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New Winthrop basketball coach Pat Kelsey to recruit, and fast

Pat Kelsey’s gotten the job, given the speeches, designed the T-shirts, met the boosters.

Now comes the hard work.

Winthrop’s men’s basketball coach is in for a hectic week on the job, as he begins shaping his roster for next season.

With four seniors and more than 70 percent of the points from last year out the door, Kelsey has some fast fixing to do and he knows it.

“Obviously it’s an incomplete roster, and until we determine how incomplete, it’s going to be hard to project,” Kelsey said of the pieces he’s inheriting as he tries to implement his plan. “We’re not going to jam square pegs into round holes.”

Asked to identify what he liked about the players he’s left with, he talked about their strength, and the defensive abilities of a number of players.

“I think we’ve got a good combination of length and toughness,” Kelsey said.

But he knows as he begins to recruit in person again later this week (there’s an NCAA-mandated dead period until Friday), he needs to find some scoring.

The late signing period for incoming players starts Wednesday, though new letters of intent aren’t expected until Kelsey’s had a chance to contact some recruits.

He spent last weekend trying to touch base with previous signees Jackson Trapp and Christian Farmer, both of whom could be reasonably expected to lift the scoring burden, according to recruiting experts. But Trapp’s already put out word he doesn’t want to come, and Farmer seems to be leaning that direction as well. A previous commitment from point guard Jerran Foster hasn’t reached the official stages, either.

That means Kelsey could have three or as many as four spots to fill, at a bad time to fill them.

Recruiting analysts say there’s still players available, but having so much to do puts Kelsey in an unenviable position.

“It’s not going to be easy, but I don’t know if it’s a bad spot,” ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep said. “The reality is, it’s easier to do at Winthrop in the late period than it is at (North Carolina), but that’s still a lot of spaces to fill.”

In guards Andre Jones and Reggie Middleton, the Eagles lost a combined 28.8 points per game. Telep said there are still enough players with scoring potential on the market, but that’s just one of Winthrop’s problems. They also lost 12.2 rebounds per game in George Valentine and Matt Morgan.

“There’s just not a lot left out there in terms of post players,” veteran recruiting guru Bob Gibbons said. “Unless Pat’s going to go the JuCo (junior college) route or has some transfers in mind, it’s scramble time in terms of finding big men.”

Having so many questions to answer in a short time could be daunting, but Kelsey’s approaching it confidently. During his year away from basketball, specifically during the time before applying for the Winthrop job, he developed a plan for filling a roster.

He still has plenty of connections in the recruiting world, and is confident he’ll be able to find some players to play his style.

As to what that style will be, that still depends on who he finds to fill his roster.

ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said Eagles fans can expect a faster style, based on Kelsey’s experience at Xavier and Wake Forest under Skip Prosser.

“They’ll be an up-tempo team,” Bilas said. “They’ll look to play fast, and be aggressive.”

Asked if that would be a relief to fans who watched the grind-it-out style of the previous coaching staff, Bilas defended the work of former coach Randy Peele and said the difference will simply depend on results.

“Hey, teams play different styles,” Bilas said. “Some say teams that play fast don’t value defense. But you know what? The bottom line is ‘Do you win?’ Fans are going to love any style of play if it involves their team winning the game.

“Pat’s a high-character guy, very blue-collar in his approach, and he’s going to be out there looking for the best players and people he can get.”

How quickly Kelsey’s able to locate those depends heavily on the work he does in the next week to 10 days.

He did say he didn’t expect any transfers among the existing roster, and that based on his early workouts, he’s optimistic about certain pieces.

But after inheriting the shell of a team that went 25-37 the past two years, he’s not going to get ahead of himself projecting what he has and what he needs.

“Hey, we’re trying to win the next workout,” Kelsey said. “The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, and I’ve got a laser-focus on getting our guys better each day.

“We’re going to attack the recruiting period. That’s my focus right now, so it would be foolish to talk about expectations at this point. The fact is, we’re going to have to seriously change the identity of the roster when you have as many as three spots to fill.

“I’m excited about that, to be honest with you.”

Notes: Kelsey said Tuesday some staffing announcements were likely close, though they haven’t been made official. …Kelsey’s going to hire Furman assistant Brian Thornton (formerly of Xavier) and Brevard head coach Mark Prosser (son of his mentor Skip Prosser) for two of the spots on his staff. … Kelsey interviewed the previous assistants, specifically Marty McGillan and Larry Dixon, but they were each told this week they wouldn’t be retained. That leaves one assistant and a director of basketball operations job to be filled.

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