2016 INDUCTEE - GARY WINTON
By David Elwell
Daily Sports Writer
FLORETTE - Gary Winton played basketball at Madison Square Garden, one of the game's hallowed arenas. Yet when he stands inside the gym at Brewer High School today, he seems in awe of the place where he played his senior season in 1972-73. It's like the memories of that one season give the gym a special aura. "I remember it being a lot darker in here," Winston said. "The lights were not as bright. The floor was not shiny wood like it is now. We played on a dark surface called Tartan that was rough. You couldn't slide across it without scraping your skin. I left a lot of my DNA on this floor."
Winton earned All-American honors at the United States Military Academy in 1978 playing for coaching legend Mike Krzyzewski. For all the great memories he made playing for Army, Winton ranks his year at Brewer as one of his top career highlights. It was an amazing season in the most unusual of circumstances. Morgan County Schools decided in the early 1970s to combine five small high schools ‚Äì Priceville, Cotaco, Union Hill, Eva and Ryan - into one school. The result was Brewer that opened in 1972. The five schools were hot-beds for basketball. Expectations for Brewer were guarded. How well could players from five rivals mesh together as one unit? How well could the team perform in Class 3A?
At the time there were just four classifications in Alabama. "It was exciting to ride by here and see this big, new school being built," Winton, who attended Cotaco, said. "I think everybody expected the basketball to be great. It was going to be like playing on an all-star team." The first piece of the puzzle was finding a head coach. Wally Sanders, a native of Eva, was the pick. He had coached Union Hill to the 1A state tournament the previous season. "He was the perfect man for the job," Winton said. "We all knew he was a good coach because we had played against his teams. He made the transition for the players easy. I'm sure the toughest job was being the coach and bringing it all together." Sanders held a basketball camp in the spring of '72 at Priceville for all the players from the five schools. Two of the players at the camp were Ricky Allen from Priceville and Ricky Lenox from Union Hill. They both had been starters at their school and were entering their senior seasons. "There was a lot of anxiety," Allen said. "A lot of us had been starting at our old school and we weren't even sure if we could make the team at Brewer." Winton played baseball for Cotaco that spring. He came to camp one day directly from a baseball game. He changed from baseball spikes to basketball shoes and played basketball wearing his baseball uniform. "There was never any doubt that Gary would make the team," Lenox said. "I played guard and I knew my job was going to be to get the ball to Gary." Sanders waited until fall to make cuts. "When you have a talent like Gary Winton, you think you can have a really good team," Sanders said, "but you just don't know how it will work out." Several players who participated in the spring camp didn't bother to come out in the fall.
"We had guys walking the halls who could have helped us," Allen said. "They were too afraid they would get cut." Brewer opened the season on Nov. 18 with a 61-45 win over Hanceville. The Patriots won their first five games before falling to Decatur 64-60 on Dec. 1. After wins over West Point, Arab and Falkville, came a 71-61 loss to 4A powerhouse Austin coached by Joe Jones. The Patriots won the Brewer Invitational to go 10-2 as the calendar flipped to 1973.
"The crowds were amazing at our home games," Sanders said. "We had been playing in those small gyms and now we were in this big gym and the crowds were huge." The team molded into a starting five with Winton and Allen as a double post. Lenox was the point guard. David Price and Larry Chatman were the shooters from the outside. The record went to 13-2 before Brewer visited Guntersville on Jan. 13.
The Wildcats had lost in the 3A state championship game to Colbert County in 1972. The Patriots left Guntersville that night with an 85-83 victory. "That's when we knew we had a good team," Winton said. "Guntersville didn't lose at home. To beat them on their floor was a big deal. That win gave us a lot of confidence." Guntersville visited Brewer on Jan. 23 and the Patriots beat them again. This time it was 84-78. The new-look Morgan County Tournament was played at Brewer. The creation of Brewer cut the county tournament down four teams. Brewer beat West Morgan 70-67, but lost to Austin 63-53. Brewer played four more games before the area tournament. The Patriots lost to Hartselle 68-61, lost to West Morgan 69-65 and beat Decatur 58-54 before closing the season with an 83-64 loss to Austin. "We just couldn't beat Austin that season," Winton said. "We played them three times and lost all
three. They were a great team." After two wins in the area tournament, Brewer hosted Athens for the region championship. The winner advanced to the state tournament in Tuscaloosa. It may have been Brewer's best game of the season. The Patriots won 76-44. Winton scored 37 points and claimed 19 rebounds. The storybook season would continue in Tuscaloosa, but unfortunately the ending came quickly. Instead of the team from a new school made up of players from five rival schools advancing to the state tournament semifinals, Brewer lost in the quarterfinals to Livingston 56-55. "It was the worst place to play our worst game of the season," Sanders said. "We just couldn't shoot the ball that day." Brewer finished with a 23-7 record. Three of the losses were to Austin that won the 4A state championship. One loss was to West Morgan that lost in the 2A state championship game. Livingston got beat in the semifinals. Winton was an All-State selection. "The team was a joy to coach," Sanders said. "The guys never gave me one problem."
Winton exploits on the basketball court and his interest in the military landed him an appointment to West Point. He spent his first year at the Army prep school in Virginia where Krzyzewski was the basketball coach. Winton was at West Point the next year. He averaged 19.7 points and 13.1 rebounds for a team that went 3-22. Krzyzewski became Army's head coach the next season. The Black Knights went 11-14 with Winton averaging 22 points and 10.7 rebounds a game. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Winston led Army to a 20-8 season in his junior year while averaging 22.5 points and 10.7 rebounds a game. He posted similar numbers his senior season, 23.8 and 10.5, and received All-American honors as Army went 19-9 and played in the NIT. Winton's commitment to the Army ended his basketball career. Krzyzewski eventually moved on to Duke and began winning national championships. Krzyzewski has not let time diminish what Winton meant to his career. "He helped get me off to a great start as a young head coach and I will always be thankful," Krzyzewksi said. Winton is retired from the Army and lives in Cotaco. "I'm really grateful for the opportunity to have played with so many great players and for so many wonderful coaches," Winton said. "The great game of basketball has really had a major impact on my life."