The sound of sneakers squeaking against the hardwood floor echoes throughout the gym as Winthrop boys basketball players sprint up the court and then back down, punctuating each trip with layups or jumpers. There’s a timer running, and the players are trying to reach a point total marked up on the scoreboard.
Throughout the drill, coach Todd MacArthur is calling out instruction, and when it’s over, he walks his team through any mistakes he saw, often demonstrating the form necessary to correct it.
In the winter, it’s a daily occurrence. The games can be intense for the Ramblers, but practices don’t offer much of a break.
“Our practices are not easy,” MacArthur said. “I don’t like kids standing still in practice. I want 14 players working.”
This year, by all accounts, it worked. With MacArthur’s energy and attention to detail guiding a top-notch offense and defense, the Ramblers put together a dream year, going undefeated through the regular season and reaching the Class C championship game. For his part in leading Winthrop to those heights, MacArthur is the Kennebec Journal boys basketball Coach of the Year, with T.J. Maines of Cony, Tom Smith of Oak Hill and Phil Houdlette of Richmond also drawing consideration.
“He cares so much for every single one of us,” senior guard Jacob Hickey said. “I run cross country, and you don’t see many coaches come to a cross country meet, and he’s there. … He’s always there at football games, soccer games, supporting all of us.”
During the season, however, MacArthur’s free time becomes more scarce. A proponent of film study, MacArthur is rarely done for the day with the final whistle at the end of a practice or the handshake at the end of the game, and his players notice.
“The best attribute that he has as a coach is the time he puts in,” Hickey said. “During the season, he’s up until 3 in the morning, watching film, trying to get prepared. I think he’s the most prepared coach you can have on your team.”
MacArthur will often go through a film three times: once just to watch it, a second time for stats, and then a third time to see the flaws with his team that are embedded in the action.
“I try to watch film in a different way, (as) if I were playing us, looking for our weaknesses,” he said. “I’m not always viewing film of our positives, our strengths, our weaknesses. I’m always trying to view it as ‘If I were going to play us, how would I exploit the Winthrop Ramblers?’ ”
The Ramblers were rarely, if ever, outfoxed this season. Few teams in the Mountain Valley Conference had Winthrop’s talent, but MacArthur made sure that potential was realized, keeping the team grounded from game to game and insisting that his players embrace the blue-collar tenets of stifling defense.
“At the end of the regular season, we were 18-0,” Hickey said. “He said ‘You might as well be 0-0, because one loss and you’re done.’ That really gave us the drive.”
Then there were the practices, an up-tempo series of drills with MacArthur’s voice booming with praise, motivation or criticism from the first to the last whistle. When the games got tight, Winthrop’s players were right at home.
“One of my philosophies is (that) if I can simulate a fast-paced practice and make practices harder than the games, when they get to those situations, they’ve been there before and it’ll make it easier,” MacArthur said. “It’ll make them be successful.”
Few teams were more successful from start to finish this season than MacArthur’s bunch.
“I’m just proud of our kids,” he said. “I think we made a lot of memories that they’re going to be able to cherish for the rest of their lives. I think they’re going to be able to look back and have some positive thoughts about how their season went, that only 14 of those kids get to share.”
Drew Bonifant — 621-5638