfortable proximity to their opponent. They face up, they grab, they hold, they shed forearms and push.
Sometimes tempers flare and small skirmishes break out. The offensive players look at me, pleading for a respite that never comes. Instead, I congratulate the defender for pissing his guy off.
And all this before a basketball is introduced to the scenario.
So, it’s in this vein that I usually sit my son down during Heat games and ask him to do one thing: Watch Justise Winslow. Don’t watch the ball. Don’t watch the scoreboard. Ignore Dwyane Wade’s runners and Chris Bosh’s jumpers. Ignore Hassan Whiteside’s blocks and Gerald Green’s dunks. Just watch Winslow.
Watch as the stone-faced 19-year old meets his opponent (usually the opposition’s best perimeter player) at half court, knees bent and feet shoulder width apart. Watch as he bumps Carmelo Anthony off course at the 3 point line, fights over a screen, recovers and fronts him in the post.
Watch as James Harden’s frustration grows as the punk kid denies him lane after lane, doesn’t budge on pump fakes and makes his life a living hell.
Watch and understand that this kid is a rookie who has earned the trust of a championship organization and is closing out every fourth quarter.
Rookies are supposed to be a bundle of nerves and raw athleticism, making up for their lack of experience with youthful energy. But Winslow is a rare breed.
A 19-year old built like a linebacker with the defensive savvy of a grizzled vet. He’s not supposed to be this good at defense yet. At least not this kind of defense. He’s not even supposed to know the little things that make a great defender, much less be able to do them night after night for a playoff contender.
So my son and I watch Winslow and take notes. I point out Anthony chastising a teammate out of frustration after he’s once again denied even a simple entry pass.
My son reminds me of the time an opposing player’s eyes filled with tears during a travel tournament because our team wouldn’t even let him cross half court. I remember that game because I’ve never been more proud of my son.
There was a kid on the other team that was killing us before I pulled my son to the side and told him that he better not let that kid touch the ball again. For the rest of the game my son and that kid might as well have shared a uniform.
That kid, like Anthony, clenched his fists and pouted and bitched and moaned. It got to the point I started to feel real sympathy for the poor soul. That’s probably how Wade felt as he watched his good friend Carmelo being driven to the brink of madness by his pupil/teammate.
It was the only time in the game I saw Winslow exhibit emotion. As Anthony angrily stormed off to his bench, you could see Justise look over at Wade and flash an almost sinister smile.
Good thing the game came the day after Anthony hosted Wade and Bosh at his home for Thanksgiving dinner. Because that would’ve been . . . awkward.