Winthrop University

Melding Eagles together will be critical for Winthrop NCAA hopes

Winthrop basketball coach Pat Kelsey talks about team full of new players

Five new faces will likely be regular contributors for the 2015-16 Winthrop men's basketball team, and melding their various talents together will be the top challenge facing coach Pat Kelsey.
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Five new faces will likely be regular contributors for the 2015-16 Winthrop men's basketball team, and melding their various talents together will be the top challenge facing coach Pat Kelsey.

Five new faces will be a critical part of Winthrop men’s basketball in 2015-16.

Two - transfers Zach Price and Roderick Perkins - sat out last season but did practice with the Eagles for a full year and were immersed in the program’s culture. Three - Jimmy Gavin, Bjorn Broman and Adam Pickett - are completely new to the program, as is a sixth, Broman’s older brother, Anders, who will sit out after transferring from South Dakota State.

Kelsey’s fourth Winthrop team has plenty of talent, interesting back stories and unique skill sets. Price and Gavin - fifth-year seniors - possess an urgency to finish their college careers with an NCAA appearance. Perkins, Pickett and Broman are surely eager to prove the inflated scoring numbers on their resumes were more than just a product of the level of basketball on which they previously played.

There is motivation galore. There is also flexibility in lineup-making, whether it’s a big one with 6-foot-10 center Price and 6-foot-8 sophomore Duby Okeke on the floor together, or a smaller one led by 5-foot-7 speedster Keon Johnson that’s ready to race up and down the floor.

Winthrop’s new faces have interesting and varied backgrounds: Zach Price won a national championship at Louisville, Bjorn Broman led high school basketball in scoring last season, Roderick Perkins led NCAA Division II in scoring in 2013-14, and fifth-year transfer Jimmy Gavin is playing his first year of Division I basketball.

But the main thing the 2015-16 Eagles lack is experience playing together.

Kelsey counters that “There already is a natural chemistry because the guys get along. I think that’s the first advantage.”

Junior point guard Johnson, a first team all-conference preseason choice, will be leaned on for offense and on-court leadership. Losing seniors Keon Moore and Andre Smith hurt, not just because they were 3-point shooting threats and combined for 40 percent of the team’s scoring, but also because they were the kind of players Kelsey calls “culture players.” Johnson, a quiet person by nature, will have to find ways to espouse Winthrop’s culture, if not verbally.

“October 26th of last year we were so far ahead because I would start saying something and they would finish my sentence before I finished it,” he said. “And when you lose that, that’s a concern.”

After consecutive losses in the Big South Conference tournament final, this team is a blank canvas. Far from making Kelsey nervous, the challenge has him excited.

“You’ve got all these pieces. Potentially, it could be one of the most explosive offensive teams in the history of our program,” he said, his eyes lighting up.

I don’t know just like you don’t know yet, how this thing’s all gonna go.

Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey

Winthrop will have to be a selfless team to make it all fit. If the newcomers are able to slot in beside Johnson and Aussie sophomore Xavier Cooks - a second team preseason all-conference pick Monday and one of the most dynamic players in the league - then Kelsey and the Eagles will really be on to something.

“As a coach I realistically know that is going to take time,” he said. “If it gets to where I think it’s gonna get, we’re not gonna be a team you want to get near in February and March.”

Bret McCormick: 803-329-4032, @RHHerald_Preps

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