Justise Winslow not taking anything for granted with a second shot in the NBA

By Lindsay Dunn

“I didn’t think it was going to happen that soon.”

Justise Winslow has been on a long journey to step back on an NBA court. On Dec. 21, 2022, when Winslow was a member of the Portland Trail Blazers he left the game with an ankle injury that ended up sidelining him for almost a year.

It wasn’t until Dec. 13, 2023, that he was physically able to play a game again, and this time it was as a member of the Raptors 905. 

Two months later, the Raptors signed the Texas native to a 10-day contract.

“It was one of those things where you could start feeling the momentum, I could start to fill it pick up,” Winslow told CityNews about getting the contract. “Coach Khoury (head coach of the Raptors 905) called me and he gave me the good news and I probably didn’t sound the most excited on the phone but my heart was racing. I was super excited!”

The 27-year-old was drafted 10th overall by the Miami Heat in 2015 and has spent time with the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers, and the Trail Blazers. 

“I don’t take any of it for granted anymore. It’s a privilege to play in this league. I treat it with such an honour and I approach it with that type of joy and gratefulness.”

That joy and gratefulness has been felt in the 905 as well as in his presence – whether it be leading impromptu karaoke sessions on the team bus to keep morale high when they were stuck at the U.S. border for several hours, or encouraging his teammates, or on the court to take the shot.

“Justise is one of the players I clicked with immediately,” said Raptors 905 guard Drake Jeffries, who was with Winslow when he found out he was getting the 10-day deal. “I didn’t think we would have this good friendship but we do, me and ‘juice’ have gotten pretty close, he is a great teammate and friend and just brings such an energy with him.”

The 27-year-old has appeared in 13 games for the Raptors 905 averaging 16.5 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists with a 50.3 per cent field goal percentage.

“It’s definitely been a process,” Winslow said about getting back in a rhythm and feeling comfortable on the court again. “It hasn’t been easy. There have been some good days and bad days and ups and downs, but you know, just staying the course.”

“I have goals and benchmarks I want to hit.  The first one was getting healthy enough to play and then make an impact and eventually getting that call-up.”

So what’s the next benchmark for him?

“It’s really about asserting myself and just getting back comfortable out there and playing the game I love. I’ve been able to hit the benchmarks and I’ll just try to take care of what I can and let the rest do what it does.”

It’s safe to say the Raptors season has been an emotional rollercoaster. Going into their game Monday night against the San Antonio Spurs they have the fourth worst record in the East with just 19 wins and in the last six weeks have added nine new faces to the roster. As one of the new faces, he spoke with Raptors head coach Darko Rajaković about the impact they are hoping he can have on the team.

“My defense is something that can be infectious and really improve a team. I can also bring leadership. It’s only his first year here so he is still trying to get an identity for this group and for the organization as a whole. So just helping build that culture. I’ve been blessed to be a part of some good programs, whether professionally or even before in high school at Duke and Team USA. So just carrying all that with me and trying to help these guys reach their potential.”

The Raptors also signed  905’s Mouhamadou Gueye to a 10-day contract.  The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 14.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 30.9 minutes in 28 Showcase Cup and regular season games with Raptors 905 this season. 

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