Andrew Dys

Change of heart has Eagles fans rejoicing

Winthrop Eagle fans who thought the College of Charles- ton had taken their basketball savior Tuesday night rejoiced on Thursday.

Gregg Marshall came back.

"I lost half my school spirit when he said he was leaving, and right now I've got double the excitement," said Adam LaRoche, president of the WU Crew student fan club.

Almost 200 fans gathered at the Winthrop Coliseum to hear what university officials said would be a major announcement. The news that Marshall was returning as head coach was beautiful to die-hards who love the leader with the GQ appearance and fiery courtside manner.

"He brought hope for the team, and we all were sad when he said he was leaving," said Terri Caskill, a Winthrop alumna whose son attended Marshall's basketball camp this week. "But now, it's like we have another chance."

Keith Petty left work just to hear Marshall say he wasn't going anywhere.

"I came to Rock Hill in 1980, and found it had everything I wanted. Except big-time sports," Petty said. "We got that with Gregg Marshall and Winthrop basketball. I'm so happy I can't even describe it."

Fan organizations and boosters also celebrated the announcement.

"Let's just say the members of the Eagle Club (Winthrop athletic boosters) are having their best day ever," said Sharen DuBard, who runs the Eagle Club.

"I about passed out. This must be the best day of my life," said camper Dakota McDonald of the Li'l WU Crew, a group of kids who attend every home game.

Tears of joy

Even fans far outside the coliseum walls couldn't contain their enthusiasm. In Greenville, Winthrop alumnus and self-described superfan Johannes Schneider said he wept grateful tears when he heard the announcement on the radio in his apartment.

"It was pure joy," he said.

Marshall allowed Schneider, a founding member of the WU Crew, to cut down a piece of the net after the Eagles won the Big South Conference Tournament in 2005. Last season, the guy who goes to games wearing a pom-pom on his head and a maroon Eagles flag tucked into his pants was selected as the Big South Conference Fan of the Year.

"How important is Coach Marshall to Winthrop basketball?" Schneider asked. "Coach Marshall is Winthrop basketball."

When word spread Tuesday that Marshall had announced he was leaving Winthrop, many fans were upset. They didn't know -- and were even scared about -- who might replace the winningest coach in the university's history.

"He is our Coach K," said Schneider's roommate and fellow Winthrop alumnus Chris Evers, referring to Duke University's revered basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Another WU Crew founder, Evers said his mood changed from despair to euphoria when he heard Marshall was back.

"I'm a very happy man," he said.

Winthrop senior and WU Crew member Jessica Bittner was in disbelief when a friend called to say Marshall wasn't going to Charleston.

"I dropped my phone," she said. "I was like, 'Don't lie to me.'"

When she realized the call wasn't a hoax, everything changed.

"Thank God," she said. "The nightmare is over."

With Marshall back at the helm, fans say their focus is on the upcoming season and getting to the promised land that Marshall has taken them so close to -- an NCAA Tournament win.

But for right now, they're just glad they'll be able to chant "We love Marshall" again.

"He came back for us," said Justin Roberson, vice president of the WU Crew. "Now we have to give back to him."

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