Now the clock strikes zero, and there are no more games or practices. Many Rock Hill, S.C., natives and Winthrop University basketball fans are wondering what will happen in the future with the Eagles.
Winthrop’s men’s basketball team had a very unique, but successful season in the 2016-2017 campaign.
The Eagles finished their season with a 26-7 record and had their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010 under head coach Pat Kelsey. Point guard, Keon Johnson finished his career as Winthrop’s all time leading score with 2,076 points, which was seventh all-time in Big South history. The 5-foot-6 Johnson was voted the Big South Conference Player of the Year and it seemed everything was going well.
“It feels good to be considered the best player in the Big South Conference,” Johnson said. “With it being my last year, and just off of previous year’s defeat, it felt good to get over the hump and be considered on of the best.”
Although Winthrop had a very good season some students here at the university believe they could have done a little better.
Malik McGill, a junior exercise science major said, “I believe the Eagles did pretty well this year. One thing that I believe is that they should have never accumulated seven losses in the loss column. If this had happened the Eagles would have had a much higher seed in the NCAA tournament.”
The Eagles lost to Butler University, a number four seed in the tournament, 76-64. Soon after this game the tables would turn with the Winthrop men’s basketball program.
Center Duby Okeke said, “I felt that even though it was Butler we could’ve changed something as a team to help move on in the tournament, but other than that everything was good.”
After the NCAA tournament the Winthrop program took a turn. On March 21 Winthrop head coach Pat Kelsey took an unexpected coaching position at the University of Massachusetts. And many of the Winthrop faithful were outraged.
Destinee Waddy, a sophomore exercise science major said, “I could just not understand why he would want to leave our university after just one tournament appearance. To me it seemed as if he was just in it for the money.”
Kelsey signed a five-year $800,000 contract with the UMass, which almost tripled his salary that he had at Winthrop, where he was only earning $250,000.
“I knew people wanted to hire Pat Kelsey way before I even applied for this job,” Winthrop athletic director Ken Halpin said. “What he has done historically at Winthrop is unheard of. The year prior to him they lost 20 games, two years later he had his first 20 win season, so he has won a minimum of 20 games each season. Obviously I knew he would get phone calls this off-season.”
Some of coach Kelsey’s players were happy for him. But they wanted a little more incite about the situation.
Anders Broman, a redshirt junior guard, said, “I was happy for him. He had helped me a lot as a person and player. So I wanted what was best for him and his family.”
After the dust seemed to settle another incident happened with the Winthrop program. Winthrop’s all time leading shot blocker, center, Duby Okee would transfer to another school for his final year of eligibility.
“I felt it was time for me to move on and grow as a player on and off the court,” Okeke said. “I was trying to find a new situation that I can enjoy for my last year of college.”
Students were shocked when they heard this news as well.
Maurice Davis, a junior integrated marketing communications major said, “This news shocked me about Duby because of the season they had this past year. I was hoping that he would come back for just one more year to possibly try to get Winthrop to the next level in the NCAA tournament.
“Overall this season has been a season I will never forget,” Okeke said. “I truly understand what it meant by buying in, and giving yourself to the team. I had a role and a lot of times I didn’t feel appreciated.”
Ultimately the 6-8 center Okeke, decided to transfer the University of Nebraska for his final year of eligibility.
“The team is what made me commit to Nebraska,” he said. “I came for a day and a half and we clicked like I was on the team for a year already. I fit what they need and how I can join the team and also development as a player.”
Shortly after this news transpired Kelsey had a second change of thoughts and decided to come back to Winthrop for personal reasons.
“My family and I love it here,” Kelsey said. “We love Rock Hill. We love living here. It is an unbelievable place to raise a family. I have something really special being the head coach of this tradition rich program. It was tugging on my heartstrings to be back here, and I am so thankful and appreciative for the campus community, and the community of Rock Hill accepting me back with open arms.”
Halpin said he is excited to have coach Kelsey back at Winthrop University.
“Ultimately what kept him her is Rock Hill, and the support that Winthrop provides,” Halpin said. “He loves the community that he lives in, and so much so that four times the salary was not worth leaving this community. He wants to hold on into the next job is just a cant miss opportunity and really high profile.”
Now that the 2017-2018 basketball season is approaching coach Kelsey has high expectations for his basketball program.
“Our expectations never waiver when we enter the season especially at a program like Winthrop. Your goal is to always win a Big South Championship and play in the NCAA Tournament.”
By Nick Gibson-Harper
Nick Gibson-Harper is a student at Winthrop University and assistant sports editor of the Johnsonian, Winthrop’s student newspaper.