The list of recent big men for the Winthrop boys basketball team reads like an honor roll. Anthony Owens. Garrett Tsouprake. Cam Wood.

This season, with Ryan Baird and Jevin Smith, the Ramblers have kept the succession going.

Winthrop is now 8-0 after Friday’s 59-46 win over Monmouth, and the two seniors have been a big reason why. After Wood and Sam Figueroa graduated from last year’s Class C championship-winning team, there was a question as to who would step up to keep Winthrop a tough opponent down low.

The 6-foot-5 Baird and 6-4 Smith have answered the call.

“We’ve been playing together since I moved here in fourth grade,” Smith said. “We just know where we’re going to be. And credit to our teammates for helping us. Cam (Hachey) is getting smothered and he’s helping me and Ryan out.”

The players had their value on display Friday night, as Baird scored a team-high 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Smith scored six points while holding Monmouth forward Brock Bates, a nightly double-double candidate, to eight points.

Strong outings, but nothing their post predecessors didn’t do. What sets the two apart is their versatility. Baird and Smith were two of the best athletes on the football team, and they’ve been able to bring those skill sets to the court. Baird plays like a guard, and can cut to the basket from the perimeter or pull up for a jumper, and is too big a matchup for guards and too quick for most forwards. Smith is just as effective away from the basket as well, and is a daunting mix of size and speed.

It’s not uncommon to see the two bring the ball up court, rather than anchoring themselves in the post. Coach Todd MacArthur said that that’s by design.

“We want to get our transition game going, and sometimes in order to get your transition game going you have to rely on some of your bigs to start,” MacArthur said. “So we’re allowing them to get rebounds and go. And in a lot of the old days, last year and the year before, we wanted the bigs to get the rebounds, find the guards and the guards push it. … We’re letting our bigs dribble a little more than we did in years past,because they can.”

“We’ve just got some athletic posts this year,” Baird said. “We might not be as big as last year with Cam and Sam, but I mean, we’re lengthy. We’ve still got some size. We’re 6-4 and 6-5 and 6-3 (in Noah Grube) down low. That’s not small, and we’re all just a bunch of athletic players.”

Monmouth coach Wade Morrill acknowledged the difficulty of dealing with both players.

“They’re a load,” he said. “Not much you can say. They’re good.”

MacArthur said their football ability — Baird as a playmaking receiver, Smith as a disruptive defensive end — has had a hand in their becoming do-it-all basketball players.

“On the front, we want to bring a lot of aggression, and in the back, I said ‘You guys get to use all your football skills by being in the back of the coverage,’ ” MacArthur said. ” ‘It’s all one big secondary. You guys are great at interceptions, you’re great at covering pass coverage.’ ”

For Baird, it’s been an acclimation process. He’s never even had to be a post player until this season. But with the turnover from last year’s team, he knew he was going to have to play a new role.

“I haven’t played big since middle school,” he said. “I had to learn my big man moves all over again. It took a little bit of time. The first few games were just getting back into the routine of it.”

He’s gotten it to work this season and was at it again Friday, scoring seven points during a 14-0 run to start the second quarter that put Winthrop ahead 30-8.

MacArthur said Baird’s growth on the floor has been easy to see.

“He’s not a one-dimensional player. He can attack you in many different ways,” he said. “As a coach, you like guys that present those problems for the opposing team. Ryan’s grown tremendously, in terms of his skill set. But most of his growth has come with his maturity and his mental aspect to the game.”

Winthrop has a similar player in Smith, who has shown an ability to be a 20-point scorer with a reliable mid-range shot. On Friday, though, his value was as a defender, one who followed Bates everywhere he went, limited what the 6-2 senior could do and took a dimension away from the Mustangs’ offense.

“I focused on defending him by guarding the front of him, so he couldn’t get easy touches,” he said. “I wanted to pressure him so he couldn’t dribble as much as he wanted to, and take away his 3-point shot.”

He did it on a sprained ankle as well, one that he hurt in a game against Hall-Dale at the Augusta Civic Center only a week earlier.

“I knew I was going to be fine for this game. This was a big game,” he said. “They’re hometown rivals. I wanted to play it.”

When Smith got hurt, MacArthur took a moment to talk about his value to the team.

“You can’t replace leadership,” he said. “Jevin’s our leader, and we need our leader on the floor.”

The leader was back Friday, and the coach didn’t miss the significance of it.

“He played at probably 70 percent. But going into the game, there were no second thoughts about what Jevin was going to bring to the table,” he said. “I know what I’m going to get from him, and I don’t ever wonder what’s going to happen in a game. He’s going to be a high-effort player, and he’s going to give me everything he’s got.”


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