William Winfield left his mark on dozens of players, generations of young women that he guided in nearly 40 years as the head girls basketball coach at Detroit King High School.
Winfield died over the weekend at age 78.
Winfield, who grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, graduated from Southern University, served in the Vietnam War, then moved north to work and coach at Detroit King.
Winfield started his career as an assistant coach at Detroit Southeastern in 1975. He took over as head coach in 1982, then became head coach at King in 1984. He led King to Class A state championships in 1985, 1990, 1991, 2003 and 2006, playing in seven other state-title games, the last in 2016.
Winfield ranks third in state history for wins (698), his chance for 700 ending in the 2018 postseason when he suffered a serious illness. The cause of his death was not announced.
“The Southfield police department had called me Saturday evening, they were doing a welfare check since he had me as one of his emergency contacts and they got in contact with me Saturday evening informing me that he was discovered in his house deceased,” said Gwen Burton, who played for Winfield during the late 1980s before playing at Louisville. She took over as King’s head coach during the 2018 postseason.
“He was the best. He was the best father figure. He was the best mentor, best coach that you could ever have, and above all he was just there. Through all the years, everybody played for him and some came back and coached on his staff.”
Burton is now coaching at Columbia State Community College in Tennessee. She actually started her coaching career as a senior in high school.
“I played for King from 1986 to 1990, went to the state championship game my freshman year and lost to Saginaw,” Burton said. “He was fun to play for, fun and demanding. He was caring, making sure we thought team first. Loyalty was a big thing for him as well. You had to play hard all the time, don’t take plays off. You knew what was expected of you. We looked like a team head-to-toe and you’d represent King with King gear on.
“He was the reason I got into coaching. My senior year at King, he asked me if I wanted to go with him to watch some eighth graders practice, so I ride with him to St. Gerard Catholic School and we watched the kids practice. After practice, he dropped me off at home and said, ‘What do you think about the kids?’ I said, ‘They’re going to be a real good team. They’re fifth graders so in three or four years you can take them and win a state championship with them,’ which he did.
“The next day at King High School, he said, ‘Gwen you said you liked the kids, do you want to go back and watch them practice?’ I said, ‘Sure, Coach why not.’ We went back the next day and they were practicing. I was sitting in the stands and at the time the athletic director was Milton Gates and he said, ‘Kids gather around, I want to introduce you to your new coach.’ He pointed in my direction so I’m thinking there was someone behind me, looked up and there wasn’t anyone behind me. I was the coach, started coaching the fifth graders.”
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Tiffany (Mitchell) Hargrove was a part of two state championship teams at King (1990, ’91), contributing 13 points and 11 rebounds in the 1990 title game win over Detroit Murray-Wright and 13 points and nine rebounds in the 1991 title game win over Farmington Hills Mercy.
“He was like a second father to me,” said Hargrove, who went on to play at Arkansas State. “To have the opportunity to play for him and coach alongside him was like a dream come true. I learned so much about his life in Louisiana, just the game itself. He was like a walking encyclopedia. He touched so many lives, especially mine.”
Tamika Matlock and Markita Aldridge joined Hargrove on the 1990 state-title team with Matlock going on to help Michigan State win the Big Ten title in 1997. Aldridge played at North Carolina-Charlotte and then in the WNBA with the Washington Mystics.
Hargrove went on to coach with Winfield at the end of his career, from 2014-18, coaching current Central Michigan guard Micaela Kelly.
Kelly couldn’t wait to call Winfield to tell her she had a piece of the net to give him after winning the Mid-American Conference tournament title Saturday. She earned tournament MVP honors, scoring 29 in the 77-72 victory for an NCAA tournament bid.
“That’s my favorite person,” said Kelly of Winfield, noting she wears shoes with his name written on them. “Coach Winfield is the reason I’m as good as I am today because when I was an eighth grader all I could do was drive the ball. When Coach Winfield let me play on his team in the eighth grade, he made me guard the girl 94 feet and he had confidence that I could do it.
“Once I became part of his program in ninth grade I was like his little prodigy, whatever he could think of, he had me try it. He always had me working and working and working. I was always the first one in the gym and the last one out. He taught me how to shoot. I didn’t have a jump shot. He taught me how to use my speed, how to change my speed. He helped me find my love for the game.
“Obviously, after not being able to call him after the championship game it hurt. Right after the game I said I had to call Coach Winfield because I won MVP of the tournament. Two minutes before we pulled up to Mount Pleasant, I got the call from Tiffany (Hargrove) that he was gone, and I was broken hearted. He was always there for me through all my troubles. When I tore my ACL (summer before junior year at King), he was there in the weight room with a big old teddy bear, a big stuffed alligator named Gus and I still have him. He’ll always be with me. Coach Winfield will always be with me too.
“I’m going to forever play in his memory. I was playing for him when I was here (at CMU). I had never won him a state championship and I told him every championship I get, every piece I cut down I’m going to give to you. After my freshman season when we won it, we cut down the net and I gave him my piece.”
Harper Woods Chandler Park coach Dave Mann has memories of Winfield.
“I remember taking the (Redford Bishop) Borgess girls to Calihan to watch King play Murray Wright in the PSL championship when I was starting out,” Mann said. “The talent on the floor was overwhelming. I first met Winfield I believe in December of 1989. I was struck by his work ethic as a coach. I knew I had to up my game if I was going to compete at that level.”
And, Mann took that motivation to help Bishop Borgess win Class C state championships in 1993, ’94 and ’97.
Burton said Winfield made sure she kept in contact with King’s players.
“With William it was about life, not just basketball and you had to maintain that relationship with everybody, and make sure that everyone was OK,” Burton said. “It wasn’t like you were just teammates, it was a sisterhood at King High School.”
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