It's only been recently that Joab Jerome has felt like himself.
So it's no accident he's only recently resembled the player Winthrop was hoping he'd turn into this year.
While the senior starters have stolen the show in the Eagles' recent resurgence, the sophomore small forward has begun playing the way he planned to all offseason. Heading into tonight's game at High Point, Jerome is coming off back-to-back games with career highs.
The 10 points he scored against Radford were the most in his career, and then he followed with a career-best nine rebounds against VMI.
Might not sound like much, but it's exactly the kind of contribution they need.
"Love the way Joab Jerome played defense," Winthrop coach Randy Peele said in the aftermath of the VMI win. "That's what we've been looking for."
When he's well, he's perhaps the Eagles best perimeter defender. But all season, he's been bothered by plantar fascitis, an inflammation in the arch of his foot that made it painful to plant, cut and run.
He took a cortisone shot on Dec. 4, but missed three games recovering. When he came back, he clearly wasn't himself. He played 20 minutes in the win at Jacksonville, but two nights later against Clemson, he was held scoreless in 14 minutes, not even getting a shot off and getting just one rebound.
"The good news is it's not painful anymore," Jerome said. "But after that Clemson game, it was still hurting, and combined with the way I played, I wasn't sure I was going to be right.
"Maybe I was just rusty after the time off, but I felt slow, and it's taken me a while to get back to where I feel right."
His uncertain status early in the year caused Peele to fiddle with the lineup. While Jerome began the season as a starter, Peele went to a three-guard lineup, with either freshmen Andre Smith or Derrick Harvey starting alongside Reggie Middleton and Andre Jones.
Much in the same way junior forward Matt Morgan had to adjust, it took some time for Jerome to wrap his mind around it.
"Obviously I wasn't happy about it at first," Jerome said, before rattling off a list of the NBA's best sixth men and the way Jones came off the bench as a sophomore. "If a guy like Andre can do it, I can too, though. It's all about what coach wants, and right now, things are working so we'll go with it."
Of course, not being a starter is purely semantics at this point, as Henry played five minutes against VMI and Jerome played a season-high 32. The fact he chipped in nine points (on a clean 4-of-6 shooting) and three assists is almost gravy, since the Eagles are counting on him being a stopper on the defensive end.
Now that he can run without (much) pain, he has a better chance of being the spark Winthrop needs on that end of the floor as it hits the road again. He joked that he's holding up well despite the practices being "extremely competitive" this week.
"It feels good," Jerome said. "We're getting after it in practice, and starting to see what we're capable of. This team had a rough stretch where we were letting games get away, but now we're starting to realize how good we can be.
"That means finishing games, and finishing practices every day. We're not taking anything for granted at this point."