The Winthrop boys basketball team goes deep into the tournament every year. The Ramblers have been in two of the last three state finals. They won a state championship last year.

But there was coach Todd MacArthur in the Augusta Civic Center on Friday night, moments after Winthrop beat Hall-Dale 84-39 to improve to 7-0, tossing out a superlative about his team. You’ll never hear MacArthur call his Ramblers the best, particularly in December.

But he had something to say about their versatility.

“This team is much more diverse than any team I’ve coached before, because their strengths lie in so many different areas,” he said. “We’ve got some size, we’ve got some shooters, we’ve got some quickness. … With different lineups, we can attack in different ways.”

That much was clear on Friday night. The Ramblers rolled to the win over their Mountain Valley Conference rival, and never adhered to one method of dealing the damage. As the Bulldogs learned and the rest of Class C has been finding out during the Ramblers’ 7-0 start, there is another championship-caliber mix brewing in Winthrop, and you never know which way the defending champs are going to beat you.

“It’s fun now. Last year’s done. We’re over that. The best thing about this is we’re creating our own identity this year,” MacArthur said. “We’re finding out what our strengths are and what our weaknesses are. And we believe we can attack teams in different ways.”

Case in point, point guard Gavin Perkins scored 18 points. Six-foot-5 forward Ryan Baird scored 16. Sharpshooting guard Cam Hachey scored 15. Forward Jevin Smith had 10 and was on his way to more before hurting his ankle in the third quarter.

“We have tons of great shooters on the team, our big men are great,” Hachey said, “so that’s one of our strengths, just having a good overall team.”

“It’s very nice. Last year we had amazing depth, and look where it got us,” Perkins said. “This year we’re hoping to do the same thing with the same depth, and just work around that.”

It goes beyond depth. The Ramblers have been deep before, but deep with players who play the same way. Depth is great, essential even, but what’s even better is an ability to play one style a point in the game, then play a second style later, and then a third later on.

“We can be a pressing team, we can be a fast-paced team,” MacArthur said, “and we don’t want to get away from being able to execute as a half-court team either, because we believe, when it comes to tournament time, that’s how you win games.”

Friday night provided an example. In the first quarter, Winthrop looked like a run-and-gun team, with Hachey scoring 10 points in the quarter alone as the Ramblers took a 26-13 lead. Winthrop shooters seemed to knock down every look from mid-range or behind the arc, with Perkins, Smith and Ian Steele (nine points) joining Hachey among the team’s smooth shooters.

In the second quarter and early in the third, the shots stopped falling, so Winthrop turned into menaces on the boards, with Smith and Baird (eight rebounds each) owning the glass as the Ramblers ended the first half on a 13-0 run that made it 45-22.

Later in the third, it was Winthrop’s disruptive defense generating the points. Baird made steal after steal to feed Perkins for layup after layup, and now transition-happy, the Ramblers went on a 25-3 run that stretched from the third to the fourth quarters and blew the game wide open.

That made it seven wins in as many tries for Winthrop, and while the Ramblers keep winning, they don’t pick the same way to do it. It’s a product of the players in new roles becoming more comfortable with their upgraded responsibilities, and becoming even more acclimated to each other on the court.

“I knew we had a good group, just kind of an inexperienced group,” Hachey said. “But I think people are really starting to get comfortable with the team, getting to know each other, and we’re doing really good right now.”

No one in Winthrop likes to talk about the postseason before it arrives, especially as early as December. But the Ramblers are noticing that the 2019 mix sure has a lot going for it.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Hachey said. “There are still plenty of good teams out there, but I like our chances. We’re playing really good basketball right now.”

Even the coach, never one to resist a cautious reminder of the road still ahead, likes what he’s been seeing.

“We’re proud of where we are right now,” MacArthur said. “I like where we are in terms of our growth process. We’re getting better. This is not a flip of the switch, and it’s a work in progress. But we’re on track to be where I think we can be by the end of the season.”


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