Rock Hill, South Carolina became a community synonymous with winning when Gregg Marshall took the Winthrop Eagles to seven NCAA appearances between 1999 to 2007. Randy Peele would carry on the success at Winthrop adding two other appearances in 1998 and 2010.
Peele's success would start to wane after the 2010 season when the Eagles would go 15-37 in his last two seasons. Enter a fiery 37 year old Xavier assistant to bring back winning to "the Hill" and a former flagship program in the Big South.
If you've heard of Kelsey then it's probably because of his emotional speech regarding the Newtown shootings a year ago in his post game press conference at Ohio State. What you saw in that moment was a guy with heat, emotion, and character; and that's Pat Kelsey.
Kelsey was an assistant under Skip Prosser at Wake Forest and he embodies that spirit that so many college basketball fans remember. If Kelsey isn't in the gym coaching the Eagles up then he's out on campus or twitter trying to get the community to once again "Rock the Hill".
This preseason the Big South writers and coaches picked Winthrop to finish fifth out of the six team South Division. Respectfully, I had to disagree with those pundits and I picked the Eagles to finish second in the division right behind Charleston Southern. It's not because of the individual starts that Winthrop has, but rather the program that Kelsey is rebuilding at WU.
Winthrop went 14-17 in Kelsey's first year, and now they find themselves at 5-1 in this early season after a 69-57 win over James Madison. The box score tonight embodies Winthrop's team and what Kelsey is putting together. You're not likely to see gaudy numbers, but you are likely to see guys like Joab Jerome, Andre Smith, Keon Johnson, and others with their fingerprints on the game.
Thus far, Winthrop is that rare Big South team taking care of business in out of conference play against other regional conferences like the CAA and the Atlantic Sun. Brick by brick a program is getting rebuilt and the Eagles next challenge will be at Virginia Tech next Tuesday night. One thing is for sure, you'll see plenty of energy from Pat Kelsey and his Eagles.