Winthrop University

3 things to know about Winthrop hoops

Winthrop men's basketball fans cheer during a Big South Conference game last season against Coastal Carolina.

(File, Melissa Cherry •
Winthrop men's basketball fans cheer during a Big South Conference game last season against Coastal Carolina. (File, Melissa Cherry •

Winthrop hoops means winning.

After grabbing eight Big South Conference titles in 10 years and a first-round NCAA Tournament win in 2007, fans have grown accustomed to success and have rewarded the team with record crowds.

"Our expectations are going to be high," said 26-year-old Elijah Abram, a Winthrop University senior. "Winthrop loves winning."

But this year's team includes many new faces, guys the fans don't know.

Along with unfamiliar players, a sluggish economy has forced many people to cut back, spending less on things like tickets to a basketball game.

So when the Eagles begin their season tonight at the Winthrop Coliseum, it's not a stretch to wonder how the team will fare and how fans will respond.

But here are three encouraging signs for the season:

Season ticket sales holding

A barometer for gauging public support is the number of season ticket holders.

This year, that figure has remained steady, nearly identical to last year's sales, said Dan Hopper, Winthrop's assistant athletic director for marketing and promotions

"We're going to be in pretty good shape," he said. "When you take into account the economy and you take into account that, yes, we did lose four seniors off last year's team, I think we're all pretty excited and pretty optimistic. ... It shows that the fans are really getting behind the Winthrop program as a whole now."

WU Crew revamps

The WU Crew, Winthrop's student fan organization, had lost its charter, but this season it's revamped and reorganized, said president James Lamberts.

Now 600 strong, the Crew has monthly meetings, and plans to cheer on the team at home and on the road.

On Sunday, nearly 50 die-hards will travel to Columbia by bus to watch Winthrop play the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Both Abram and Lamberts admit that some of Winthrop's early games will be tough, with matchups against some strong nonconference teams, including Florida and Davidson.

But when the team gets into the thick of conference play, fans believe these tests will pay off.

"Based on what I've heard and seen glimpses of," Lamberts said, "I think there's better things to come."

Solid recruiting class

From last year's team, the Eagles lost four-year starter Chris Gaynor, all-conference guard Michael Jenkins, sixth man Antwon Harris and dunk machine Taj McCullough.

But supporters see young talent on this squad.

"We've got some great freshmen coming in," said Marilyn Hyman, president of the Eagle Club, a Winthrop booster organization.

Despite having so many young players, fans are excited to see who Winthrop's new stars will be, Abram said. Much of the campus buzz is focused on guard Byron Faison, who came off the bench last season.

Regardless of who stands out, fans say all the players understand what's expected of them.

"They know they've got a tradition to uphold, even the young players," Hyman said. "They've got a hard act to follow, but these kids are ready to take it on."

Want to go?

The Winthrop University men’s basketball team opens its season at 7 tonight at home against North Greenville College.

General admission tickets are $8 for sideline seats and $6 for those at each end of the court. For senior citizens and children, the price is $5. Tickets are available at the Winthrop box office.