Winthrop University

Ranking Big South men's basketball offseason upheaval

Jayson Gee is Winthrop University's new assistant men's basketball coach
Jayson Gee is Winthrop University's new assistant men's basketball coach Winthrop University

May is historically the month when college basketball coaches go on vacation, get married, basically do all of the personal family stuff that their relentless jobs don't allow them to do during the rest of the year.

Guessing that things will slow down a bit this month, let's take a look at the cyclone of changes in the Big South Conference since the season ended (and even before). Winthrop has mostly been immune from the drama and breaking news, though it did emerge this week that head coach Pat Kelsey interviewed with Siena recently and was offered the job but declined. Winthrop may have dodged a bullet but UNC Asheville, High Point, Longwood, new member USC Upstate and a few other conference rivals have not escaped the ch, ch, ch, changes.

USC Upstate

The Big South's newest member brings with it the most offseason drama.

The school's athletic director Julio Freire and head basketball coach Kyle Perry were both fired in early March. The AD was accused of sexually aggressive behavior toward the Spartans' female head volleyball coach, but it was less clear why Perry was canned, too, other than winning just seven out of 33 games in his only season at the helm.

Regardless, Dave Dickerson -- the former Maryland and Ohio State assistant and Tulane head coach -- was hired, but not before a healthy chunk of the team's roster decided to transfer. Standout guard Mike Cunningham Jr. was included in the exiting group. He's since announced he's joining Oklahoma State's team, indicative of that talent Upstate lost.

Upstate already faced a bit of an uphill scrap to contend in the Big South. And trying to add five or six players late in the recruiting cycle is not an easy thing to do.

UNC Asheville

In many ways, it feels like Asheville will start from scratch this coming season. Excellent head coach Nick McDevitt left for Middle Tennessee State and standout guards Ahmad Thomas, Kevin Vannatta and Raekwon Miller all graduated.

Texas assistant coach and Shaka Smart acolyte Mike Morrell was hired in April to take over the program, but was greeted immediately with the news that star guard MaCio Teague and promising German forward Jonathan Baehre would transfer (Baehre is headed to Clemson). Over in Nashville, McDevitt probably just rolled his eyes at the continuation of a phenomenon that dogged his years in the North Carolina mountains.

Even before Teague and Baehre's announcements, Asheville was going to need an infusion of bodies/talent. Morrell, who has been Smart's righthand man at VCU and Texas the last seven years, is apparently a strong recruiter, originally from Tennessee. His ability to attract players on the Big South's smallest budget will be immediately tested.

High Point

High Point lost its second-leading scorer from last season, Andre Fox, after the guard announced he would transfer (three other Panthers are also leaving the program). High Point did gain a new head coach, though, bringing in former Kentucky coach Tubby Smith to replace Scott Cherry, who was fired.

Smith played at High Point and has a national reputation after stops at Tulsa, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas Tech and Memphis, in addition to his 1998 national championship with Kentucky.

High Point also announced plans to build a new 4,500-seat basketball arena, part of a $130 million project that will include a conference center and small hotel.

Dumping Cherry for Smith is a signal of intent from High Point and its ambitious school president Dr. Nido Qubein. And replacing the school’s matchbox gymnasium with a proper arena suggests the Panthers are trying to climb the Big South basketball ranks.

The still unreached next step for High Point is translating its ambition into Big South championships on the court.

Longwood

Longwood went down an untrodden path in hiring Griff Aldrich to replace Jayson Gee, who, affable as he is, never won more than 11 games in five seasons. Aldrich brings some buzz with him; he was the director of recruiting and program development for UMBC, which knocked off Virginia in the NCAA Tournament, the Retrievers becoming the first No. 16 seed to win a game in the Big Dance. Aldrich has extensive experience in finance and law and was a pretty useful player back in his day at Hampden-Sydney College. He was involved in every aspect of UMBC's program, which should help him make the transition into the first seat on the bench at Longwood.

The Lancers lose two starting senior guards, but return skilled guard Isaiah Walton and post man Damarion Geter. Gee never seemed to have any injury luck during his time at Longwood either, and Aldrich should return two solid bigs that missed much of last season hurt. The new coach's challenge is to build something lasting at a program that has never really launched at the Division I level.

Campbell

Camels star Chris Clemons tossed his name into the NBA Draft pool again, but it's unclear what feedback he'll get or what his next move will be. This is certain, though: Clemons' wing-man in the back court, Marcus Burk, is transferring, a huge blow for Campbell. The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 15 points per game, shot 41 percent from 3 and was one of the top-20 most efficient offensive players in the league last season. He relieved offensive pressure off Clemons. Burk is one of four Camels that are leaving the program early this offseason.

The Camels also lose key post depth with Mogga Lado and Shane Whitfield graduating, so coach Kevin McGeehan needs to find a couple of guys to help Princeton offense guru Andrew Eudy, whether they're already on the roster or new additions.

If Clemons ends up going pro, McGeehan has an almost complete rebuild on his hands.

Campbell junior guard Chris Clemons is one of the best scorers in Division I college basketball. Winthrop will try to slow down Clemons when he comes to Rock Hill Jan. 27, 2018 for a game between two teams tied for second place in the Big South Co

Winthrop

It's been an interesting offseason so far for Winthrop. The best news for the program is coach Pat Kelsey didn't go anywhere. He was linked with the Xavier opening, but the Musketeers promoted assistant coach Travis Steele and Kelsey got on with things in Rock Hill. He then apparently interviewed for the Siena job but ESPN's Jeff Goodman reported that the compensation package offered wasn't good enough.

So Kelsey is still Winthrop's head man but he did lose his top lieutenant, Mark Prosser, who scored the head coaching job at Western Carolina. But it always seemed likely that Prosser wouldn't be back next year, such was his desire to land a head job.

It didn't take long for Kelsey to snap up recently-released Longwood head coach Jayson Gee -- the two have long had an affinity and shared respect -- to take Prosser's place.

“He is a mentor to many in our profession and to hundreds of young men that he has coached," Kelsey said in a release from Winthrop. "His wealth of knowledge and experience as a head coach will be invaluable to me in all facets of our program. To get a coach of Jayson’s caliber and experience is a coup for us here at Winthrop. He will make a big impact on our program.”

The Eagles graduate do-everything Aussie Xavier Cooks and have a pretty serious need for more size. Will fellow Aussie Tom Pupavac's development hit the accelerator in the coming months, or will Latvian Raivis Scerbinskis, who got some playimg time crumbs in the second half last season, stake his claim for more regular run on the court? Or, will Kelsey and his coaching staff add a new big with the remaining scholarship?

Winthrop basketball’s extensive defensive grading system has made the Eagles one of the best defensive teams in the Big South Conference. Try your hand at grading a defensive clip from Winthrop’s win over High Point Feb. 10, 2018.

Liberty

Liberty is also building a new arena, roughly the same size as the High Point one, and right next to the current building, the Vines Center, which will not be demolished. Building a new arena is a good move for the Flames, because the 10,000-seat Vines possesses all of the atmosphere of playing a game in outer space.

Liberty made a decent run in the CIT, momentum it will hope to continue into 2018-19. The Flames lose steady guard Ryan Kemrite to graduation and Isaiah Williams has also decided to leave after missing a big chunk of this season suspended. The Akron transfer was a definite talent and was pivotal when the Flames beat Winthrop in Rock Hill, but he wasn't seeing eye to eye with coach Ritchie McKay and is moving on.

It's otherwise been a pretty quiet offseason for Liberty, which, with quite a few returning contributors, will be one of the favorites to win the league next season.

Charleston Southern

Nothing too major has happened in Charleston, but the school will have a new athletic director -- what might that mean for head coach Barclay Radebaugh, who apparently was close with the outgoing AD, Hank Small, or for the school's tiny gymnasium? And 6-foot-8 athlete Jordan Jones -- you remember him, the guy with the really short shorts -- announced he's leaving.

But the Bucs have so far kept hold of standout sophomore Christian Keeling. He announced he was entering the NBA Draft, but it seems more likely he's doing so to get some feedback, instead of actually leaving school two years early.

Presbyterian

Early returns were fairly promising in Dustin Kerns' first season as the Blue Hose's head coach. Presbyterian won twice as many games as the season before and was fairly competitive in the Big South.

Kerns' biggest test comes in the offseason because Presbyterian needs talent and it doesn't have the easiest time attracting good players, or keeping them. The latest example is oft-injured but talented forward Jo'Vontae Millner, who announced he is leaving the school. The 6-foot-6 redshirt freshman missed the final six games of the 2016-17 season and played seven minutes of the first game last season before an injury ruled him out for the year.

Joining Millner headed out the door, standout guard Reggie Dillard graduates. Guard Davon Bell (13 points per game) is back, but who will help him next season?

Radford

The Highlanders lose big man Darius Bolstad to a transfer, but that only happened after they added 6-foot-8 Kansas State transfer Mawdo Sallah, who is immediately eligible as a graduate transfer.

The Highlanders lose three seniors, including wide load Randy Phillips, who bullied Winthrop a few times this past season. But pretty much everyone else of consequence is back for the Highlanders, who will try to build on the momentum of their 2018 Big South championship and NCAA Tournament appearance. With Ed Polite Jr. and Carlik Jones returning, Mike Jones' program should contend for another league championship.

Hampton

Hampton's departure from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference has been tempestuous, including a fine for leaving the MEAC after a July 1, 2017 notification deadline that Hampton unsuccessfully contested.

But on the court, everything has been calm for the Pirates, who should bring a strong team into the Big South. Hampton graduates just one senior that played much and returns a very balanced roster that won 19 games this past season. No Pirates have joined the transfer list either, always a noteworthy accomplishment in college basketball these days.

Gardner-Webb

As of late April, the Runnin' Bulldogs had five players signed or verbally committed to join the program next season that were 6-foot-4 or taller. Tim Craft's team loses 6-foot-10 big guy L'hassane Niangane -- and his five fouls per game -- and slasher Liam O'Reilly, but everyone else, including All-Conference guard David Efianayi, returns.

If Gardner-Webb can sort out its point guard position it could return to the upper reaches of the Big South next season. Point guard play was a huge ball and chain last season and it's not clear if the solution is on the current roster.

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