Winthrop fans pack the house at Big South final in Rock Hill
Nobody roots for Goliath. Except giant lovers and UNC and Duke fans. David had the slingshot. David was the little guy. David became king.
And in the college basketball world right now, the David that is trending on social media, in-demand for television and national sports interviews and bracket picks, is Winthrop.
Winthrop - in this moment - is huge.
“People are noticing right now - the numbers on Twitter, Facebook, are the highest we have ever seen,” said Brett Redden, Winthrop’s assistant communications director for sports, who has been fielding interview requests from all over the country. “America is paying attention to Winthrop.”
Winthrop hammered Campbell Sunday at home in front of a ‘Rock The Hill” delirious crowd of more than 5,100 at the Coliseum to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years.
ESPN plans a special interview with Eagles coach Pat Kelsey for the Scott Van Pelt Sportscenter show that airs Wednesday night, and Kelsey is also penciled in for Jim Rome’s show, NBC national and others, Redden said. There are so many requests that Winthrop has set up a two-hour window Wednesday starting at noon for media from Seattle to Cincinnati to call Kelsey and get quotes and footage.
“People do remember the great Winthrop teams and runs to the tournament, and now the brackets will all have Winthrop on them,” Redden said.
Winthrop for more than a decade was a perennial NCAA team. The run peaked with the magical 2007 team that pounded Notre Dame. Notre Dame strutted into the NCAA tournament and left a headless leprechaun when the Eagles beat the Fighting Irish in the tournament for the first - and still only - win by Winthrop - or any Big South Conference team - in the tournament.
That exposure a decade ago was huge and this year is already pulsing - especially with the onslaught of social media that did not exist a decade ago.
“The win gives the university national exposure - even international exposure,” said Karl Folkens, a Winthrop alum and fan who doubles as chair of the school’s board of trustees. “This is a chance to tell the world more about the Winthrop story.”
Winthrop winning early in the week leading up the tournament gives it a stretch where it is the focus of much of the national and social media attention before other bigger conferences progress toward tournament finals this weekend. That attention leads to increased applications from students, a brand of athletic and student achievement out there for the whole world to see, Folkens said.
“This is an opportunity for the Winthrop story to be told,” Folkens said,.
Part of the magic this week will be Kelsey, the coach who made national waves in 2012 when he spoke out about the Sandy Hook shootings in Connecticut during a post game news conference after a game at Ohio State. Kelsey’s frankness, his tenacity, his passion and drive, is for the next 10 days the face of the university for the world.
Until Winthrop puts on the uniforms and the players take center stage again.
More, said Folkens, Winthrop’s gritty Big South Tournament win and history of being more than a tough out but a legitimate tourney winner this year, should scare any team they are picked to play when pairings are announced March 12.
Folkens is a lawyer by trade and a trustee by choice. His professional life is carefully chosen words and arguments with at least two sides. He is one of the top mediators in America. That means he is trained to listen to both sides.
But college basketball is different. The NCAA Tournament has no other side. Folkens is like all Winthrop fans and those who love an underdog - he can’t wait for the selection show Sunday at 6 p.m at the Winthrop Coliseum. He is pining for the first tourney game next week. He wants his Winthrop Eagles to crush whoever they play.
Not win. Bury them. Step on their throats.
“Winthrop will not be a pushover for anybody,” Folkens warned.
Just ask Notre Dame.