From Dahntay to Justise: Bringing Attitude Back to Bull City

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“That’s how I played the best, just being aggressive and having that chip on my shoulder and just use that to motivate you as a player to play your best.”

In an interview with Steve Clark of The Devil’s Den, Dahntay Jones looks back at his days at Duke fondly, remembering that he always felt like he had something to prove. His reasoning was he thought some were saying he wasn’t good enough to transfer to Duke, that he didn’t deserve to be on a team with so many McDonald’s All-Americans. Whether or not people were actually saying this, Jones wasted no time in proving he not only belonged, but could stand out from the pack. I remember how much I loved watching him destroy opponents with his take no prisoners approach, and screaming at the television “damn, that’s one angry dude!”

Dahntay Jones might have played angry, but that anger was always a positive, focused aggression (although Kobe Bryant might disagree). Incredibly athletic, Jones had a certain attitude in the way, especially on defense, that he marked his territory on the basketball court. He was never afraid to get in the face of opponents or even teammates who he felt were not playing up to their potential. He led by example, led by voice, and led by force. The respect that the Duke team had for Dahntay during his three years always seemed unquestioned. Off the court, though, Jones was always calm, respectful, and well-spoken, conducting himself immaculately. In fact, he has a bright future in television ahead, already putting in work on ESPN First Take and as an analyst on NBA TV. And how could an angry person sitting out for a season in his transfer year be given the Glen E. “Ted” Mann Award (Player Contributing Most to Team Morale) in 2001? Keep in mind that this was the season Duke won a National Championship.

Fast forward to the 2014-2015 season. Duke has lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in two out of three years, and in the last 10 years, only advanced past the round of 16 twice. This lack of consistent success can be attributed to many factors, like depth problems in 2005 and 2006, a rebuild from 2007 through 2009, and transfers/injuries combined with adjusting to the one and done climate and lack of player development in the years since the 2010 National Championship. To me, though, Duke has lacked a player like Dahntay Jones. Jones knew who he was at Duke, and thus carried himself with a worthy swagger, a swagger that I haven’t seen back at Durham until this upcoming season. Dahntay Jones is listed at 6’6, 225 lb.

Enter Justise Winslow, who is listed at 6’6, 225 lb. (see what I did there?) The son of ex-NBA player Rickie Winslow, Justise off the court (from what I’ve seen in videos) has a very humble, easygoing personality. He seems like the type of person able to relate to everyone as well as lighten any situation, as evidenced by him clowning a future Duke teammate. Yet in a 2013 video designed to get to know him off the court, he made a comment starting at the 7:52 mark that gives a lot of insight into his competitive mental makeup. He disclosed that he, even in his senior year, was still considering playing football, as “It’s the one sport where you can just hurt somebody.” Towards the end of the comment, Winslow starts to break into a knowing smile, yet quickly composes himself. He doesn’t seem to regret what he said, though, and that’s what makes me excited.

I have (of course scientifically!) studied facial expressions, attitudes and body language of many athletes in different sports, trying to find a common demeanor used during games to achieve at the highest level. The conclusion that I’ve come to is that there is no one way to look or act. In basketball, Michael Jordan talked a lot, yet always looked incredibly calm. Reggie Miller enjoyed constant “conversation” with opponents and was very outwardly emotional. Tim Duncan never says a word. And Kyrie Irving, Blake Griffin, Steph Curry and Derrick Rose all look like they’re about to fall asleep while dominating a game. I have always been fascinated with players who wear genuine emotion on their sleeves, such as Russell Westbrook (who I wrote about) and DeMarcus (Boogie) Cousins. When they speak off the court, it’s hard to imagine that they are the same people who looked like they were about to rip their opponents heads off during competition. And they have, at times, had a tough time focusing their passion during games. But I’ll take a player all day who cares too much over a guy who doesn’t give a damn. Sports are based in emotion, and trying to stifle that takes away the essence of what that player needs to succeed.

Justise Winslow seems to have the “do whatever it takes at all costs” gene. I love it, and am more excited to watch him play than I have been for any incoming Dukie in a long time. From weeping tears of joy when announcing his decision to attend Duke, to joining the Cameron Crazies for multiple games in the stands, to interviewing Duke players in the postgame locker room while still in High School, Winslow is 100% invested in Duke, and it made a big impact on me last February.

He takes his emotion onto the court during games, and looks like he would run through a wall to achieve a win for his team. His facial expressions range from (again using my scientific analysis) “Get out of my way!” to “You better get out of my way right now…or else!” Duke genuinely has a player who can, IMO, intimidate opponents. In the “everybody gets a trophy” world we live in now, some seem to want bonafide robots playing sports, showing just enough personality to be noticeable, but no more than that. I’m sure there will be those who judge the fire in Winslow’s eyes during games and ignorantly wonder what happened to Duke recruiting players with “class.” This is why I encourage all Duke (and non-Duke) fans to look in the mirror and ask what they want from a player. Justise is intelligent, respectful, and loyal. If the aggressiveness he plays with during games affects any views of him as a person, this is more an indictment of today’s society than it is anything about him.

Looking at Winslow’s style of play, his immediate impact will be felt most on the defensive end. Duke’s defense, without any sugarcoating, was atrocious last year. It has been about 10 years since Duke has been able to use a full court press, but now the ability is there when he is on the court. His length and quickness can smother opponents until his teammates come over to trap, yet he can also stay with a dribbler all the way up the court. In transition defense, Winslow is at his best when a player from the opposing team is being guarded by Winslow’s teammate. It amazes me in videos how many times it looks like he stalks the unknowing ball handler from behind, knocking the ball loose and creating offensive transition opportunities for his own team. In half court defense, Justise crowds his man on the perimeter, extending the defense and forcing decisions under duress. Too many times in recent years, the Duke defense has consisted of sitting back and letting the opposition dictate strategy and tempo at will. On the ball, he takes good angles defending against drives, and when Winslow’s man passes inside to the post, he seems to have the ability to cheat and double team down low, while having the quickness and instincts to be able to recover if the ball is thrown back outside. Speaking of cheating off the ball, I am predicting some jaw dropping blocks of opponents when Justise unsuspectingly attacks from the weak side. As for rebounding, some players avoid contact. Justise seems to embrace it, from what I’ve seen on video and per his football comment. This will greatly help, as another Duke struggle recently has been players watching and not boxing out while opponents aggressively attack the ball. I will fully admit my bias towards Winslow, but I see no way anyone outworks the young man for a ball, whether it’s coming off the rim for a rebound or 50/50 loose balls.

To sum up Winslow’s defensive impact, he can help bring back the full court press as well as improve defense in transition, half court, perimeter, on ball, rebounding, and 50/50 balls. He will also improve the post defense with his ability to help double team or cheat down low. I could mention what I consider to be a very high defensive IQ, but this cannot be proven. It’s more of a sense I get when watching his movements, anticipation, and instincts, which remind me of Latrell Sprewell (just in a basketball sense!) And if an end of game situation comes up with Winslow going against an opposing player with the clock running down, his mindset will definitely work in his favor.

On offense, Winslow is a work in progress. His athleticism has allowed him to succeed driving to the rim without a true finishing move not involving a dunk. He has a dangerously high dribble, and tends to fall in love with his outside shot, during which his balance tends to waver and the release point varies. These are things that can be worked on and fine-tuned during his time at Duke. For now, he should be in attack mode as much as possible on offense. When attacking, he makes opponents react to him, setting up to draw fouls, highlight reel dunks, and most impressive to me on offense, his passing. A very unselfish player, Winslow’s Duke teammates need to understand to keep moving, because if they are open, he will find them. Last year, players stood around watching Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, and to an extent Rasheed Sulaimon try to individually break down opponents for isolation baskets. The assist total will rise because of Winslow’s ability to create shots for others and help the spacing. If he stays in attack mode, offensive rebounds go up as well. Hustle and effort plays are always positive, and the young man’s motor is constant.

I mentioned that Dahntay Jones led by example, led vocally, and led by force. Force doesn’t necessary mean anything physical; force was meant to mean he made others around him better by shear will. Justise has Dahntay’s traits in spades. Once Duke players see how hard he plays and how much he wants to win, they won’t have any choice but to follow his lead. I have to acknowledge that am I comparing Justise as a Freshman to Dahntay, who never played a real game at Duke until his redshirt Junior season. This is not a very fair thing for me to do. Justise will lead by example, but it typically takes players longer than one year to feel comfortable with vocal leadership. I will also point out that in Dahntay’s two years playing games at Duke, they lost in the Sweet 16 both time, so end of year success is no guarantee.

The one thing I can confidently predict is that Justise Winslow will give everything he has in order to help the team this season. His impact will be so much more than statistics will indicate, and while I would love to see him at Duke for four years, every moment he gives to the program should be appreciated. When he signed with Duke, a Kanye West line immediately appeared in my head, and although Winslow would never sink to the depths of using it, I’m sure many fans will be more than happy to scream out “Too many Urkels on your team, that’s why your Winslow!” when playing against a certain Tobacco Road rival this season.

Last April, I found myself unable to shed the Justise/Dahntay comparisons in my mind, and tweeted at Jones, “You ever seen future-Dukie @Chief_Justise play? His game reminds me of yours. Lockdown defender & in your face leadership.” Some basketball players on Twitter “favorite” everything with their name/handle on it. Others pick and choose. So I can never be positive if Dahntay Jones was legitimately agreeing with me or just acknowledging, but I’m happy that he knows at least one Duke fan that thought of him when taking notice of a player who will hopefully be bringing attitude back to Bull City.

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(I apologize for the blurry image. The tweet has somehow vanished from the internet, so all I can do is screencap an image from my Gmail account).

 

*This is an opinion piece. I don’t have the technology or the patience to break down all of Justise Winslow’s plays to truly show and prove how his game will affect Duke. I also (obviously) do not know him personally, and my analysis of his attitude/character is strictly my opinion. I am not judging him in any way. If you disagree with any of my thoughts, it’s fine. Just remember I am not basing anything I wrote on fact. It’s just what I personally have observed. I admire the kid, and wanted to write about how and why I believe he is great for the program*

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