Editor’s Note: Sports Editor Jeff Cali caught up with former Ada High standout Derek Winston Wednesday night during a shoot-around at the Ada Junior High east gymnasium. Winston, the 2005 Ada News All-Area Boys Player of the Year, just signed a contract to play for BBC Nyon, a professional team in Switzerland. Winston is about to enter his seventh season as an overseas professional. Following is a question-and-answer session with the Ada High All-State guard.
ADA NEWS: First of all, tell me about your latest pro contract and where you will be playing next.
WINSTON: “I just signed a contract to play for BBC Nyon in Nyon, Switzerland. It’s not too far from Geneva, one of the biggest cities there. They made it to the finals last year and lost in the final game. Hopefully I can be that guy and get them over the hump.”
ADA NEWS: What are some positives from playing basketball overseas?
WINSTON: “The No. 1 positive for me is meeting my wife, Laura (the two got married last September). I never thought I’d get married over there. But to meet the love of my life is the No. 1 positive. Just getting to see the world and travel and the experience of different cultures and things like that have been great.The way they play basketball is totally different. It’s nothing like American basketball. But it’s been a great experience for me.”
ADA NEWS: Tell me some of the different places you’ve played as a professional basketball player.
WINSTON: “I started my professional career in Estonia. It used to be a part of Russia, but it separated into its own country. I played there for three years. I played one year in Germany and one year in Finland. I played some semi-pro ball here in the United States, including a team from Oklahoma that was from the ABA. Then I went to Switzerland about three years ago, and that’s where I’ve been ever since.”
ADA NEWS: How has Switzerland treated you?
WINSTON: “I love it. Just the culture — it’s a very open country. You have Africans that live there, Russians live there, Serbians, Americans. I like the way it’s very diverse. And it’s one of the safest countries in the world.”
ADA NEWS: You’ve been lucky to be mostly healthy during your pro career. Tell me about the one injury you had to overcome.
WINSTON: “When I was working out with a lot of my NBA friends, including Perry Jones, who used to play for the (Oklahoma City) Thunder, we were doing a workout in the summer. It was getting me a lot better. We were doing a workout where we had to dunk everything — this is when I had hops back in the day. One time I planted very wrong and when I came down, it just really kind of messed up my knee. I wouldn’t say it was a horrible injury, but when you hurt a knee it plays mind games with you. I was very hesitant to jump ... it changed my game a lot ,but it also made me learn other things as well. There are still times it bothers me a little bit, but I’m 100 percent. I’m feeling good.”
ADA NEWS: How well known are you in the Switzerland basketball ranks?
WINSTON: “Switzerland as a whole is not really a basketball country. But you have certain cities where they’re really into basketball. And the team I just signed with is in a city that’s really into basketball. That’s exciting. I’m known because a lot of the guys I’ve played against have seen me have very good games. A lot of teams and a lot of players understand who I am.”
ADA NEWS: What’s your most memorable game so far in Switzerland?
WINSTON: “I’d say it came when I played against the team I just signed with. It was last year and I scored 28 points off the bench, and I only played 21 or 22 minutes. I’ve had a couple of 30-to 35-point games, but I feel like that was my best game because I was productive as soon as I came off the bench. Coach didn’t let me play much because he said I needed to get in shape, so it was a situation where I was proving to him that I could still go.”
ADA NEWS: I know you keep up with the Oklahoma City Thunder. How do you think next season will go with the moves they’ve made this summer?
WINSTON: “Honestly, I see the Thunder going to the conference finals. I’m not going to say the Warriors are going to beat them just yet. That’s everyone’s prediction. Paul George is one my favorite players because he plays both sides of the ball. He’s not really a go-getter on offense, but he can be. He’s the type of player that will guard the best player on every team, and he’s the type of guy that can go get a bucket at any time. But he doesn’t have to worry about that much anymore when you have the MVP on your team.”
ADA NEWS: I know you still keep an eye on the Ada Cougars, and you know junior Kobe Burgess pretty well. Do you have any thoughts on how they’ll be next season?
WINSTON: “Kobe Burgess is a great player. He has a lot of things to work on, but he reminds me of myself when I was that age. He’s real competitive, and sometimes he gets frustrated at different things. I talk to him and his mother, and I just try to keep him humble. I want him to succeed. I want him to be better than he believes he can be. Players should never limit their expectations. The reason great players are so great is they always set different goals for themselves. I just want (Burgess) to be as successful as he can be.”
ADA NEWS: Do you have any advice for college players that may be thinking about trying to go overseas to play professionally?
WINSTON: “Never wait too late and never stop working. Get in the gym as much as possible yourself. If you want to be a professional player, you have to do what it takes to be a professional player. You have to set higher limits for yourself. You have to work an hour or two after practice. You have to prove to yourself you want to be the best you can be. You have to show teams and manages what you are capable of, not only on the court but off the court as well.”
ADA NEWS: You turned the big 3-0 in May. How much longer do you see yourself playing professional basketball?
WINSTON: “I’m going to play until the wheels fall off. I’m going to keep working hard and going to keep making my family and friends proud and everyone who has kept up with me from Ada.”
ADA NEWS: You put on camps for young athletes a lot during your off time in the United States. Tell me about that.
WINSTON: "I just started my own company, DJW Academy, just trying to help kids get better. What my camp is about is to help kids gain confidence. Kids struggle with confidence. I teach them how to have fun while working hard.”
ADA NEWS: Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans or the people of Ada?
WINSTON: “We have some good basketball players in the Ada area. People in this area need to understand that we need to give these kids an opportunity to get better. We need to have more open gyms here. We need to let parents use these gyms. I know parents who struggle to find a gym to use. It shouldn’t be that way. That’s why I want to open a gym here one day. I want to be able to open it to kids who want to get better. We need something like that in the Ada area.”