Duke’s Justise Winslow celebrates after defeating the Badgers during the Final Four.
CHICAGO – Phil Jackson hasn’t been spotted at the NBA Draft Combine this week, but the Zen Master and other Knicks officials have met with many of the top players taking part in workouts and drills at the Quest Sports Complex.
Projected top-five picks Justise Winslow of Duke and D’Angelo Russell of Ohio State revealed Friday that they were among those to interview with Jackson at his nearby hotel ahead of Tuesday’s draft lottery. The second-seeded Knicks have a 19.9 percent chance of winning the top overall selection – with big men Karl-Anthony Towns of Kentucky and Jahlil Okafor of Duke, who are not here, the consensus top two available players — and can drop no lower than No.5.
“It was great to be with Mr. Jackson, just to see how he kind of works, his thought process about things,” said Winslow, a 6-7 swingman who left Duke after winning a national championship as a freshman. “All my meetings were good, but that one specifically with Mr. Jackson and coach Derek Fisher, it was kind of picking their brains, seeing what direction their team is going.
“They have a lot of different ways they can go this offseason. So it was more about getting to know me, my personal life, the basketball realm of me and getting to know each other.”
Winslow, who added that he’s already met with 14 NBA teams, also attended a Yankees game last week – set up by his agents at Roc Nation – and sat next to Knicks star Carmelo Anthony.
“It wasn’t anything about Justise and the Knicks, with him it was more about trying to help me adjust to the pro game, just kind of being a mentor for me,” Winslow said. “I know I’m coming off a championship like he had in ’03 (at Syracuse)”
For a young guy that was very similar to him, similar path, championship our freshman year, so it was just great to have a guy like that who’s accomplished so much looking out for you.”
Russell, meanwhile, boldly referred to himself as “the best player in the draft” after averaging 19 points and five assists as a freshman for the Buckeyes. Jackson earned an undisclosed fine from the NBA on a February scouting trip for speaking publicly about the 6-5 combo guard, calling Russell “a great looking kid and a great prospect.”
“I laughed because I was like ‘that’s nothing for him.’ But I just thought it was crazy,” Russell said. “I met with them (Friday). It went well. Phil’s tough to read. I feel like they asked me some questions. I answered them the same way I answered every other team. But it’s a great experience. It’s a great opportunity. I feel like I’ll make the best out of any situation.”
Asked about fitting his game to Jackson’s triangle offense, however, Russell added, “I’ve actually been hearing about triangle. I never knew what that was. I honestly don’t have any intel on that. But I definitely will adjust to it if I go there.”
BIG WILLIE STYLE
Kentucky 6-11 forward Willie Cauley-Stein, another projected top-10 pick, said he is scheduled to meet with and work out for Jackson and Knicks brass in New York on Sunday.
Jackson said last month that the Knicks would be interested in adding a defensive-minded big man along the lines of Tyson Chandler. Cauley-Stein has been compared to the former Knicks center in several scouting reports.
“I heard that. When I hear that, that perks my ears up, because that’s what I do. That’s what got me here,” Cauley-Stein said.
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