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Winthrop Coach Said Compelling Things about Buckeyes
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Winthrop basketball coach Pat Kelsey has captured national attention for his impassioned postgame speech Tuesday night about the tragic shooting that took place at Sandy Hook.
Kelsey is a family man and an Ohio boy who once walked away from his role as the top assistant at Xavier to spend more time with his wife and two children. His poignant and heart-felt comments about the tragedy in Newtown, Conn. should make us look ourselves in the mirror and ask what we can do to make a difference.
It was the right moment for a coach like Kelsey to use his platform for something more important than sports, and there was no one better than the former Skip Prosser assistant to bring attention to mental-health awareness in this country.
It was a powerful message from a coach who, himself, had to see a therapist after he witnessed his Prosser’s lifeless body lying on the floor of his office back in 2007.
But Kelsey, one of the brightest up-and-coming young coaches in the game – assuming he wants to be – also had some interesting things to say about his team’s valiant effort against the seventh-ranked Buckeyes on Tuesday night.
“I told our guys for us to be a good team our game has to be muddy,” the Cincinnati native said after the game Tuesday at Value City Arena.
“It is sure as heck not a work of art. Coach Skip Prosser used to say, ‘Watching our team play, Jimmy Naismith would be rolling around in his grave.’ It is like a tractor pull sometimes. That is who we have to be.”
Kelsey is a tough-nosed coach who believes in defense, toughness and doing the little things. He won’t accept anything less. It’s not always going to make his program attractive to the best high school players in the country, but as Thad Matta and his team found out this week, it sure is effective.
“We have to be a team that sits down and bows their neck and grits their teeth at the defensive end,” Kelsey continued.
“We have to be a team that makes people defend on the other end as well. There aren’t as many possessions in our games as there are in typical Ohio State games. We knew we had to limit their possessions by getting our rear ends back in transition, crowding the floor and making them play five on five.”
That is not the way Matta’s team wanted to play that game Tuesday night. As they have shown in recent weeks, these Buckeyes want to get out and run. They want point guard Shannon Scott screaming up the floor before lobbing an alley-oop dunk to Sam Thompson in transition.
They want to play fast, use their athleticism to wear out the opponent and force turnovers that lead to easy baskets at the other end. The Buckeyes didn’t get those easy baskets against Winthrop. at least not the way they did in the previous four games, which were won by an average of 30 points.
“They did a good job of just getting back and really setting their defense,” Matta said.
“When we ran hard and were able to get clean rebounds, I thought we did a pretty good job of converting, but they got back and met us and were kind of waiting on us.”
Kelsey’s Eagles actually had the lead on two different occasions early in the second half. The Buckeyes couldn’t seem to buy a basket, and star forward Deshaun Thomas had missed nine shots in a row before he caught fire, seemingly out of nowhere, in the second half.
“When they made their run, we started getting a little sloppy in transition and they got easy basket … and then Deshaun Thomas started being Deshaun Thomas,” Kelsey said.
“He did what All-Americans do, he put the game on his shoulders. I’ve been around some really good ones. I was on a coaching staff (at Wake Forest) with Chris Paul, and when the game is on the line, that’s what All-Americans do.”
After missing nine-straight, Thomas knocked down five in a row, as he rattled off 12 of Ohio State’s 14 points during the key stretch of the game. He totaled 10 points in less than three minutes to give the Buckeyes enough juice to put Winthrop away for good.
But it wasn’t just Thomas at the offensive end. Kelsey was also awe-struck by what he saw from both Craft and Scott at the defensive end of the floor, especially during the stretch where Ohio State came up with 10-straight stops on defense.
“Watching him on tape is phenomenal,” Kelsey said of Craft.
“He is a tiger on the ball. I’ve never seen as relentless an on-ball defender as Aaron Craft. He sets the tone for their defense. I showed our guys clips of him guarding the ball and he’s like piranha smelling blood.”
Kelsey said when Craft plays like that it gives the rest of Ohio State’s players courage on the defensive end of the floor. It gives them toughness and tenacity, especially going after loose balls on the floor.
“There was a loose ball in front of our bench where he put his teeth on the ball,” Kelsey said shaking his head.
“We don’t call loose balls ‘50/50 balls,’ we call them ‘Winthrop balls.’ I stole that from Shaka Smart at VCU – most good coaching ideas are stolen. I’ll tell you what, when that ball is loose, it’s an ‘Aaron Craft ball.’
“I’ve never seen anyone dive on the floor as fast as that cat. I would coach a kid like that every day of the week and twice on Sunday.”
Kelsey actually remembers Craft from his high school days. The Winthrop coach is a product of Elder High School and was often asked to recruit the state of Ohio, both for Wake Forest and Xavier.
“I know him, just from recruiting the state of Ohio and being at 8,000 of his AAU games,” Kelsey said.
“He was just always that guy. I’m some lowly assistant and he would walk by like, ‘hey coach, how you doing?’ I was like, wow, what an unbelievable kid.”
Kelsey was even more impressed with Craft this time around, especially after he grabbed three steals and dished out five assists against the Eagles, but it wasn’t just Craft who caught the attention of Winthrop’s coach.
“I already talked about what a phenomenal player Aaron Craft is, but they’re like Noah’s Ark, they have two of everything,” he said with a smile.
“Aaron Craft goes out of the game and they bring Shannon Scott in. I had to check my laptop when I’m watching tape because it looked like it was on fast speed. He is downhill to the max.”
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