The benefits of playing among top-level talent, Justise Winslow was saying, far outweigh the drawbacks and sacrifices. The greatest gain, the Houston mega-prospect said, is the result.
“I would say playing with more talent is more fun,” Winslow said, “just because you’re more likely to win. I like to win, and we’ve been winning. You have fun that way, and you don’t have all that pressure on you to perform. With more talent, you win more and I like that.”
Winslow, a 6-foot-6 junior, is a top-10 rated recruit, but is simply one piece of a ridiculously gifted Houston Hoops AAU team that was required viewing at Boo Williams’ annual Nike Invitational and Elite Youth Basketball League event last weekend at the BooPlex.
“They’re worth your entertainment dollar,” Boo joked Sunday morning.
In addition to Winslow, the Houston squad also has three other highly-rated players: Justin Jackson, an athletic 6-8 wing who already has committed to North Carolina; 6-7 junior Kelly Oubre; and springy 6-9 Khadeem Lattin, the grandson of former Texas Western standout and 1966 NCAA champ Dave “Big Daddy” Lattin.
Houston Hoops is 8-1 after two weekends of the EYBL, Nike’s summer-long league for its elite 17-and-under teams. Most of its games haven’t been close. The team lost Sunday afternoon's finale, to an Alabama squad, that seemed to have more to do with tired legs and lost focus after an early Sunday game than talent.
“I think every team’s a little different,” HH head coach Tim Schumacher said, “but with these guys, I give them a lot of respect because they’ve earned it. It kind of goes two ways. We both believe in each other. They’ve bought into what we’re trying to do and they’re playing hard.
“The thing is, if you get a lot of highly-rated guys on one team, a lot of times it doesn’t work, but the chemistry of this team is outstanding, and that’s a credit to the kids.”
The Houston Hoops team is mad long. They get up and down the floor in a blink. They’re so long and cover so much ground so quickly that the court almost seems too small. They pass and rebound and constantly look for each other. They’re the kind of team that other players stop to watch.
“Our coach really preaches to us to have fun, play smart, play together,” said Winslow, who played for the USA’s gold medal team at the FIBA U17 world championships last year. “Those are three things we try to play by. We’re trying to develop chemistry. We have a lot of top-rated guys and sometimes it’s hard for everybody to be on the same page.
“But I think that’s why we’ve been so successful this year. We’re all unselfish and we want to win. If that means making the extra pass or taking a charge, that’s what we do.”
Houston wasn’t at its best Sunday morning at the unfriendly time of 8 a.m., but had enough to hold off Detroit-based The Family 74-57. Jackson scored 24 points and Winslow an efficient 18.
Among those front and center for the game’s early tipoff were Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and assistant Steve Wojciechowski, Baylor’s Scott Drew and North Carolina assistant Steve Robinson. Arizona’s Sean Miller and Alabama’s Anthony Grant saw the majority of the game.
Houston jumped out to an early double-figure lead with fast breaks and patient, unselfish offense. Perimeter shots against its zone defense are hard to come by, with the 6-8 Jackson at the top and the 6-6 Oubre and 6-7 Gilmore on the wings.
The Family, behind rail-thin guard Edmond Sumner (19 points), cut the lead to five points with under seven minutes remaining. But a minute-and-a-half later, behind Jackson and Oubre, the cushion was back to 16.
“We’re all unselfish, and we try to make the right play,” Winslow said. “Chemistry’s been building. I think we have fun out there, make the extra pass, and that’s what spectators are seeing out there.”
Said Schumacher, “The challenge in my job right now is, getting guys to understand the value of giving up for yourself and give to the team just a little bit. If we win a lot of games, the success will be a result of that. When I say, ‘give the credit to the kids,’ because kids don’t always buy into that. But we’ve been around enough for a couple years that they believe what we’re doing and they understand what we’re trying to get accomplished.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun