The story behind Josh Weinberg’s rise to prominence in Whitman basketball

Senior+Josh+Weinberg+has+become+a+prominent+member+of+the+Whitman+boys+basketball+team.+But+it+wasn%27t+always+that+way.

Pedro Bauza

Senior Josh Weinberg has become a prominent member of the Whitman boys basketball team. But it wasn't always that way.

By Matt Mande, Walt Whitman High School

Six years ago at Pyle Middle School, head basketball coach Bobby Polley called over senior Josh Weinberg, then in seventh grade, to talk to him at the end of his second day of basketball tryouts. When Josh heard the words “not quite there” and “try out next year,” he was crushed. 

The following year, after training at home and at private sessions with coaches from E-Train University, a basketball instructional organization, Josh returned to Pyle basketball tryouts. Despite these efforts, a disappointed Josh left without a spot on the team once again. 

“I was pretty upset,” Josh said. “Being a part of that team was a huge deal to me, and to not make it either year was frustrating.”

Eager to find a way on to the team, he joined as a manager, helping Polley during practice and games. Midway through the season, a player quit the team, and taking advantage of the long-awaited opportunity, Josh filled the empty spot. But he spent most of the games sitting on the bench.

“Seeing younger kids playing in front of me was kind of a slap in the face,” Josh said. “But it all just made me hungrier.”

Two years later, Josh made Whitman’s varsity team, pulled up mid-season as a sophomore. 

Before his third regular season game Josh stood on the shiny floor of the Whitman gym, his heart racing as he listened to the national anthem. As the final words sounded, the crowd erupted in applause — Josh was ready. 

It was a Friday night, and Whitman was facing off against its rival, Churchill. Over the next hour, Weinberg would score 11 points, leading Whitman to a hard-fought victory.

“That was the game where I really validated my spot on varsity,” Weinberg said. “It was also the most excited I’d ever been after a game.”

Now, Josh is the varsity team captain, a position his father, Paul Weinberg, attributes to Josh’s determination and competitive attitude. Throughout his past two and a half seasons on varsity, he has brought energy and leadership to the team, varsity boys basketball coach Christopher Lun said. He’s also the leading scorer on the team this season, averaging 14.9 points per game.

Josh’s rise to the top of Whitman’s basketball program began the summer before his freshman year. He joined the Whitman summer league team and worked to make the most of the few minutes of playing time he got.

“I tried to take advantage of every single time I saw the floor,” Josh said. “My goal was to be that guy that deserves to be out there — not because he scores, but because hre e guards, comes out with loose balls and really just puts in the effort.”

That fall, determined to get more playing time, Josh tried out for Havoc City Elite Basketball, an Amateur Athletic Union team with skilled players from around the D.C. area. After making the AAU team, he began to increase his speed of play and sharpen his ability to make smart plays, he said.

“Havoc City really opened my eyes to what real basketball talent was,” Josh said. “It made me more accustomed to playing against better competition.”

When the time came to try out for Whitman, Josh was prepared, he said. Although he wasn’t originally on the starting lineup, Josh worked his way into a spot as a starter midway through the season. 

“I started to catch up,” Josh said. “My athleticism and other aspects of my game made me a better player. Everything kind of clicked.”

Josh also worked hard at home, practicing with his brother Max Weinberg (‘18) who was a junior on varsity at the time. Having someone bigger and faster to train with at home and in the gym played an important role in improving his skills, Josh said.

As long as the weather was clear, the two brothers were outside, shooting around and playing one-on-one matchups in their driveway. In the beginning, Max would always beat Josh when they played against each other, but around the same time Josh began to get more playing time as a freshman on the JV team, he started to defeat his older brother.

“I just remember him slowly starting to beat me,” Max said. “That was when I knew he was going to be really good.”

Josh returned to JV his sophomore season and his teammates chose him as one of two captains of the team. As captain, Josh tried to set an example as a hard working player. He also led the JV team in scoring, averaging over 13 points per game.

His leadership position never affected his work ethic, he said, and he continued to drill both in and out of practice to improve his ball-handling and shooting.

“Josh was always the first to be in the gym before practice and the last to leave after,” guard Tyler Chapman said. “Even on Saturdays, he would get there earlier than anyone else.”

When Josh was pulled up from JV to varsity, he was “overjoyed,” he said. He remembers talking to Lun about what he could bring to the team — his enthusiasm and skill.

“We usually wait until the end of the JV season to pull players up,” Lun said. “We just kind of needed a spark to our lineup, and Josh was able to be that spark.”

Throughout the rest of the season, Josh was a strong and aggressive defender who brought energy to the court, making him an asset to the varsity team, Lun said.

To Josh, moving up to varsity was more than just a chance to play at the next level and help out the team; it was a chance to play alongside his brother, he said.

 Max, a senior at the time, had mixed feelings about the situation at first, he said.

“He was the sophomore call-up, and I was the senior riding the bench,” Max said. “That was something as an older brother you hate to see.”

But after a few weeks, Max started to appreciate being on the same team as his younger brother. He loved watching the person he had been practicing against all his life go out onto the court and score for his team, Max said.

When the regular season ended and playoffs began, Josh started to feel a lot of pressure.

“It was my brother’s senior year and the last time I would be able to take the court with him or any of the other seniors,” he said. “Every game was ‘do or die’ to be on the same team as my brother.”

That winter, Whitman ended up winning their first two playoff games but fell in the third round against Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. Although it wasn’t the result Josh was hoping for, he still enjoyed every minute he spent playing on the same team as Max, he said.

“Coming into high school, neither one of us expected anything like this to happen,” Josh said. “To play eight games with him was really special for our relationship, and it brought us closer as brothers.”

The following year, Josh returned to varsity as a junior and a starter on the team. Throughout that season, off-court conflicts between the leading seniors resulted in a lack of leadership. This led Josh and other juniors to question who would take charge in their senior year. Seeing an opportunity to help out the team, Josh decided he would try to step into that role and bring the team together.

Now as captain of the team, Josh is a “natural leader,” guard Jack Goldman said. Although at first there were times Josh struggled to remain positive with his teammates, he has improved his ability to give constructive feedback in practice and during games, Lun said.

“He’s the guy that will rally the team at halftime and tell you what to do to fix your mistakes on the court,” Goldman said.

Over the past few months, Josh has dealt with two injuries, causing him to miss a total of five games. He was first injured in October, hurting his calf after going up for a layup in Battle of the Classes. Before fully recovering, Josh injured his ankle in a game against Quince Orchard High School.

“It was definitely frustrating to have to sit on the sideline for all those games, especially in my last year with the team,” Josh said. “All I wanted to do was take the court with my teammates.”

Now, to prevent future injury, Josh has been working with trainers at Healthy Baller, a strength and agility program. There, he practices changing directions and accelerating to strengthen the muscles he uses the most when playing basketball. 

Since returning, Josh has led Whitman’s team to a winning record in his senior year. He has also made some key shots, including a game-winning buzzer beater against Magruder High School.

“When I hit that shot, all the weight kind of fell off my shoulders,” Josh said. “I could finally just return to the fun of playing basketball.”

As playoffs approach, Josh is aiming for a team win in the sectional final. For the past two years, Whitman has lost in sectionals, eliminating them from the following rounds. Having developed a strong defense and great chemistry, Josh believes this year’s team is capable of breaking that barrier and playing in the state quarterfinal, he said. 

No matter the outcome of this season, Josh said he will miss Whitman basketball and the close friends he has made on the team. From overcoming setbacks at Pyle to his love for the basketball community that has supported him throughout the past four years, Josh has cherished his well-earned time playing for and leading the team, he said. 

“Regardless of the level I was playing at, I’ve always enjoyed myself every time I take the floor,” Josh said. “I’ll always remember walking into the Whitman gym for practice, spending time with my teammates and getting better.”

This story was originally published on The Black & White on May 23, 2020.