Winthrop celebrates winning the Class D South regional final last week in Augusta. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

WINTHROP — The Winthrop boys basketball team had returned to the Class C South championship game in 2018, one year after losing the core of a team that had made it to the state final. It was, by almost all standards, an impressive season.

But coach Todd MacArthur didn’t feel that way. His coaches didn’t. And neither did his players. So in July, the Ramblers got together, got aboard a bus, and drove over seven hours to upstate New York.

And they had some tough talks. And asked each other the tough questions.

“We went away because we wanted to discuss how to get the job done and find a way to get to a state game,” MacArthur said. “We had meetings where we discussed roles, we had meetings where we discussed how we’re going to sacrifice for the betterment of each other, and we really became a family. It was one of the best things we’ve done as a program.”

Out of the excursion grew a team-first mentality, one that has become perhaps the greatest asset of a Winthrop team that on Saturday will be playing its second state championship game in three years and for its first state title in 12. The Ramblers are deep, but that depth has been realized because players have been on board with the concessions that have to take place. Starters in previous years now come off the bench. Erstwhile shooters are defensive specialists. Scorers have seen their points go down.

The product is a team that can win a variety of ways, and that becomes harder to beat as the game goes on. But the players have to buy in. They don’t do that everywhere. But they do at Winthrop.

“No selfish players on the team, whatsoever,” senior forward Sam Figueroa said. “Everyone is doing what they’re asked. … We’re doing what we have to do right now, and it’s working out.”

“It says a lot about the character of this team because that’s not an easy thing to do,” MacArthur said. “They’re pretty selfless, and this says that they like each other, they love each other enough that they’re willing to do that to accomplish a goal together.”

The impetus for this change was a year that would be a dream season at most schools. But MacArthur knew that while the Ramblers were good, they weren’t good enough.

“We didn’t offer much, and our weaknesses were usually exposed,” he said. “And I knew I had some pieces that were younger that would cover up those weaknesses, or make those weaknesses a strength. We had to add that piece to the team.”

For all his coaching ability, however, MacArthur couldn’t increase the amount of minutes in a game or the amount of balls used in play. Some players were going to have to adjust, and he had to make sure his team was on board.

That process began in New York. But MacArthur didn’t have to work hard to persuade them.

“We had so many new guys,” senior guard Beau Brooks said. “I think we all knew that, with a lot of good young guys coming up, minutes were going to go down.”

Rather than bicker or pout, the Ramblers have made it work. Senior forward Nate LeBlanc, a starter throughout last year, has been a top man off the bench who can go on scoring streaks when opponents start dipping into their bench.

“I just want to win, and we’re winning this year,” he said. “I don’t care, I could play one minute and if we go to the Gold Ball game, I’m still going to have the same excitement I’d have if I was starting.”

Winthrop’s Jared McLaughlin powers to the basket during last week’s Class C South quarterfinal game in Augusta. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

Brooks’s minutes as a junior were in the upper 20s. With guards like Cam Hachey and Gavin Perkins emerging this season and proving themselves capable of varsity minutes, however, Brooks has seen his playing time cut to what he estimates is about 16-17 minutes a game. He doesn’t complain.

“Last year we were going about eight deep, and this year we go about 10 or 11 deep, and we can wear teams out with that,” he said. “I think sometimes for some people, it’s hard (to share minutes). But we have a team-first mentality here, and we’re all in it for the team.”

Figueroa still starts, but has gone from being a forward with a green light to shoot to a post presence asked more to pass inside than score himself. He’ll play full games without getting on the scoresheet. He doesn’t mind.

“None of our roles are the same from last year,” he said. “Everybody has definitely adjusted as well as coach could have asked for, as well as anyone could have.”

There are others, and they’re all good with it — because they’ve seen, as their coach promised, that it’s worth it. Winthrop can play its customary game of full-throttle intensity without letup, as the Ramblers don’t drop off much when the starters leave the floor.

“It’s become embraced,” MacArthur said, “where (they think) ‘I know I’m going to go in for a three-minute spurt, I’m going to give it everything.’ ”

It’s paid off on multiple occasions. On Jan. 23, the Ramblers trailed Boothbay 45-44 after three quarters, but their starters had the fresh legs for a fourth-quarter comeback. Two days later, Spruce Mountain had Winthrop pinned 52-42 with just over three minutes left, but didn’t have the energy to close out the Ramblers in an overtime loss.

And just last Saturday, Hall-Dale saw its C South title defense end in one-sided fashion, its deficit mounting even after Winthrop began to substitute.

“You get a team that was out there that was playing 100 percent to start, now they’re at 70 and we’re bringing 100 percent,” MacArthur said. “There’s not much drop-off with our subs, and we’re playing with a lot of confidence right now.”

And a lot of buy-in, too.

“We’re all just having fun, playing basketball and winning,” LeBlanc said. “That’s all that matters.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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