Winthrop basketball players and Ohio natives Josh Davenport, Hunter Sadlon, Mitch Hill and Keon Johnson will have large groups of friends and family at the Eagles’ game Saturday in Dayton.
Their support will likely be dwarfed by coach Pat Kelsey’s collection of backers from 45 minutes down the road in Cincinnati. Kelsey and his five siblings are part of a family generation of 57 cousins. Kelsey’s mom and dad, Linda and Mike, have 17 combined siblings, all of whom have had their fair share of children, resulting in 60 great-grandchildren.
Family tree? It’s a family forest.
“We grew up in neighborhoods where you were just surrounded by a bunch of your cousins,” said Walt Kelsey, Pat’s younger brother. “We were extremely blessed to grow up that way.”
Never miss a local story.
Many of Kelsey’s siblings and cousins live in Cincinnati and pull religiously for either the University of Cincinnati, Linda Kelsey’s alma mater, or Kelsey and his dad’s alma mater, Xavier. Few if any attended Dayton, but the school’s basketball arena holds a special place in Ohio high school basketball lore regardless of college affiliation. Dayton is the site of the middle three rounds of the state tournament. Davenport played there all four years of his prep his career at Cincinnati powerhouse Moeller, while Walt Kelsey’s high school career ended with a regional final defeat in Dayton.
Once you play basketball against somebody you’ll know them for the rest of your life, in Ohio.
Josh Davenport, Winthrop senior and Ohio native
Pat Kelsey can remember as a 10-year old in 1985 watching his uncle Jim Stoll’s Purcell Marian High team win several games en route to a state title. The team’s star center Dave Minor hit a shot at the buzzer to win the regional final at UD Arena and Kelsey’s eyes widened Thursday as he remembered the scene.
“I was sitting next to my mom, my dad, my grandmother, my grandfather and I can see that shot going in right now,” he said.
It was the coolest thing in the world when Kelsey got to be the towel boy for his uncle’s team during the subsequent final four in Columbus.
“I can name his team,” and he proceeded to do exactly that, even remembering the guy at the end of the bench that never got in, Bruce Grier. “I idolized those guys.”
Kelsey probably had the best high school experience at Dayton of anyone connected with Winthrop. His Elder High School team won the Ohio big schools state title in 1993, winning three rounds of games at the University of Dayton, before advancing to the finals in Columbus.
“Those guys on that team are some of the best friends I’ll ever have,” he said. “We’ll share that the rest of our lives.”
Kelsey later played at Dayton with Xavier. It was a tense rivalry between the Musketeers and Flyers, which only strengthened his appreciation of the fervent Dayton support and the environment they create.
“I think it’s one of the best venues, best crowds, best environments in the whole country,” Kelsey said, a belief confirmed by his younger brother, Walt.
Saturday’s game will be the Eagles’ second trip to Dayton under Kelsey. He guessed 75 to 100 family members and friends came last time, an 81-47 Winthrop loss in 2013. Walt suggested there may be twice that number this time.
“If it goes goes good, they’ll be able to hear us,” said Walt, who played college hoops at Northern Kentucky. “If they beat us like they beat us a couple years ago, the UD fans will be a hell of a lot louder than we are.”
Coach Kelsey’s family is always... energetic.
Winthrop senior Josh Davenport
“That’s hard when all those people I love so much, and love me, are there for me and then we got our butts kick and they probably feel like they have to stay around,” after the game to exchange a few words and hugs, said Kelsey.
The whole family hasn’t gotten together as much in recent years as it continues to grow and spread out. It tends to only happen when someone dies or gets married.
“We used to all get together for Christmas and Thanksgiving,” Kelsey said. “It was a free for all, man.”
But a bunch of them will congregate Saturday. Winthrop practiced at Elder High School on Friday, indicative of Kelsey’s loyalty to his roots, and his family, whether its blood or basketball.
“I probably got six or seven texts and calls, ‘hey, I heard Pat’s practicing at Elder today,’” said Walt. “It’s funny how close and loyal our family and friends are that when Pat is close, they follow him and when he is in town they kind of circle the wagons and stop what they’re doing and make sure they get out to see him play.”
Plenty of coaches across the country espouse family and the importance of the program being a family. It’s not just empty talk from Kelsey.
“I think family is the biggest thing to him. He cares so much about his players,” said Davenport, one of Kelsey’s first recruits at Winthrop.
Besides, you don’t just talk about family. You live it, experience it, feel it. On Saturday, everyone in Dayton Arena will feel it from the Kelsey-Stoll clan, regardless of the score.