It’s not too early to think about what Winthrop basketball will look like next season, right?
Early signees Austin Awad and Keondre Schumacher were joined this week by a pair of Australians, Tom Pupavac and Kyle Zunic, who made official their commitments to play for Winthrop.
They won’t be the last additions to Pat Kelsey’s Big South champs this offseason. After Patrick Fisher and Duby Okeke announced they would transfer, the Eagles still have as many as three scholarship spots to fill to complete the 2017-18 team’s roster.
The Herald talked with three of the new recruits - Awad, Schumacher and Pupavac - in March about a number of topics, including what they thought about the Eagles making the NCAA Tournament, their playing styles and their games’ strengths and weaknesses.
Keondre Schumacher fires up a 3 and his hands flick down to his side. It’s clear that Schumacher, a 6-foot guard, is a Stephen Curry fan.
“Steph is my favorite player, without a doubt,” he said. “I watch the Warriors pretty much every time they’re on TV. I like to create my own shot and watch all the dribbling stuff he does before a game.”
Schumacher was a unanimous All-Conference pick for the second year in a row and selected to the Illinois 3A All-State second team after after averaging 17.5 points and four assists per outing.
“Shoe” is his nickname, one he shares with his dad, Chris. Schumacher weighs south of 160 pounds but wants to add 5 to 10 pounds of muscle before coming to Rock Hill this summer. His biggest weakness, he said, is finishing through contact.
Winthrop assistant coach Marty McGillan undoubtedly noticed all of that when he watched an open gym at Normal University High School. Schumacher didn’t know McGillan, who wore a plaid shirt instead of a Winthrop jacket, was a coach. McGillan sent a positive report back to Kelsey, who called Schumacher that night. Three days later he was in Rock Hill on an official visit.
It was just a wrap after that. I was so thankful that they jumped on board.
Winthrop recruit Keondre Schumacher, on his whirlwind recruitment by the Eagles coaching staff.
Schumacher’s highlights from his recently completed high school season:
Schumacher said opposing high schools’ student sections taunted him with chants about how unknown Winthrop was. After the Eagles beat Illinois in overtime back in November, awareness of Winthrop increased across the state.
“They’re all just silent now,” Schumacher said.
He watched the Eagles win the Big South championship after church with his family earlier this month. Schumacher and his dad drove up from Illinois and were in the stands in Milwaukee to watch the Eagles play Butler in the NCAA Tournament last week. Schumacher had offers from Indiana-Fort Wayne, North Dakota and Cal Poly but remembered walking into the Coliseum during his official visit to Winthrop.
“I noticed all of the banners,” he said. “Seeing all those Big South championships and tournament appearances and to see it all come together this year was awesome.”
Austin Awad brings two interesting strengths to Winthrop’s program that could go some way to offsetting the departure of Tevin Prescott and Joshua Davenport, experienced post players that didn’t always show up in the scoring column but did little things that made the Eagles better.
“I’m really an energy guy when I’m on the court,” Awad said recently. “I’m a leader on the floor, but most of the time a lot of people see I’m a really good spot-shooter.”
Awad averaged 10.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, shot 37 percent from 3, and captained a really deep and talented Eastern Florida State College team that reached the junior college championship game.
“I’ve been watching Winthrop all season,” he said last month. “I definitely started paying more attention when conference started and once the conference tournament started I haven’t missed a game.
I’m just really excited for those guys, especially Xavier (Cooks). I’ve had a lot of interaction with him on my visits.
Winthrop recruit Austin Awad, on the Eagles making the NCAA Tournament.
Awad’s Eastern Florida State highlights from the 2015-16 season:
A 6-foot-6 center in high school, Awad didn’t get the offers he wanted and stopped playing. He rediscovered his love for the game during a year away from basketball and caught on at Eastern Florida State, in Melbourne, Florida. Awad is now playing a more realistic position for his still 6-foot-6 frame, usually on the wing. He said ball-handling is his biggest weakness because of his focus on post play during his prep years.
Awad’s time away from the game makes his love for basketball a strong point.
“There are other things out there that I could be doing but basketball is what I really want to be doing,” he said. “When I’m on the floor I give it everything.”
He visited Winthrop in November and will have two years of eligibility with the Eagles. He’ll join guards Bjorn Broman and Adam Pickett in Winthrop’s slim junior class.
“I hope to be more adjusted than some of those younger guys coming in,” said Awad, who was born in Colorado but lived the last 15 years in Florida. “Having the depth on my team just gives me more of a team mentality and helps me remember it’s not all about me when it comes to winning.”
Tom Pupavac and his mom woke up early to watch the Big South championship game on ESPN in Australia. Five a.m. early, or, as Pupavac wrote in an email, “perfect timing!”
Tom Pupavac was called into the Australian under-19 national team’s selection camp last fall. The under-19 team is nicknamed “the Emus.”
The 6-foot-10 Aussie committed to play at Winthrop next season after a visit in November. He signed his papers to attend the school this week.
“Tom was a hot commodity coming out of the Centre of Excellence prospect camp that we attended last July in Canberra,” said Kelsey. “We made him a priority and are extremely excited about his addition to our program. He is a legit 6-foot-10 with skill. He will add immediate help for us in the front court.”
Nathan Lovett, who runs Activ8 Game, helped Pupavac with his recruiting and got the big man in touch with Winthrop coaches early. The interactions began with emails, then progressed to Skype calls every other week to keep in touch.
“Kloman was all over it,” said Pupavac. “He kicked it off and then I ended up getting invited to the NCAA Showcase at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, where Brian introduced himself to me. Then when things got more serious, Brian actually came to visit my family and I in our home and set up a little video meeting with Coach Kelsey. That night completely opened me up to a potential future at Winthrop and we were so grateful for them to send Brian down.”
Here’s some Pupavac highlights from last season:
Or, if you want dunks, we’ve got those too:
Pupavac visited Cal State Fullerton, Elon and Montana State. The Eagles had an advantage in Xavier Cooks, an Aussie already on the roster. Pupavac didn’t know him previously but the two hit it off back in November, and not just because of their shared pronunciation of Rs.
“It really helped a lot as I see Xav as someone I can relate to,” Pupavac said. “Not just because he's an Aussie but to see his personality and the way he conducts himself it looks natural out there, like Winthrop is really meant for him. He came out for dinner with us and so did his brother, Dom. We went and watched an NBA game too and just us three Aussies, man it felt like home.”
The most recent addition to Winthrop’s recruiting class, Zunic, is a 6-foot-2 point guard that will be the third Australian suiting up for the Eagles next season. He might be one of the most heralded recruits Winthrop has ever signed in large part because of his extensive international experience.
Zunic has played with the Under-19 and Under-17 Australian national team and is a member of the country’s elite Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence, which only doles out 12 scholarships each year to the nation’s top juniors.
Winthrop Basketball has established an incredible footprint in Australia. The signing of two high level prospects like Kyle and Tom is another sign of how our brand is gaining momentum in the basketball rich country down under.
Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey
Kelsey said that Zunic will bring a Matthew Dellavedova-type toughness to the Winthrop program, citing the scrappy Australian NBA point guard, Dellavedova. Zunic hails from Wollongong, which Eagles fans will recognize as the hometown of standout junior forward Xavier Cooks. That familiarity, and Pupavac’s presence, should help Zunic adjust to life in America.
Kelsey said Zunic “has a very high basketball IQ. His “learning curve to the college game will be very short.”
Adam Caporn, who coaches the Centre of Excellence, was thrilled for Zunic to land at Winthrop.
“I’m very excited for Kyle and am sure he will make great contributions to the Winthrop basketball program and the university as a whole,” said Caporn in a press release from Winthrop. “Kyle is an outstanding leader and a proven winner through his junior career in Australia. A tireless worker and competitor, Kyle has the qualities to maximize the great opportunity offered to him by the university.”