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Winthrop names former Wake Forest assistant Kelsey as men's basketball coach

Winthrop found its new men’s basketball before the Final Four. And, to listen to one his former bosses, he may get them there one day.

The Eagles on Thursday hired Pat Kelsey, 36, a former assistant at Wake Forest and Xavier who is coming off of a year’s sabbatical. He has a reputation as a tireless worker and recruiter who specializes in post play and defense.

And, according to one of his old bosses, he could be just the person to revive Winthrop’s program.

“Winthrop just hit a grand slam,” former Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio said Thursday about his former assistant. “Pat is a super, super hire. Can’t say enough good things about him and what he’s going to do.

“They just found themselves the next Brad Stevens, the next Shaka Smart.”

Those two names are associated with success by mid-major college programs as they took Butler and Virginia Commonwealth, respectively, to the Final Four a year ago.

That’s a long-range goal for Winthrop, however, as the Eagles try to become relevant again after declining fortunes.

After winning seven Big South Conference titles in nine years under current Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall, and two in three years under recently fired coach Randy Peele, the program fell on hard times. The Eagles’ record during the last two years is 25-37, including this past season’s 12-20 mark. It was the team’s first 20-loss season since 1997-1998. Like that year with Dan Kenney, it resulted in Peele’s firing.

“Winthrop has a powerful name with its history in the NCAA tournament and the successful program it has built,” Kelsey said in a release sent out by the school. “I am not only looking forward to continuing the winning tradition, but hopefully helping the program to rise to levels never seen before.”

A news conference is scheduled for next week, as school officials are leaving for New Orleans on Friday. According to a source, Kelsey signed a five-year deal worth $175,000 per year.

Kelsey was out of basketball last season, but has an impressive resume as a coach and recruiter.

“We were fortunate to have a large group of highly qualified and successful coaches in the candidate pool for our head men’s basketball coach,” athletic director Tom Hickman said in the news release. “Our vacancy created a lot of interest in the basketball coaching community.

“Pat Kelsey emerged as a dynamic and energetic leader who has had a rich background in working for and learning from highly successful coaches. President (Anthony) DiGiorgio and I were highly impressed with all of our final candidates, but Pat really stood out during the interview process.”

Kelsey stepped away from his job at Xavier last May, citing the death of mentor Skip Prosser as an influence. Prosser, the coach at Wake Forest, died of a heart attack at the age of 56 in 2007.

“The death of Coach Prosser had a profound effect on me and it took stepping away to come to grips with it,” Kelsey said in the news release. “I’m a teacher, a motivator and a coach, and I feel like I do those things at a very high level.”

Those who know him say his resignation was similar to Urban Meyer’s decision to spend time with his family. Kelsey and his wife, Lisa, have two daughters, 4-year-old Ruthie and 3-year-old Caroline.

Meyer resigned as the University of Florida’s football coach after the 2010 season but was named Ohio State’s coach after the 2011 season.

An Xavier graduate, Kelsey was associate head coach under Chris Mack at his alma mater before stepping down.

During his time at Wake Forest, Kelsey was known for his coaching and his marketing savvy, as he helped create the “Tie-Dye Nation” campaign which the school’s fan base has been known for.

As far as his on-court style, Kelsey preaches defense and a higher tempo offense, which is welcome news to fans who grew disillusioned with Peele’s grind-it-out style.

Prosser “was famous for saying ‘the older I get, the faster I want to play,’” Kelsey said. “I think that applies to me a little bit. Our brand offensively will be one that emphasizes playing with pace. We will be a tough, defensive-minded team that will play with a fast, downhill offensive mentality. That is who we will be. We will push the ball, give our players freedom, but also execute in the half court.

“The thing that I think is most important in winning championships, however, is a team that can defend with great toughness, with great intensity and great resolve. The combination of these things is what defines me as a coach.”