Winthrop ready to box out Mountaineers

bmccormick@heraldonline.comDecember 14, 2013 

No coincidence that Winthrop men’s basketball broke out the triangle rebounding drill on three different occasions during Thursday’s practice in the on-campus West Center. The Eagles (5-2) host Appalachian State (2-6) Sunday in their first game in 12 days, and though the Mountaineers’ fail to impress on paper, offensive rebounding is one area where their team is nationally elite.

“They’re the strongest, most physical team we’ve played this year,” said Winthrop head coach Pat Kelsey. “They’re big, they’re strong and they’re physical as heck at every position except the point guard.”

That’s why Winthrop was throwing players into the triangle rebounding drill where coaches fire up purposely missed shots and then batter Winthrop players trying to rebound with football pads. Appalachian, coached by former North Carolina Tar Heel Jason Capel, is in the top-40 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage as the Mountaineers grab 38 percent of the available rebounds on their offensive backboard. Appalachian has several top notch offensive rebounders, namely 6-foot-8 Michael Obacha, whose offensive game largely revolves around snaring his own team’s missed shots.

Leading scorer Tevin Baskin is another solidly built 6-foot-6 rebounding threat and an oddly-sized matchup problem, while the Mountaineers still haven’t taken the court this year with 6-foot-9 Jay Canty, the team’s best player who has yet to play this season while he sorts out academic and legal trouble. He may, or may not, return on Sunday. Appalachian’s semester ended Friday, so Canty might be in uniform on Sunday.

“From what we’re hearing, he’s gonna be ready to play,” said Kelsey. “We’re preparing like he’s going to play.”

A cascade of 3-point bricks have led to many of the Mountaineers’ offensive rebounding opportunities. It’s understood that errant 3-pointers can lead to long rebounds which can easily be tracked down by the shooting team. Capel’s crew is shooting just over 23 percent from beyond the arc thus far, 349th nationally out of 351 Division I teams.

“They’re a better 3-point shooting team than their statistics show,” said Kelsey, who’s well acquainted with much of Appalachian’s roster, having seen those players on the recruiting circuit while an assistant coach at Wake Forest. “They’ve got guys that can make shots, they’re just not shooting at a high level. I wouldn’t say it’s the greatest strength of theirs but they’re a much better 3-point shooting team than they’ve shown. But what they really do is go get the misses.”

Have played N.C. State, Cincinnati, Georgia, Charlotte and a surprisingly good N.C. Central team.

“I think it’s very, very deceiving that they’re 2-6,” said Kelsey. “Look at who they’ve played, and who they’ve been missing.”

Injury situation

At some point, Kelsey could have a real selection headache on his hands when all of his players get completely healthy... or not. When asked for a timetable on possible returns for Derrick Henry and Duby Okeke, Kelsey couldn’t commit.

“Both those guys have been cleared to play,” said Kelsey. “We just haven’t made a final decision. In all likelihood, Derrick won’t play the entire year, he’ll redshirt. And we haven’t made a final decision on Duby. We just told him we would wait and see, take this whole month, get through Christmas and kind of make a decision at that point as to whether we would redshirt him or not.”

Henry and Okeke have been practicing for a couple of weeks with the team.

Regarding Okeke, the 6-foot-8 center who is very likely the most physically imposing specimen in the Big South, Kelsey cited the example of two players he coached at Wake Forest, Kyle Visser and Chas McFarland. Both were late-blooming big men who the Wake staff later looked back on and thought would have really benefited from a redshirt freshman year. Kelsey thought both could have been first round draft picks in the NBA with that extra year. Not that Okeke is in the position to do that, but “the absolute sky is the limit for that kid. If a guy like that has a fifth year, it’s scary what he could be,” said Kelsey.

The coach continued: “End of the day, he missed three months and his future is blindingly bright. You would hate to use half of a year and cost him a full year of eligibility.”

Henry and Okeke could both end up redshirting this season. The Winthrop guard stocks are well supplied though, and a redshirt year for Henry makes sense. The Eagles don’t have as many players in the post positions, but the emergence of walk-on Tevin Prescott has been a pleasant surprise that’s enabled the Winthrop coaching staff to take a long view with Okeke.

“On a team like this where you can go so deep into the roster, it affords you the opportunity to redshirt a kid like Duby,” said Kelsey. “He’s the type of kid where he just effects the game so much because he’s a menace and a presence around the basket. He gets his hands on so many balls.”

Two other players that have been banged up, guard Christian Farmer and Prescott, both practiced Thursday, though Prescott came out about 15 minutes late after receiving treatment.

Ivan Saicic still sidelined

Serbian freshman Ivan Saicic remains sidelined as Winthrop’s compliance staff continues to look into his certification. Before the Eagles’ home win over James Madison on Nov. 27, media were handed a white sheet of paper with a short paragraph on it explaining that “Ivan Saicic would be held from competition until a recent issue regarding his certification is resolved.”

“It’s exactly what that thing of said,” said Kelsey. “Initial eligibility certification.”

The issue, which doesn’t involved Saicic’s immigration status, was identified by Winthrop, not the NCAA.

“That’s something we saw, and that we need to check on,” said Kelsey. “Hopefully soon it will be all good.”

Bret McCormick •  803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T

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