Driven to Winn

Micah Winn takes a shot from the free throw line. // Photo by Oliver Hamlin

By Malia Cantimbuhan

When Micah Winn sits down to study, his demeanor is every bit as intense as when he steps onto the basketball court. Brow furrowed and eyes alight with determination, it would be hard to tell the difference between a picture of him guarding an opponent and one of him writing an essay. Without this determination, Winn said his life could have turned out much differently.

Winn, 23, had to overcome plenty of adversity while living in South-Central Los Angeles. Winn said where he grew up, crime was everywhere. Drugs, alcohol and gang violence were the options for a lot of kids his age, but Winn chose differently.

Winn, who is now a redshirt junior at Western, started playing basketball at the age of four with his dad, Steven, and brother, Joel. His older brother played basketball and his dad was talented in many sports. Winn wanted to play like both of them. He started playing in adult leagues with his dad and brother at age 11. By the time he was in middle school, he had fallen for the game and was playing anywhere he could.

At Crenshaw High School, Winn established himself as a skilled player on the basketball team by the time he was a senior. He was named First Team All-Coliseum League, First Team All-Wave Newspapers, First Team All-City, First Team All-Area, Honorable Mention All-State as well as league champion in his senior year at Crenshaw High School.

He carried his talent to Cerritos College in Norwalk, California, where he played basketball under head coach Russ May.

May, who is in his 10th season coaching at Cerritos, said he saw incredible dedication and determination in Winn. He saw Winn as a competitive and driven student athlete, who was incredibly focused on what he wanted. He described Winn as a tireless worker, putting in extra time to achieve his goals. May said he appreciated Winn’s devotion to both school and basketball.

“Every morning he walked, he took a bus, he took a train to get to Cerritos College and was here every morning by 8 a.m. religiously,” May said. “Living in a very tough neighborhood, it was just incredibly inspiring and incredibly dedicated for a kid like that to get up every day and be here first to get in extra work.”

During this time, Winn’s family lived from paycheck to paycheck. Most of the money his family received went to his mother Rochelle’s medical bills, he said.

“We didn’t have a whole lot. I got a lot of clothes and things from my brother and friends,” Winn said. “Sometimes, I had to stretch some meals out and ask some of my teammates for help. I was so shy with everything, I wouldn’t ask them, but I would go along with them if I knew they were gonna pay for some food.”

Aside from the more obvious hurdles in Winn’s life, he was also battling against an opponent he didn’t even know he had. In 2015, Winn was diagnosed with dyslexia, which helped explain many of his difficulties in school.

“Growing up, I thought everybody saw things the way I saw them. When I figured out everybody saw words differently and that I didn’t see everything thing the way that it should be, it was a big challenge and it made me kind of shy and insecure,” Winn said.

As a vicious competitor who hated to lose, Winn also hated to admit his struggles.

“Some days were tough with him because he wanted to do everything himself,” May said. “He didn’t want to address it, he didn’t even tell anybody.”

Coach May and Winn’s wife, Imani, were eventually able to break him out of his insecurity and help him realize that he needed to get help. Winn talked to his school and began to receive assistance from Cerritos’ disability services. With their help, he was finally able to turn the corner and begin to overcome this challenge.

“My grades started going way, way, way up and everything else started flowing after that. I was finally able to break through. Ever since then, it just became so easy for me,” Winn said.

When Winn came to Western, he immediately contacted the disability center to make sure he would get the same accommodations he received at Cerritos. He let his coaches and his teammates know, who all help Winn however they can.

“It takes practice and really being patient in taking my time when I read things,” Winn said. “I’m turning the corner with it and this is probably the most comfortable I’ve been with it my whole life.”

Tyler Payne, senior co-captain of Western’s men’s basketball team, transferred from Cerritos College to Western with Winn in 2017. Although he knew Winn to have a mellow, laid-back personality, Payne could also see a fire in him.

“He’s really disciplined. He gets in the weight room every day, he goes to class every day, gets his homework done, goes to practice every day. Even after practice, he gets extra work in, gets shots up in the gym,” Payne said.

This year, Winn is the second leading scorer for the men’s basketball team, averaging 10.4 points in 16 games.

“On the court, I would best describe him as an attacker. He’s coming at you every play. That’s what he brings to the table, that’s who he is as a player and that’s what we need him to do for the team,” Payne said.

After graduating from Western with his communications degree, Winn plans to play professionally overseas in either Europe or China, with hopes of moving up to the NBA G league. Winn said after he’s done playing basketball, he would like to go into sports broadcasting or become a head coach so he can provide for his family and wife of two-and-a-half years.

What drives him to do it all?

To be the best. That is his biggest motivation.

“I have a very, very, very high competitive spirit to be the best so I can one day be professional,” Winn said. “I want to be the best every time I step on the court. Whether it’s practice, workouts, games or whatever. Being the best and proving myself every single time I step onto the floor is the main reason why.”

Once graduated and playing professionally, he said he would like to return to his hometown and show kids growing up in his area that it’s possible to make it out.

“On the streets, in jail, or dead became the outcome for many of the people I grew up with,” Winn said. “There’s more to life than just being in the streets, being on the block and that’s all you see growing up, but it’s not. It’s possible.”

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