Graduates of the St. John's School — the elite private school in Houston that perennially ranks among the best in the country — are supposed to become CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Or at least, U.S. Ambassadors.
They're not expected to become NBA stars in training at Duke. But that's exactly what Justise Winslow is. This St. John's product is turning into a different kind of Duke star and Mike Krzyzewski's program is better for it.
Winslow plays with pure trash talking joy. He does not try to conform to the Duke way and present some false public front. No snarling into someone's ear for Winslow. No shoves (or foot stomps) when the refs might not be looking. There is no Eddie Haskell or Christian Laettner in Justise Winslow's game. He'll let an entire stadium in on his fury.
So there's Winslow back home in Houston for the South Regional Friday night, turning NRG Stadium into his personal theater. And he puts on quite the demonstrative show. Winslow turns and screams to the crowd after nearly every big basket or block. He tells the Utes — and the world — what he is doing. Which is ripping another team's collective heart out.
At one point, Winslow becomes so caught up in talking that he fails to get back on defense quickly enough and Utah ends up with an easy layup.
No matter. When you're playing as well as Winslow is — bringing real attitude to a Duke team awash in young talent — a momentary lapse can be excused. On this night, he's just caught up in the moment. His moment.
Winslow turns and screams to the crowd after nearly every big basket or block. He tells the Utes — and the world — what he is doing.
"This is one of those games I felt really comfortable," Winslow says in Blue Devils locker room.
Homer Simpson on a hammock isn't this comfortable. Winslow puts up a game-high 21 points, completely busts Utah's defense with three 3-pointers, grabs 10 rebounds and blocks two shots in spectacular fashion. It's enough to push Duke into a compelling Elite Eight matchup against Gonzaga with a 63-57 win over fifth seed Utah that's not nearly as close as the final score.
It's also enough to render Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak at a loss for words. "I don't really have an opening statement," Krystkowiak says when asked to kick off his press conference after the game.
Seeing Winslow shoot like that in this daunting, jumper-killing setting is enough to make anyone speechless. After two games of bricks in this Regional — following Houston's historically offensively challenged Final Four in 2011 — NRG Stadium's cemented a reputation as a shooter's ultimate nightmare.
Yet, the newly 19-year-old Winslow shoots 8 for 13, including a 3-for-4 clip from three.
"Not really," Winslow says when asked if he finds NRG Stadium challenging. "The goal's still 10 feet high. It's still however much distance away."
It's good to be home. It's better to play with pure attitude. The Utes didn't count on this when they came up with their upset gameplan. Utah could have lived with the 6-foot-6 Winslow's quick swoopes to the basket and even his crazy rejections of their own NBA bound star Delon Wright's layup attempts.
But they could never survive this type of shooting.
"He's a high-powered guy," Krystkowiak says of Winslow later when he's found his voice. "If you look at the stats — over the last eight games — he's not a multiple threes guy. He pretty much a one three a game guy.
It's good to be home. It's better to play with pure attitude.
"With some of the other things we needed to do defensively, we were certainly going to live with him shooting from there. And he got us."
A ridiculous, clearly wrong third foul call on Wright with five minutes left in the first half also helps get Utah. Duke benefits from an official's gift? Imagine that.
"That was an awful third foul call," Charles Barkley rightly groans in the TV halftime show. "Terrible."
Utah somewhat manages to keep it close with Wright unjustly sidelined, staying within 27-22 at hafltime. But with Duke center Jahlil Okafor — the likely No. 1 pick in this year's NBA Draft — also benched by Krzyzewski at the time with two fouls, the Utes miss a priceless opportunity to swing the game. And Wright never seems to regain his confidence.
The St. John's kid turns out to be the best player in the game instead, hitting crucial second half 3-pointers, blocking Wright in one memorable early sequence. Screaming all the way.
On the way off the floor, after an on-court CBS interview, Winslow runs out of his way to slaps hands with a cornered off section of Duke fans. "Go Mavericks!" someone yells out, name dropping St. John's nickname.
Winslow gives a quick nod.
Finally, a Duke player worth loving. Pass the attitude. And smile.