Despite battling freakish injuries throughout his basketball career at Eastern, senior guard Kevin Winford is in the record books for three-point shooting and games played
By Fedor Gaponenko, EWU Sports Information
Eastern Washington University senior men’s basketball player Kevin Winford isn’t sure whether to laugh or cry when reviewing the unfortunate – even freakish -- injuries and circumstances that have held him out of games.
Winford and three other seniors will be playing their final home games at Reese Court this week when EWU hosts Northern Colorado on Thursday (Feb. 28) and North Dakota for Senior Day on Saturday (March 2). But for the fourth time in his career, Winford finds himself on the shelf – this time with compartment syndrome after previous peculiar ailments that included a swollen tongue and two concussions, one in a car accident.
Nevertheless, Winford has had a storied career at Eastern, with 111 games played to rank seventh in school history. His 138 career 3-pointers made and 409 3-point attempts both rank fifth all-time, and he already holds school records for single game 3-pointers made (10) and attempted (23). His 39 points against New Hope in his sophomore season are the fifth-most in EWU history.
But Winford hasn’t played since Feb. 16 when he suffered what seemed like a relatively harmless shin blow. But a quick diagnosis determined it was compartment syndrome and required immediate surgery.
Last year, Winford bit his tongue versus Cal State Fullerton, then ended up in intensive care and spent two days in a California hospital because of an infection. He also suffered two concussions in his career, one in an accident involving one of EWU’s team mini-vans. In all, he’s missed eight of a possible 119 games in his career – games and memories that he can never gain back again.
Growing up in a military family, Winford was raised with a big awareness of structure and self-discipline. Rules and the expectation to keep his grades up if he wanted to keep his basketball playing privileges helped Winford adapt to the college game and gave him the ability to discipline himself in overcoming obstacles. Apart from the values his parents instilled into him, they are also there to support and encourage him.
Ultimately, Winford is thankful that he has remained mostly healthy and was able to share a great four years of Eagles basketball with his EWU teammates and friends.
Forget about what are the best arenas you’ve played in on the road, instead, what are the favorite emergency rooms you’ve had to visit?
“That’s actually a good question. I would probably say California when I had my bizarre tongue injury. I think it was in Northridge Calif., and it was a nice hospital. I was in there for three days and they treated me really well.”
When you injured your shin against Southern Utah, how long did it take before you and athletic trainer Donald Sims realize you might have compartment syndrome and needed to get immediate attention?
“It wasn’t immediately after I got hit, because I actually got stretched out and got back into the game. It hurt, but I was able to play. As the game progressed and I continued to play, it got ridiculously tight. I’ve had tight muscles before, but nothing like this. It felt like my shin was going to burst out of my leg. After I shot my free throws and came out of the game, they tried stretching it again, but the pain was just unbearable. When a doctor looked at it and compared my two legs he was worried about compartment syndrome. He wasn’t certain, but he was worried enough to have me go to the emergency room and that’s when they diagnosed me. Within three or four hours I was getting surgery.”
Are you feeling better now and what is the timetable on your recovery?
“I’m feeling better, but I still have the stitches in. I was in a boot this weekend and in crutches earlier, but I can walk fine now. Hopefully I will be able to play a little on Senior Night -- not like I usually play, but I need to get out there at least for a bit. Maybe next week I’ll be able to play in the final two games.”
When you add in a tongue infection and a couple of concussions, don’t you have to laugh a little about all the unusual sports injuries you’ve suffered in four years?
“Sometimes you sit back and laugh, but sometimes it’s a little depressing. I get down about it from time to time -- I feel like maybe if a lot of these injuries didn’t happen I would have had a much better career. I had an okay career here -- nothing spectacular and nothing too down. You never know, maybe if those injuries didn’t happen something else would have happened. I’m just thankful I’m healthy and alive -- that’s the most important thing.”
Despite the injuries, you still made it into the top 10 for all-time games played and are among Eastern’s career leaders for 3-point shooting. How are you able to maintain a high level of play no matter how many minutes you get or how many times you were interrupted by misfortune?
“It’s mostly just about keeping confidence in myself. A lot of kids, when things like that happen, lose their confidence and aren’t the same player. For me, it’s just being positive. I have a strong family base that keeps pushing me and helps me to stay positive and keep a level head. Of course, it’s hard to stay positive the whole time. There are times when it can take a toll on you, but my family and friends are always there for support.”
What has it been like to share the last four years at Eastern with fellow senior guard Jeffrey Forbes?
“It’s been incredible. He’s one of my best friends and roommate too. There’s probably no other person I would’ve wanted to spend these last four years with. It’s sad that it has to end so soon, but we really had a great time.”
As the season has gone on, the team has continued to improve. What are some challenges and adversity this year’s squad has had to overcome?
“Injuries have been a big part -- everyone pretty much has been hurt. Jeff and I were in a car accident in North Dakota and were out for a bit, and Venky Jois -- one of our top scorers and rebounders -- was hurt. I feel like adversity makes a team better. We have a lot of young guys and this adversity is helping them mature fast. They see that just because certain things happen doesn’t mean we can’t be successful. Down the road when adversity strikes, they will look back on this freshman year and say, ‘what we’re facing now is nothing compared to what we overcame.’”
Speaking of the young guys, there are a lot of freshmen and sophomores playing heavy minutes. How do you feel about EWU’s basketball program and its future?
“I feel like we have a lot of potential. These young guys are going through a lot. They’re playing a lot at a young age. I feel like if this team sticks together and really buys in and continues to improve, then down the road in a couple of years it will be the same core group of guys. A lot of people don’t know, but it really helps a team with that kind of longevity playing together. It really helps the chemistry. I’m really excited about this team’s future.”
Looking back at your career here at Eastern, what was your favorite moment?
“Probably the night I scored 39 points against New Hope. It was an amazing feeling. Mostly, though, just being here and all the good times with the team is what I will remember.”
Last year you had a dunk in traffic versus Linfield and have dunked the ball on several occasions in your career. Is there a chance we will see you get above the rim again before you hang up your Eastern jersey?
“Maybe, I don’t know about Saturday. We’ll see how I feel, but if I get a chance I will definitely try.”
What do you love most about basketball?
“That’s a tough question. I love the game; there isn’t really any aspect or specific part -- I just love being on the court. Probably competing and playing with a good group of guys is the best part. I don’t know, I’ve always loved basketball, but I never thought about why exactly.”
How did coming from a military family impact your basketball development growing up?
“I grew up in a structured family. Not super structured like waking up with a drill whistle, but in a family where my parents emphasized working hard. If I didn’t do my chores I wasn’t getting an allowance -- no work, no pay. Also, if I didn’t keep my grades up, I couldn’t play basketball. They had a specific structure and rules that my brother and I had to abide by and that really helped me transfer to college basketball. Basketball is structured too -- you have to wake up and go to practice and you have to discipline yourself to practice on your own. I realized at an early age that if you want to do something you need to work hard at it. My parents did an amazing job of instilling that into me.”
Who were some of your childhood basketball influences?
“My childhood influences have always been Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson; I grew up loving to watch them. In Alaska where I lived, we had certain players we aspired to be like. I went to high school with Mario Chalmers -- he was my teammate when I was a freshman and he was a senior. I wanted to go to college like him. There are a lot of guys that I played with that inspired me.”
What do you like to spend your time doing apart from college and basketball?
“I’m a pretty laid back guy. I like playing video games -- that’s probably my top thing. I play a lot of video games, I’m not going to lie. I also do a lot of computer things. I want to go into information technology, so computers are kind of my passion outside of basketball.”
When will you finish your degree and what are your plans after that?
“I have two classes left, so I’m finishing this spring and graduating. After that, it’s still a question. I want to go to graduate school and get my master’s degree. But I also want to continue playing basketball, so if I get an opportunity to do that I will. This injury really made me hungrier -- I keep thinking this can’t be it. So those are the two options right now.”