Jenice Winter was hesitant at first. She wasn’t sure if she was ready for the kind of competition the Gauchos AAU program plays against just about every weekend in the summer.
“I was so comfortable where I was at,” the rising junior said of Team Prince. “I didn’t know what the Gauchos were about.”
But Team Prince coach Anwar Gladden, who coaches Winter at South Shore HS, wasn’t planning on traveling with his AAU team much this summer. So he pushed his budding star — along with rising senior Tatiana Wilson, rising junior Fannisha Price and rising sophomore Aliyah Cooley — toward the Gauchos. He never doubted Winter’s ability to hang with the elite.
“She’s the face of the program when it comes to being a student-athlete,” Gladden said. “She’s going to be a captain as a junior and nobody works harder than her — nobody.”
The coach’s intuition was right.
Winter, who is playing this weekend at the Nike/USJN National Championship in the Washington, D.C, area, has emerged as a key cog off the bench for a team that Gladden describes as “stacked.” The NY Gauchos 16 Black, which features players from all over the Northeast, has lost just three times all summer and has six championships – most of the time playing up in age.
“She is playing well,” Gauchos Black coach Sabrina Allen said before her team met the Erie Saints last Friday night at the University of Maryland’s Comcast Center. “She doesn’t start for me, but when she comes off the bench she’s a ball full of fire. She can jump. She’s just excellent. I love her.”
At 5-foot-11, Winter is a matchup problem for opposing defenses with her speed, length and athleticism. Her energy is what makes Allen excited about bringing her off the bench in important spots. The young wing, who is already receiving interest from schools like Hofstra, has shaken her reluctance, too.
“It’s got me tougher mentally, it helped me get into the big moments,” she said. “It’s getting me ready for the season. … Now that I’m here I like it, it’s like my new family.”
Gladden is down in Maryland this weekend and had a chance to see Winter play. Her breakout summer has him chomping at the bit for next school season to start.
“Playing with the Gauchos against elite competition around the country is showing her that she could play on that level,” Gladden said. “She was a little bit skeptical at first.”
Allen was surprised to hear that.
“She never looked nervous or scared,” she said. “I thought she had already been playing against these types of players. Every game she does something to make it better for our team.”