Alex Bringley bounded toward his Uber ride and chucked the stinking bag of basketball players’ socks and spandex into the car.
“Hey boo! I’m Latoya,” said the driver.
There was little time for small talk because Bringley, a Winthrop men’s basketball team manager, had the latest of the daily emergencies that he and his kind often encounter. The team’s hotel in Tallahassee, Fla., didn’t have a washer and dryer and a bagful of nasty gear needed cleaning.
Bringley had no transportation, but he did have the Uber application on his phone. Latoya had no urgency, but Bringley quickly conveyed to her that she needed to move a little quicker, and yes, Latoya, Florida’s state capitol building is very neat.
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The first stop was a dry cleaner, not a laundromat, and the second stop was 20 minutes away. The time remaining before Winthrop’s team bus left the hotel for the game steadily evaporated.
At the laundromat the card reader on the washing machine didn’t work. Bringley sweet-talked one of the employees into using her card, then sat for 90 agonizing minutes while the players’ laundry lathered, rinsed, spun and tossed. Finally finished, Bringley hailed another Uber - sorry, Latoya - and raced back to the hotel, returning as the players boarded the bus. He’d missed the team meal, but another crisis was averted.
“I saw Snapchats of the meal,” Bringley said last week. “Oh my god it looked so good. Chicken, steak and potatoes.”
‘Literally, the worst job’
Pat Kelsey’s program can call on 10 managers to make problems disappear.
“We do a lot that people have no idea about,” said Mike Scurlock, a junior from Fort Mill who has been a manager for two years. “And I didn’t know, looking from the outside in, that managers actually do so much. It’s definitely a humbling experience.”
One could argue that Winthrop’s managers are one of the program’s strongest girders. Assistant coach Brian Kloman, himself a former basketball manager at the University of Tennessee, would agree.
“Going to fetch Golden Corral and spilling green beans in their car, they have, literally, the worst job,” he said. “They don’t care. That selflessness will get them a long way in life.”
The group is full of surprises, none more than Bringley. Dreadlocks hang down his back - he hasn’t cut his hair in seven years - but he has the motivation and drive of a Wall Street Banker. After several of Kelsey’s original managers graduated last year, Bringley moved into an unofficial leadership role. He and the others held their annual tryouts earlier in the year. Twelve candidates showed up and three were kept.
“They kind of try to fit guys to what they do best,” said director of basketball operations Mike Howland. “Some of the more basketball guys will always be on the floor because they’ve got a better feel, basketball-wise. Alex is always on the floor because he’s like Kloman, he has this high-level energy that he adds to practice. But they really do it on their own.”
Less basketball-savvy guys film practice or pick the music to play during warmups. There is a niche for everyone.
“I think their unselfishness is a big reason why our team is,” said Kloman. “I think it really starts at that point. They’re their own team and they have their own roles, and to think that our guys don’t see that? They do.”
I could call Alex Bringley at any time - it doesn’t matter if it’s 2 o’clock in the morning or 2 o’clock in the afternoon - he does it with, like, a joy. It’s weird, but it’s selfless.
Winthrop assistant coach Brian Kloman loves team managers
What they do
Kelsey said after a recent game that when Armageddon hit, two species would survive: cockroaches and managers.
The joke speaks to good basketball managers’ abilities to solve any problem. Winthrop’s coaches love the managers because they don’t give excuses, they just get things done. All of the managers interviewed for this story said they have become highly capable problem-solvers as a result of their involvement, Manager MacGyvers.
“No matter what, there always seems some way to fix it,” said junior Nick Dillener, “whether it be by luck or whatever.”
When not saving the day, most of a manager’s obligations are menial:
▪ Putting down tape on the court, one of about 30 pre-practice tasks.
▪ Loading and unloading buses for away games.
▪ Fetching people, gear, food, anything.
▪ Putting together spreadsheets for coaches that compare Winthrop with another college that recruits are considering.
▪ Readying practice or game video to be edited by video coordinator Mitch Hill.
▪ Laundry. Lots of laundry.
“They make my life way, way, way easier because I know it’s gonna get done,” said Howland.
They do for me what I try to do for coach Kelsey, which is take stuff off his plate so that he doesn’t have to worry about anything.
Winthrop director of basketball operations Mike Howland, who works closely with the program’s 10 managers.
What they add to the program
No other team in the Big South has more than six managers, and Winthrop’s 10 are a definite advantage. Most interviewed for this story were confident that the Eagles were the only team in the league that had a manager filming and cutting up footage during games so that Kelsey would have clips ready to watch as soon as he got on the bus or back into his office postgame.
Everything that the managers do gives the coaches more time to focus solely on basketball.
“One thing coach Kelsey always said, he wanted us to be a top-10 manager program,” said former Winthrop manager, Dylan Colletti. “There was a lot of getting used to it and struggle and really trying to figure out who does what best in what role. There wasn’t a lot of structure for us and I think that was the biggest thing that changed over the four years was Blake (Dwyer), Tanner (Nestle) and I worked to grow a culture there.”
Managers that didn’t hold up their end didn’t return. That grew accountability, another of the traits that any coach or future employer values. The culture is so strong four years later that the managers are mentioned to prospects during recruiting visits, especially to shooters like redshirt junior guard Anders Broman.
“Most schools do (mention them), but this is the school that backs it up,” he said. “They went over and above backing it up.”
Our players love them, they respect them, they live with them, they’re part of that family. The guys out there with the jerseys with the Winthrop on their chest, they’re not in a different category and more important than those managers.
Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey
The Winthrop managers collectively sit around a 3.4 grade point average, impressive given the amount of time they devote to the basketball program without pay. Bringley estimated he donates 30 hours per week, most of which aren’t spent in an Uber.
“You can’t want to be here for the free gear, even though my closet is literally all Winthrop basketball shirts,” he said. “It’s not about that. It’s not about how much they might pay me, how many free meals I get. It’s about being here and making the team better, and in the end, I want to go on and coach. This experience is a resume-builder.”
Why do the managers put up with the drudgery? There are several potential payoffs down the road if they handle their end of the deal.
A chance to play
Two of the managers, Scurlock and Matt Erps, have the most basketball ability and occasionally jump in to the action during practices. It’s not set in stone but both could compete for roster spots as Winthrop graduates five walk-ons over the next two years. Scurlock said he’s taken heart from conversations with assistant coach Marty McGillan, whose own son, Riley, made a manager-to-walk-on transition at Clemson.
“If we have a chance to make that happen then we’re obviously interested,” said Erps, who played high school ball at Spartanburg. “But if not, both of us just love being around basketball. Whatever the case may be, we just love the game.”
Erps and Scurlock will stay involved with the program. And it will still take a lot to get them out of the few practice drills they currently get to compete in.
“It would take a lost leg before either one of us would come out,” Scurlock said, smiling.
Future coaching opportunties
Most of the managers are interested in coaching and a few already are making that transition.
“Every day you get to see different things, different offenses, different defenses,” said senior Cory Sloan, who is also a volunteer assistant with John Bramlett’s varsity boys’ basketball team at Northwestern. “You learn so much.”
You can really pave your way. The better you do the more responsibility you get.
Colletti was one of Kelsey’s first managers. He graduated last year and landed with the Louisiana Tech men’s basketball program as a graduate assistant/manager, the lowest rung on the coaching ladder.
“It’s really hard to get in if you don’t have previous playing experience at the collegiate level,” Colletti said last week. “So when I was talking to (Louisiana Tech) about my experience and what I’m able to do I believe it helped me greatly being a manager. I think that’s what really gave me the advantage, all the experience I had working with a Division I program.”
Believing the hard work will pay off in the future is one of the carrots for these managers, that their Cinderella moment could arrive after years of humbling contributions to Winthrop basketball.
“The reward is ‘what do you want to do in life?’” Kelsey said. “Let me try to help you get something, let me make a call for you, let me write you a letter, Who can I talk to? And that’s just how it is. Those guys are special, special, special guys.”
Each Winthrop manager interviewed for this story could think of several instances in which the team and coaches rolled into a room or boarded a bus completely unaware of the Mission Impossible that was just completed.
On the team’s trip to Dayton in December there was no projector for pregame film and the wall paper was from 1972, according to director of basketball operations Mike Howland, the pattern making it difficult to see the video. So Howland and the managers - usually three travel on overnight trips - had to rig a table cloth to the wall and it all had to happen in 20 minutes.
The team walked in “and you have a bunch of managers sitting behind those walls profusely sweating bullets,” Howland said, laughing at the memory.
On that same trip, Chipotle botched Winthrop’s order, crucially forgetting Kelsey’s burrito.
“That’s the only reason we get Chipotle, is because of coach Kelsey,” manager Matt Erps said. “So we take coach (Brian) Kloman’s and give it to coach Kelsey, with an extra side of guacamole.”
Kloman got Chick-fil-A.
“We were freaking out,” Erps said, laughing.
Nick Dillener, a junior that speaks fluent French, was with the team and two other managers at Coastal Carolina several years ago. They left to go to the arena but accidentally left several important loads of laundry back at the hotel.
“Blake (Dwyer), I don’t know how, got one of the management people’s numbers and called her. Turned out she was a Winthrop grad so she was more than happy to take it from the washing machine and meet us at a location halfway, take it there and we made it just in time for the warm-up of the game,” Dillener said. “No one knew.”