The Deep South Basketball Media Days are exactly what you would expect.
The preseason poll and teams from all preseason conferences are announced. Basketball coaches bring their staff and a top player to a five-hour gauntlet of interviews, split in half by a one-hour lunch. Reporters ask questions about the upcoming season, the departure of Big South commissioner Kyle Kallander, and anything else that helps tie their preseason prospect stories together.
If you’re lucky, a young reporter from Howard and Arizona State universities will ask you what your favorite Halloween candy is. (Mark Prosser and Leonor Paisana love Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Semeka Randall Lay only loves the yellow part of sweet corn, and Chase Claxton hates chocolate.)
There’s not much to interrupt the flow of interviews other than time spent quietly chatting with other people or cracking jokes at friends or nearby people.
However, that doesn’t make the event any less important, and Winthrop is taking the opportunity to set the record straight about this very serious upcoming season.
Starting with the Winthrop men’s basketball team, the Eagles enter the season with high expectations.
After finishing last season 23-9 (14-2), the 2022 Big South Championship finalists are in the top three of the Big South pre-season poll for the eighth straight year, and Mark Prosser’s lads are in the time.
“We probably look like a lot of other teams are watching right now,” Prosser said. “Good and bad. There are times when it’s a bit difficult to assess, right? Because when your attack is doing well, you worry about your defense; and if the defense is doing well, you worry about the attack.
“I think we will understand better where we are as we go into some of our non-league games, and we also have a few scrums to assess ourselves. But there is something to be excited about. There are some things that we obviously need to improve on. We are far from a finished product. But that’s where we’re meant to be.
In Prosser’s second year, the men’s team will look very different.
Winthrop lost 2021-22 Big South Pre-Season Player of the Year DJ Burns to the transfer portal, and the Eagles lost six other men of letters from last year’s squad. Prosser’s team also lost senior graduate Micheal Anumba, who had a fantastic offseason, to a ripped Achilles.
However, the team brought in new players.
Three Division I transfers (Howard Fleming Jr., Illinois State; Kasen Harrison, Lamar; Isaiah Wilson, Richmond) bring a total of 148 games of experience, while five freshmen (Lawrence Bartee, Yoro Diallo , Clay Howard, Xavier McKelvy, Michael Moore) bring young people who grow and develop.
With such a turnover and so many new faces, they have already produced encouraging results.
“Last year our team was elite for sure,” said senior forward Chase Claxton. “And we lost a lot of players, but now we have transfers, and everyone who stayed became better players, a better version of themselves. So this year I feel like we’re still elite, but in a different way.Last year our low-key attack was successful, but now our defense is really up to snuff.
As for the women’s team, the similarities with the men’s team are obvious.
The women’s team also lost seven men of letters, including four starters, from last year’s squad. The women’s team also has a head coach entering his second season. The women’s team also has a host of newcomers to the squad. This includes five transfers (Frances Brown, Nassau CC; Addaya Moore, Western Illinois; Paige Powell, UNC-Wilmington; Shamyjha Price, UMass Lowell; Jada Ryce, East Tennessee State) and two freshmen (Aaishah Barry, Tiana Spann) .
However, while the men’s team has notched 18 wins in each of the past seven seasons, the women’s team has not posted a winning record in any of those seasons.
Semeka head coach Randall Lay says the program is heading in the right direction.
“When you’re building, it just takes time,” Lay said. “As for getting the right parts, don’t try to skip the process, just absorb it and try to do your best and just know that you’re going to keep adding more and more parts to the process.
“Driving them into this year is the same thing, but you can start to see the things that you envisioned and hoped for from this program.”
The women’s team also focused on building team chemistry. Lay wants his team to have clear expectations.
“We’re going to try to maximize as much as possible in this process,” Lay said. “While there may be bumps and bruises, I want to see how resilient they can be.
“It’s a small goal for me. Are we going to feel sorry for ourselves or are we going to take the movie, learn from it, grow and come out and do better next time. That’s my goal for this team.
One of the best returners is second-year guard Leonor Paisana. Hailing from Portugal, last season was the 5-foot-7 goalie’s first experience playing the more physically intense and detail-oriented American-style basketball.
“My freshman year was really bad,” Paisana said. “I am international. I’m from another country so it was a bit difficult with the impact of different cultures. On the basketball side, I had to learn to play the American game, which is different from the European game.
“Even the expressions, like speaking, were really difficult. During my first year, I also learned a lot about the team, like the experiences we had and to fight everything.
Focus is the name of the game for Lay’s team.
“This year we are focusing more on aggressiveness and competitiveness,” Paisana said. “And I believe we can win a lot more games than last year. I just have this good feeling that it’s happening because everyone is on the same page.
Winthrop’s men’s basketball team opens the season on the road at Penn State on Nov. 7, while its first home game is Nov. 9 against Piedmont.
The women’s team will also open the season on the road on Nov. 7 when they take on Central Florida in Orlando. The women’s first home game won’t be until Nov. 13 against Coppin State.