With an assist from point Chris Gaynor, Winthrop men's basketball program has added an unexpected, but welcomed, piece to next year's puzzle -- Cameron Stanley, a 6-7 transfer from Wake Forest.
Stanley, who redshirted as a freshman in 2004-05, played the past three seasons as a reserve for the Demon Deacons and graduated in May with a degree in sociology. He wanted to get a master of science degree in physical education with an emphasis on sports management, a program Wake Forest does not offer.
Under NCAA rules, any athlete who wants to attend graduate school can enroll at another university offering his desired program and be eligible to play right away. He'll be a walk-on, paying his own way with one year of eligibility.
In part because of Gaynor, Stanley chose Winthrop.
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Gaynor, who graduated in May after starting for four years, is from Winston-Salem, N.C., where Wake Forest is located. He and Stanley played on the same AAU team a few summers ago and became close friends. Gaynor kept in contact with Stanley during the course of the last four seasons, in part telling him how much fun it was playing for championships and going to the NCAA tournament.
"He didn't have to tell me much," Stanley said, "because I kept up with Winthrop by just keeping up with him. I like what they've accomplished the last four years and have a lot of respect for what they've done and how hard they work.
"And they get rings."
Winthrop coach Randy Peele wasn't convinced at first, when Gaynor came to him and said Stanley was interested in transferring.
"I thought Chris might be joking," he said.
And there were other ties.
Mike Muse is an assistant coach at Wake Forest, and Gaynor played for his brother, Andy, at Mount Tabor High School. Peele had seen Stanley play in high school.
"There were a lot of connections," Peele said, "and the folks at Wake Forest wanted what was best for Cameron."
The Wake Forest staff gave Stanley his release to seek another school, and Scott McDonald, Winthrop's director of compliance, said the university went through all the NCAA processes to make sure the transfer was handled properly.
And Stanley wanted to find a place that offered a chance to play more meaningful minutes.
"He wanted to go where he might have an opportunity to play, and he wanted to go to a program that had an opportunity to go to the NCAA tournament," Peele said.
Peele is excited about having a player of Stanley's maturity level, but he's not putting any pressure on a player who'll be in the program for a year. He does see potential.
Stanley, a 205-pound lefty, could help ease the loss of Taj McCullough. Stanley isn't as big or explosive as McCullough, but is a better shooter with more range and could be a better defender. He's already on campus participating in pick-up games and working out.
"He can really shoot it," Peele said. "I'm not going to tell you he's a great athlete, but he is a good one. Right now, he's a little one dimensional (on offense). But we have some concerns about who can score from the perimeter next year, and he could help us there.
"Can he make an impact? Yeah. But we have to see what happens when practice starts."
Stanley could have returned to Wake Forest, but the Deacons brought in 6-9 Al-Farouq Aminu, 6-10 Tony Woods and 7-0 Ty Walker -- one of the top recruiting classes in the nation -- to an already crowded front court.
In three years, Stanley had been a role player off the bench, but he said the players coming back and the new ones coming in had "minimal" impact on his decision. He just saw an opportunity at Winthrop to combine what he wanted academically with one more chance to play.
Stanley will take a full graduate-student load of nine hours per semester, must maintain a B average and do community service work associated with his degree program.
"I'm grateful to Winthrop for giving me the opportunity," he said. "It's going to be hard work."
At Wake Forest, he didn't have a start in 73 career games and averaged a point, 1.3 rebounds and 6.4 minutes per game last season. For his career, Stanley averaged 1.9 points, 1.6 rebounds, 7.6 minutes per game and shot 41 percent. He never scored more than 10 points or grabbed more than eight rebounds in a game.
Those statistics aren't eye-popping, but his experience of playing three seasons in the Atlantic Coast Conference can't be overlooked. At 22, he's mature and has been through some battles on and off the court.
He played high school basketball at Millbrook in Raleigh, N.C., and came out of high school with a healthy reputation. One scouting service rated him the 19th-best small forward in the nation. But he played just seven games as a senior, after suffering a torn ACL.
He was the only scholarship freshman on the Wake Forest roster in 2004, but sat out that season as a redshirt while rehabilitating from the knee injury.
He got caught up in a logjam of frontcourt players, but never complained about his role.
This past season at the team's postseason banquet, he received the Murray Greason Award, which goes to the player who has "accomplished outstanding athletic achievement and impacted his team through hard work, determination and season-long effort."
Those were the qualities Peele wanted to make sure Stanley had before letting him join the program.
"I'm not a quick-fix guy, someone who's going to bring in a hired gun for a year who might be an 'I' guy," said Peele, who has never been involved in a similar situation in 25 years of coaching.
"I wanted to find out his maturity level, how responsible he is and if he's going to fit in with the team. He fits all those things," Peele said.
Stanley said he knows this will be a young team and hopes to offer some leadership and contribute in whatever way he can.
"I'm not coming in to be the man," Stanley said. "I've got a great amount of respect for the players on this team. I've already seen how hard they work. Everyone's competitive."
The addition of Stanley gives Peele at least a 16-player roster. Competition for playing time should be intense and practices lively.
"We should have tremendous depth and some unbelievable competition for playing time," Peele said.