Andy Winters was in his early teens when the Otterbein University men's basketball team, featuring former central Ohio high school standouts in Jeff Gibbs of Columbus East and Tony Borghese of DeSales, won the Division III national championship in the 2001-02 season.

The Cardinals went 30-3 that season and finished with a winning record in four of the next five seasons. However, the program has fallen on hard times, having finished with a losing record in each of the past eight seasons and 11 of the past 12.

A 2009 Watterson graduate who grew up following the program, Winters was a star player at Ohio Wesleyan -- another Division III program -- during the final years of Dick Reynolds' tenure as coach at Otterbein. Reynolds retired after the 2011-12 season with 653 wins in 40 seasons.

Winters was named coach at Otterbein on March 25 after spending the past five seasons on the coaching staff at Capital, where he served as interim coach in 2015-16 when Damon Goodwin was on medical leave.

He is tasked with returning the Cardinals to the level of success they enjoyed under Reynolds.

"Being a local, I remember when Otterbein was really good," Winters said. "I was at the games and I think they protected Columbus from a recruiting standpoint. They got local talent, engaged the community and there was excitement about it. It's good for me being from Columbus and having connections already built in. Our goal is to recruit high-character, talented players that love basketball and I'm going to start with Columbus players. Recruiting is the lifeblood of every successful program, and then I'm going to move within the state to different areas to protect Ohio."

Otterbein's only non-losing season in the past 12 seasons was 2010-11, when it finished 13-13. The Cardinals went 12-63 in three seasons under Todd Adrian and 18-82 in four seasons under Brian Oilar before he resigned in late February.

Winters, who has been a part of winning programs for most of his playing and coaching career, comes from a coaching family.

His father, Mike, coached at Watterson from 1978-93 and currently is Hartley's principal, and his mother, Lynn, coaches girls tennis at Hartley and women's tennis at Capital. His brother, Matt, will be Otterbein's lead assistant after holding the same position the past three seasons at Ohio Northern.

After helping Watterson win a Division II district championship as a senior in 2008-09, Winters went on to become the all-time career assist leader at Ohio Wesleyan, playing from 2009-13. During his time at OWU, the Battling Bishops had a combined record of 72-39 and made two NCAA tournament appearances.

Winters then spent one season as an assistant at Ohio Dominican before starting his five-year stint at Capital in the 2014-15 season.

The Crusaders finished 8-18 in his first season with the program but improved to 21-8 last winter.

"When I was younger, my dad was a longtime high school head coach and went into administration," Winters said. "I grew up loving basketball and figured out I wasn't going to be in the NBA, so I wanted to be a head coach. I started all four years at Ohio Wesleyan and my senior year we made (the NCAA tournament) and hosted (tournament games), so that was a lot of fun.

"At Capital, we were 8-18 (my first season as an assistant) and by the time (the 2019 class) graduated, they went on to win the league and make the NCAA tournament. Otterbein is a similar situation."

Winters also was the head strength and conditioning coach at Capital and will fill the same role at Otterbein.

He inherits a team that finished 6-19 last season with Worthington Christian graduate and guard Jay Joseph averaging 15.3 points and 5.9 rebounds to lead the way. Newark graduates Justin Carter and Kobe Long-Weber and Clayton Northmont graduate Maurice Beavers also were key players.

All four are entering their junior seasons.

Winters' coaching staff also includes Dublin Coffman graduate Nate Axelrod, a three-time All-American for Ohio Wesleyan, and Hilliard Darby graduate A.J. Dixon, a two-time all-Ohio Athletic Conference honoree for Capital.

"(I like Winters') experience as a coach and a player, the way he relates to the players, having a winning mentality and his dedication and passion for basketball," said 2019 Watterson graduate Zach Sawyer, a member of Winters' first recruiting class. "It's exciting because we both grew up in the Clintonville community with similar values and beliefs. He understands the life as a student-athlete.

"When we talked, he explained three goals he wants for our team, which is a tireless work ethic, selfless environment and competitive greatness. Our team has a lot of trust and confidence with the new coaching staff. We are headed in the right direction."

Sawyer, a 6-foot guard, averaged 15 points last season as Watterson went 15-10. Jimmy Patton, a 6-4 forward, is another 2019 Watterson graduate who will join the Cardinals' program, as will 2017 Watterson graduate Chris McGraw, a former walk-on for Ohio University.

Another area prep standout to commit to Otterbein is 2019 Wellington graduate Dallas Patrick, a 6-1 guard who scored more than 1,300 career points.

"We definitely have a plan, and we'll see in the fall how it works," Winters said. "Our conference, statistically, is the fourth-best conference in the country, so if you're at the top of our conference, you're at the top of the country. Recruits will be able to play at a high level every game. Division III basketball is really good, pure basketball, and Dallas and Zach are guys that can get us back to competing every day. Dallas has a super-high upside, (he's) athletic, can score, and Zach is a crafty, smart point guard with good vision.

"We're going to get up and down (the court) and if you look at our statistics defensively, in previous years we've given up a lot of points. We've got to get better defensively, but offensively we're going to get it and go and play fast so our forwards are probably going to be more perimeter-oriented."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek