November 30, 1998
EAST LANSING, Mich. -
Basketball has been a part of Whitney Winbergs life since she was a young child. Her father, Jim, who played at Luther College, helped teach her the game at a young age.
As Winberg got older and taller, it became evident that she had a special gift for the game and soon she fell in love with the competition, the challenges and the joys of being a part of a team.
Once she reached high school, Winbergs game continued to develop under the tutelage of coach Willie Taylor, who she still talks with on a weekly basis.
Despite growing up in Shoreview, Minnesota, a suburb of the Twin Cities and in the shadows of the University of Minnesota, Winberg decided to continue her career at Michigan State.
As a freshman, Winberg played in 28 of 30 games and averaged 3.4 points per game for MSUs Big Ten title team. More importantly, she gained valuable experience, while the potential for the future seemed unlimited.
What followed was a season full of disappointment and frustration for the 6-2 center.
As a sophomore, Winberg was limited to just 17 games because of recurring knee problems. She missed the final three games of the year and underwent another offseason knee surgery in hopes of being able to continue her career.
"Last year was really hard for me," Winberg says. "Going into the surgery there were a lot of questions about whether it would help."
For Winberg, the surgery was performed not only to give her the opportunity to continue playing, but to keep her from needing total knee replacement in five or six years. Although just 20 years old, Winbergs knee is more like that of someone three times her age.
"I was prepared to come out of surgery knowing that I might not be able to play again," she said. "I had already decided in my mind that I didnt want to go through another year like last season. Everyday was a struggle. I knew physically and mentally that I couldnt go through another year like that."
Through a long and arduous process, Winberg developed a new outlook regarding her future in basketball.
"I was prepared that it (basketball) might be over and I think in some ways I still am," Winberg says. "My mentality going into this year is that Im going to do what I can with what I have. What I have changes from day-to-day, some days I feel good and some days I feel horrible. Every day, every drill, every game I do what I can."
This season, she has played in four of five games and is averaging 1.2 points and 1.2 rebounds per game and 8.8 valuable minutes per contest. Against Boston College, Winberg played a season-high 16 minutes, scored four points and pulled down four rebounds, while putting in her usual strong defensive effort.
For athletes, playing with pain is sometimes a part of the game, but there also comes a point when you have to decide if its worth your future health. For Winberg, that is a decision she has to deal with everyday, but it still comes down to the same answer.
"Ive thought about it before," she says. "A lot of people, including my parents and people who care about me, ask me why I dont call it quits and just go to school. I guess it boils down to the fact that I love basketball. Not only do I still enjoy playing the game a lot, but its the people that Im around that I dont want to separate myself from.
"When you are a team, its a unique bond and I want to continue to be a part of that in every way that I can," she added. "If that just means helping out someone who is having a hard time by talking to them, then thats what Ill do. If it means going out on the floor and playing in a game, then thats what Ill do. Even if Im not physically in great shape, there are a lot of things I can do."
As one of MSUs more experienced players and better post defenders, there is still plenty she can do on the court. Even though she is limited to 10-15 minutes per game, Winbergs value to the team is unquestioned.
"Whitney is a competitor, shes an intelligent player and very sound fundamentally - those three things make her a valuable contributor whether she plays 10 minutes or an entire game," coach Karen Langeland says. "We will take whatever she can give us.
"The unfortunate part is that people havent seen what a healthy Whitney Winberg is capable of doing."
While its unfortunate for Spartan fans, its not something Winberg lets herself dwell on.
"Coming in I think I had a lot of potential and unfortunately, by no fault of my own, things changed," she says. "I feel like I had a lot of potential, but to be honest, I dont know where that would have taken me. I guess I try not to concentrate on that too much. A lot of times last year I thought about what I could have done had I been healthy.
"Thats one thing that has changed in my outlook for this year," she added. "If Im not going to be playing a lot it will make it easier on me emotionally if I dont think about the way things could have been anymore. I need to make things the way that I am capable of making them."
When you get to know Winberg you realize there is much more to her than basketball. She is an intelligent person who is well respected by her teammates and coaches, she has a great sense of humor, she is a free spirit and she has a strong sense of family.
She grew up in the Twin Cities with her parents, Jim and Lee, and her older brother, Ross, who currently works at the University of Minnesota doing plant biology research. Winberg and her brother, who are just three years apart, had a close relationship growing up.
"We were into different things, but we were really close," she says. "We were supportive of each other instead of competitive with one another."
Winberg, who enjoys reading, writing and as she says, messing around with artwork, majors in zoology and was an Academic All-Big Ten honoree last year. She has a great love of animals and would like to work for a zoo or at an aquarium with marine animals.
Winberg expressed her secret radical side by having her tongue pierced earlier this year.
"I have always been someone who has wanted to do radical things, but sometimes Im too logical," she admits. "I think about things too much. I guess its my sheltered way of living on the edge."
Whether living on the edge on or off the court, Winberg will no doubt continue to be a success for many years to come.
By Lori Schulze, Assistant Sports Information Director