The woman in the hat

A maroon hat covered in pins, pieces of basketball nets and a stuffed eagle bobs in the crowd at Winthrop home games.

Zeta (Zee-ta) Sistare, the snowy haired wearer, has been coming to games since she first came to work for Winthrop in 1979. Sistare has continued coming to games since her retirement in 2003.

Two pieces of winning nets hold places of honor on the hat. One button is from a Nashville tournament that Winthrop attended and didn’t win. A plastic purple flower is from a trip to Hawaii with the softball team.

A favorite token was found in St. Thomas when Winthrop was competing in the Paradise Jam.  Sistare proudly pointed out that it said, “We be jamming.”

Sistare has pins with the old Winthrop logo on it and even one that reads Winthrop College instead of Winthrop University. A gold pin with the state insignia was presented to her for her years of service at Winthrop.

The hat was purchased at the women’s basketball semi-finals a few years ago, but it is not the first Sistare decorated in buttons and other memorabilia. The first hat was a handmade garnet and gold beanie, she made it for a tournament and Winthrop won. Sistare also made a vest with a shiny eagle on the back when the beanie got too heavy from the pins. Sistare wears the vest in addition to the hat when it is not too cold. The older hat usually remains at home.

The miniature stuffed eagle used to ride atop the beanie. Sistare remembers one woman cheering for the opposing team at a game in Asheville did not like it.

Sistare recalled the angry fan’s jibe: “’What are you doin’ with a dead duck on your head?’”

Sistare is not one to sit back and watch the game quietly. Throughout the game, Sistare leans forward and yells, “We need more points! Get more points!” She is not afraid of chiding the players either.

“Xavier,” she groaned after Xavier Cooks lost the ball while doing some fancy dribbling. “Don’t get so smart dribblin’ the ball ‘round and around you.”

Sistare said she likes “most all” of the players, but she eventually admitted Keon Johnson is her favorite. She was also quick to compliment Cooks.

“I thought at the first of the season when Cooks came ‘Boy, this is gonna be fun.’ He’s got the moves nobody else has,” Sistare said.

It’s not surprising Sistare spends much of her time on Winthrop athletics.  Basketball is close to her heart.  Both she and her mother played in high school. Sistare’s granddaughter usually accompanies her to the home games. The 11-year-old does not play basketball but hopes to go to Winthrop someday.

Sistare remembers much of Winthrop and its athletic history.

“You see that guy over there with the jacket sittin’ behind the cheerleaders on the front row?” she asked. “He was on the first men’s basketball team ever here at Winthrop. He’s pretty faithful about coming to the games too.”

The banners around the Coliseum’s ceiling boast Winthrop’s accomplishments.  Any attendee could read the banners and see Winthrop’s wins. But if you really want to know the stories of Winthrop’s victories and loss, look for the woman in the hat. She has seen the highest and lowest moments, and she will continue to be there to see them for years to come.

Déjà Vu

Winthrop lost the Big South Tournament Championship game for a third year in a row on Sunday. UNC Asheville beat the Eagles 77-68, punching their ticket to the NCAA tournament.

The Eagles and Bulldogs faced off twice in the regular season. Both teams walked away with single point victories. “They bring out the best in us,” said Asheville head coach Nick McDevitt.

Sophomore guard Ahmad Thomas spoke to reporters with a smile on his face and a piece of net in his hat, “it’s been a great ride.”

The star of the game was Asheville’s Dwayne Sutton. Sutton netted 25 points and brought down 18 rebounds. His stellar performance earned him all tournament team as well as the title of tournament MVP.

“I’m one of the biggest guards in the Big South so I just tried to crash with a lot of aggressiveness,” said Sutton

For Winthrop, it all fell apart in the second half. The Eagles had a 33-24 lead at halftime that couldn’t be sustained. Foul trouble and cold shooting lead to Winthrop’s demise in the second half of Saturday’s contest.

The Eagles shot 6.3 percent from three point range and 34.2 percent from the field in the second half. “We picked a bad day to not have our best shooting night,” said Winthrop head coach Pat Kelsey.

Master’s student Jimmy Gavin said this team wasn’t feeling sorry for itself. “We weren’t good enough today, josh played his heart out Duby played his heart out. We win as a team we lose on as a team,” said Gavin.

Jimmy Gavin was the driving force behind Winthrop’s offense in the championship game. Gavin scored 31 points, 24 of which came from two point range. Gavin was two points shy of tying the record for points made in a Big South conference championship game.

Gavin’s performance over the long weekend earned him all tournament team honors. Gavin’s tenure with the team was short. His presence will be missed, “To not have the opportunity to coach a guy like Jimmy Gavin is a sad sad day,” said Kelsey.

An emotional Jimmy Gavin spoke with reporters after the game, “to represent Winthrop this year has been the opportunity of a lifetime… it’s been the absolute best year of my life.”

Winthrop came into the tournament as the number two seed. The Eagles had a tremendous season and finished as co-champions with High Point University. High Point held the conference tiebreaker over Winthrop which gave them an automatic bid into the National Invitational Tournament.

The Eagles won their first two contests of the tournament with wins over Presbyterian College and Gardner-Webb. Asheville advanced to the tournament final with wins over five seed Liberty and one seed High Point.

During Winthrop’s game against Gardner-Webb sophomore center Duby Okeke broke the single season record for blocked shots. Xavier Cooks also had a solid weekend in Buies Creek. Cooks averaged 17 points a game in the tournament.

With postseason hopes dashed, the Eagles are already looking toward next fall. Guard Keon Johnson will be a veteran senior. Anders Broman, the brother of Bjorn Broman, will likely replace Jimmy Gavin as a primary offensive threat.

High stakes weekend for Winthrop basketball

Eagles need to top Chants and Bulldogs in last two home games

Winthrop’s last two home games of the regular season are finally here. The Eagles desperately need wins this Thursday and Saturday to elevate the team to the number one conference seed.

Thursday night will see the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers and coach Cliff Ellis make their final appearance in the Winthrop Coliseum as Big South rivals. Coastal will be begin playing in the Sun Belt Conference next season which leaves the Eagles with one less in state conference rival.

The Eagles are coming off a buzzer-beating win by Keon Johnson over Radford last week. Johnson scored 32 points with two steals making him a nimble threat on the hardcourt.

Other Eagles soaring down the home stretch are Jimmy Gavin and Xavier Cooks. Cooks has averaged 19.7 points per game including 26 points in Winthrop’s loss to Liberty. Graduate student Jimmy Gavin, has earned his floor time this season. Gavin comes into Thursday’s game averaging 17.9 points per game along with an average of 2.9 assists per game.

If anyone can beat the Eagles it’s these two teams. Winthrop lost early January road contests to both teams.The loss to UNC Asheville came after blowing a 23 point lead in the second half.

Asheville, Winthrop and Coastal hold the top three conference spots respectively. The conference’s top five finishing teams are guaranteed first round byes in the conference tournament next month. Winning the regular season also guarantees a team a NIT bid if that team fails to win the conference tournament.

Students are encouraged to wear black for Thursday’s game against Coastal and pink for Saturday’s game against UNC Asheville.

 

Got Rings?

Zach Price is a 6-foot-10 senior center out of Cleveland who was heavily recruited coming out of high school. During the recruiting process Zach decided to go with Coach Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals.

In 2011 Zach’s freshman year, Louisville won their second Big East conference tournament in school history, and they went to their ninth Final Four, but lost to the Anthony Davis led Kentucky team. Zach’s sophomore year, the team repeated as Big East conference tournament champions. In April, Zach accomplished a goal most college basketball players will never accomplish when Louisville beat Michigan 82-76 to win the school’s third national championship.

Following the national championship in 2013, Zach decided to transfer to the University of Missouri. After sitting out a year at Missouri because of NCAA transfer rules, Zach then transferred again to his third school, Winthrop University. Many residents in the state of South Carolina and the Charlotte area are familiar with Winthrop, but the rest of the nation has no clue where Winthrop is.

When Zach was asked about transferring to Winthrop and what he knew about Winthrop before he arrived, he said, “Coach Kelsey contacted me and let me know that he wanted to recruit me to come to Winthrop. I heard about Winthrop going to the tournament a few years ago, so I was interested to see what kind of majors they had to offer, and then I decided to join the program.”

Winthrop hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2010, and they are very eager to get back this season. By being a part of a national championship team Zach suggests that “Any team can win around that time of year, and it is the team that is most prepared and disciplined in their craft tends to win the games.”

In order for Winthrop to get back to the tournament and an exciting run at cutting down the nets, Zach said,  “leadership is the last quality you need in order to win a championship, leadership from all levels on the team is what makes a team function as one.”

This season Winthrop has got off to a 4-0 start which was the best start since the 2005-2006 season, and look for senior Zach Price to add energy and leadership to help boost Winthrop to the next level.

Athletic Director Hickman announces retirement

Editor’s Note: The Johnsonian will continue to add information to this story.

After 27 years at Winthrop University, Athletics Director Tom Hickman announced his retirement Thursday morning, effective June 30, 2016.

Hickman is the longest-serving athletic director at Winthrop and in the Big South Conference, according to a faculty-wide email written by President Dan Mahony.

“I would like to thank Tom for his deep commitment to Winthrop University over those many years. While it’s important to recognize that our facilities and teams have thrived under Tom’s leadership, it’s equally important to note that Tom has remained just as focused on our student-athletes succeeding inside and outside the classroom,” Mahony wrote.

Hickman is responsible for over $20 million of facility reconstruction since 2000, including lighting for all outdoor events, the marquee at Cherry Road and the renovation of the Winthrop Coliseum.

In addition, four sports teams have also been added to Winthrop under Hickman including the men’s and women’s indoor track and field, women’s soccer and lacrosse.

The university has received several awards under Hickman’s leadership, concerning both sports and student-athlete academics.

Hickman expressed his pride in the athletic department’s staff and students in a press release sent Thursday morning.

“I wish only the best for Winthrop in the years to come and will always be an Eagle fan,” Hickman said.

President Dan Mahony stated in a school-wide email that he will begin putting a committee together within the next few days to search for a new Athletics Director.

Eagles blow out the Flames

Following an impressive nationally televised 20-point win over the High Point Panthers the Winthrop men’s basketball team began preparing to welcome familiar foe Liberty University into the unfriendly confines of Winthrop Coliseum, where the Eagles would out pace the Flames to a 74-58 win.

Saturday afternoon brought the Flames of Liberty University to do battle with the Eagles and just like the contest before the Eagles would handily defeat their opponent.

The Flames came in to the Saturday’s game at 5-14 and 10th in the Big South Conference standings. Winthrop sitting at 11-6 and at 4th place in the conference.

The Eagles came out of the gate ready to shoot the three ball, going 5-12 in the first half for a little over 41.7 percent shooting from three in the first half.

However, the Eagles shooting during the first was a bit spotty as the Eagles only dropped 10-27 shots from the field as compared to the Flames who only went 9-26 from the field.

The Eagles would end the first half; however, with a comfortable nine point lead. The Eagles stepped back onto the court and the team’s shooting percentage jumped through the roof.

The Eagles would go 16-23 from the field in the second-half with a shooting percentage of 69.6 percent.

The Eagles received a big lift from sophomore forward Xavier Cooks who knocked down 3-4 three-point field goals and 8-13 from the field leading all scorers for 22 points.

Graduate transfer Jimmy Gavin also had a productive shooting night as he was able to find the bottom of the net on 2-5 from behind the three point with 19 points overall.

The Eagles ended the game with 36-points in the point compared to Liberty’s 22. The Eagles took advantage of a good deal of the Flames mistakes, scoring 16-points off turnovers.

Winthrop is currently sitting at 4th place in the conference and will play their next game on Wednesday at 7 p.m. against the Runnin’ Bulldogs of Gardner-Webb in Boiling Springs, North Carolina.

Gardner-Webb is currently tied for second place in the Big South and statistically has the third best scoring offense.

The only teams better are Winthrop and High Point at one and two respectively.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs also do a good job of spreading the floor and finding open teammates as they currently rank second in conference for assists per game, averaging 14.3 assists per contest.