The Eastern Washington basketball team made it look easy Monday night, breaking Portland State’s press to finish off the game.
The operative word is “finish” – a mantra for the Eagles and especially for senior point guard Kevin Winford.
Together they’ll try to get to the finish line: a spot in the Big Sky Conference Tournament. The team is young, but the driver is goal-oriented and committed to finishing what he starts – no matter the obstacles.
“Kevin is a model for how we’re trying to build a program,” Eastern second-year head coach Jim Hayford said. “He does the the right thing and carries himself the right way.”
Winford has done that since his high school days in Alaska, where the winters are long, dark and cold. Exposure is a big problem – especially if you’re a high school basketball player who could use a little attention from college coaches in the Lower 48.
The word from coaches was always the same: He’s a good player but we’re not able to see him in person.
Winford says his father, Kevin Sr., tirelessly shipped DVDs to coaches while the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Winford shipped himself to summer tournaments on both coasts.
His mother, Gwendolyn, pushed Kevin to excel in the classroom.
“Of course, she wanted me to play, but she wanted us to take passion into our schoolwork,” he said.
Determined to play at the Division I level, Winford signed with former Eastern coach Kirk Earlywine, and got big minutes on the court his first two seasons while averaging nine points per game.
Winford has played in 106 career games to rank 11th in school history, and also ranks in the top 10 on several Eastern season and career lists for 3-point shooting. On career charts, his 129 makes and his 385 attempts both rank fifth.
Winford also owns school records for single game 3-pointers made (10) and attempted (23) when he finished with 39 points – fifth-best in school history – in his sophomore season against New Hope.
Along the way, he’s made the All-Big Sky academic team three years running, and will graduate this term with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He’s considering pursuing an MBA.
Winford’s playing time dropped last year when senior guard Cliff Colimon moved to the point to replace Glen Dean, but picked up this year when he competed with transfer Justin Crosgile.
But in the first of two surprises, Crosgile left the team and left the ball in Winford’s hands.
“If he steps up and owns that position he could finish strong,” Hayford said. “He’s a key for us making the Big Sky Tournament.”
A week later, Winford and teammate Jeffrey Forbes were injured in a vehicle accident in Grand Forks, N.D. Forbes was sidelined for one game with a knee injury, but Winford missed the entire weekend with a concussion.
“It was crazy, and it really let me down,” Winford said. “Before the accident, I felt like I was playing well.”
Winford picked up the pieces Monday against Portland State with 12 points, three assists and a big dose of senior leadership – no small contribution for a team dominated by underclassmen.
“I just communicate with them a lot,” Winford said. “I’ve been a freshman too. I tell them my stories and my experiences, and they listen to what I have to say.”
All the way to the finish line.