Category archive: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

If the 2014 NBA draft lives up to its hype, the upcoming college basketball season could rival or supersede any since the turn of the century.

That's a big if.

But the buzz isn't going away and won't unless the returning and incoming talent takes a dramatic drop from preseason projections.

Let's assume Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins, Kentucky freshman Julius Randle and Oklahoma State sophomore Marcus Smart are locks for the top three to five spots in the NBA draft. Who else registers with NBA decision-makers to fill out the top 10?

Jabari Parker, freshman, Duke Blue Devils

Parker will pair up with Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood to create a dynamic tandem for the Blue Devils. Parker's overall basketball IQ makes him a cinch to be in the top 10. He will be in the running for ACC Player of the Year with Hood, Virginia's Joe Harris and Syracuse's C.J. Fair.

Joel Embiid, freshman, Kansas Jayhawks

Wiggins has swallowed most of the oxygen coming from Lawrence, but Bill Self potentially has one of the best big men he has coached at KU in Embiid. He is a sponge, soaking up knowledge, and could be the most dominant big man outside of Randle this season.

Glenn Robinson III, sophomore, Michigan Wolverines

Robinson is described as having a pro game with excellent shooting skills. The trick will be how he handles being much more of a featured presence for the Wolverines.

Mitch McGary, sophomore, Michigan Wolverines

McGary could have easily bolted from Michigan after its Final Four run last season. He was a hot candidate in an incredibly weak draft, yet he chose to return. Now, he's battling back issues. The upside is there, but he needs to show well for a full season.

James Young, freshman, Kentucky Wildcats

Kentucky coach John Calipari isn't hesitating promoting Young's skill set. If he has Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's work ethic but is even better in the skill department, Young could be a sleeper to shoot up into the top five in June.

Aaron Gordon, freshman, Arizona Wildcats

Gordon was the MVP of the United States' under-19 gold-medal-winning team in the Czech Republic in July. His athleticism was on full display in the event. But Gordon will need to show he can shoot and defend to ensure he's a top-five talent.

Andrew Harrison, freshman, Kentucky Wildcats

Harrison will step in as the Wildcats' point guard. If he stands out, the long line of highly placed Calipari-coached point guards will continue to dominate the lottery.

With alignment on hold until after next season, the lines have been drawn, the places set. Now, it's time for programs that have lost their way to lock in and start the climb out of mediocrity.

Such as:

Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons stuck with Jeff Bzdelik for a fourth season after winning just 13 games in each of the past two seasons. Transfers have become all too common in the program. There was progress last season: winning six conference games, beating ACC champ Miami and knocking off NC State. But the Demon Deacons couldn't win on the road. Climbing out of the bottom third will be even tougher this year with the additions of Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame, not to mention the forthcoming switch of Maryland for Louisville. Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman and Bzdelik are good friends. Wellman put his stake in Bzdelik and has to see this through. Now is the time for the Demon Deacons to make a move to ensure that the rocky road was worth the wait. The Wake Forest fan base is one of the most passionate in the league. It's a shame that it hasn't had the opportunity to create a feared, frenzied atmosphere like the one it had less than 10 years ago.

Nebraska

The Cornhuskers are investing in basketball like never before. Nebraska is playing in $179 million Pinnacle Bank Arena. Coach Tim Miles is entering his second season. He has a young team in Lincoln, and there will be growing pains. Still, there needs to be a return investment. The Huskers must make Lincoln a feared road stop in the Big Ten going forward. Nebraska has a chance to show promise. The time is now to make a move before even the most passionate fans begin to lose interest.

West Virginia

The Mountaineers' transition to a new league might have been the toughest of any team that moved. That shouldn't have derailed a program Bob Huggins had rolling to a Final Four just over three years ago. Huggins has too much pride to let West Virginia wallow in mediocrity, but the talent drain was in effect last season. There were recruiting mistakes and opportunities lost. The Mountaineers must make Morgantown as difficult a road stop for opposing teams. Moving into the league's top four is more than doable for the Mountaineers.

Seton Hall

The Pirates might be one of the biggest beneficiaries of a move to a smaller conference. Seton Hall was lost amid the bloated old Big East. Now the opportunity is there for the Hall to climb. A strong 2014-15 recruiting class should give hope. There is optimism for one of the most difficult high-major jobs in the Northeast. Kevin Willard is entering his fourth season as a .500 coach, but he could be judged with a clean slate in a new league where the true round-robin schedule will be a fair barometer. The new Big East desperately needs the New York-market teams to matter in March. St. John's appears to be ready to accept the responsibility. The Pirates must do their share, too.

Utah

If you've never seen the Huntsman Center rocking, then you've missed out on one of the top home courts in the West. The problem is that those instances, since the late Rick Majerus was on the sideline, have been limited. Crime-fighting coach Larry Krystkowiak has the right demeanor, character and credibility to deliver a winner, but the corner must be turned soon. Utah can -- and should -- be one of the rising teams in a conference that allows plenty of chances for schools to take a turn near the top. If once downtrodden Colorado can be a regular, established contender, then Utah can as well. Krystkowiak said he believes in the younger players in the program. Now it must ignite the passion that once made Salt Lake City an intimidating destination.

Georgia

Georgia has always been one of the more intriguing SEC teams not named Kentucky or Florida. The Bulldogs are within range of plenty of talent, notably in Atlanta, even going against hometown Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs have a determined and loyal fan base that craves a winner. Mark Fox has coached and recruited pros, but he hasn't been able to get that talent to win consistently in the postseason. The SEC is wide open beyond the top two teams, with room after that for whoever can produce. If there ever was a time to make a move back into being a team of consequence, this is it.

Houston

When Guy Lewis was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame last month, it brought back memories of the Cougars' dominance in the 1980s. That era is long gone while Houston has spent time in the Witness Protection Program. Now the Cougars have come out of their shell in the American Conference, where there is a real opportunity for Houston to get on the national stage. Once Louisville leaves, UConn, Memphis and Cincinnati will need challengers. Temple and SMU might take their shot. Houston, though, can draw from as much, if not more, of a talent base than any school outside of Memphis. The Cougars might never have a better chance to be a factor than right now. The 1980s aren't coming back, but Houston has a shot to create its own revival.

If anyone was wondering whether 15 schools could agree and get along in the new ACC, all they had to do was check the reaction to the new primary partners released Wednesday.

There was an unusual consensus. Every school was pleased.

The ACC had to adjust its scheduling format with the addition of Notre Dame, which could join anywhere from 2013 to 2015. The conference, committed to an 18-game schedule, had to lock in to two annual home-and-home series.

For a few schools, such as Virginia, there was nothing to ponder. The Cavaliers have two natural rivals in Virginia Tech and Maryland. Done.

"It makes sense geographically," UVa coach Tony Bennett said. "They've been our natural rivalries for years."

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Steve Donahue
AP Photo/Michael DwyerCoach Steve Donahue believes BC's fans will be pumped to host old conference rivals Syracuse and Notre Dame each season.

Boston College landed two tough opponents, but the Eagles couldn't have been happier to get two schools that will help fill the usually staid Conte Forum. BC will play Notre Dame and Syracuse twice every season.

"It's great for our alumni and fans," Boston College coach Steve Donahue said. "I'm sure excited about it."

Understandbly, no school got both Duke and North Carolina. That would be too cruel, and it would be too hard to pull off with two other schools in the state in Wake Forest and NC State. The ACC had to balance the four schools, and it did.

Duke gets UNC and Wake Forest. NC State got UNC and Wake. Wake Forest got Duke and NC State. And of course that means Carolina got Duke and NC State, which based on the current trajectory of the four schools, is the toughest slate among the schools in North Carolina.

"I loved it," NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. "They got it right."

Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman, who is the 2014 chair of the men's basketball selection committee and understands the importance of getting quality teams on the schedule, said "playing two in-state rivals is the best scenario for us."

ACC associate commissioner Karl Hicks, who oversees basketball and scheduling in particular, said the majority of the matchups simply made sense.

The most intriguing issue was what to do with Notre Dame's second rivalry after Boston College. The Irish and Georgia Tech were paired up by process of elimination. Hicks said the schools have a rivalry in football, but not in basketball.

"Notre Dame has a lot of alumni in urban areas," Hicks said. "Maryland was a better fit with the partners they had [Pitt and Virginia]. Washington, D.C., would have been a good place [for Notre Dame], but Maryland's partners fit. Georgia Tech was the next one that made the most sense."

ND coach Mike Brey said it worked for him since he wanted to create new rivalries and, "I love Atlanta."

Tech coach Brian Gregory knew the Yellow Jackets would get Clemson as one rival and was overjoyed that the Irish were the other.

"I think it's great for us," Gregory said. "These are two great academic schools with great traditions. I think it will turn into a great rivalry."

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said Pitt and Virginia are strong defensive teams which should provide four gritty games for the Terps every season. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon had no issue with Maryland and Syracuse as his school's natural rivals, saying that he expected as much based on geography.

The rest of the 14 games on the schedule will include two more home-and-home opponents (which will rotate every year) and five home and five road games that make up the other 10.

The other set partners are:

Clemson: Florida State and Georgia Tech
Florida State: Clemson and Miami
Miami: Florida State and Virginia Tech
Syracuse: Boston College and Pitt
Virginia Tech: Miami and Virginia

Hicks said the Miami-Virginia Tech series marries two former Big East rivals. Syracuse's two partners are also former Big East foes. Clemson and Florida State got natural regional rivals.

"I'm not bent out of shape one way or another," said Florida State's Leonard Hamilton, who added he wasn't against going to 20 league games. "I like the challenge night in and night out of 18 hard-nosed games."

What the two-team partner lists and the reaction proves is that a 16th team in men's basketball doesn't seem necessary. ACC commissioner John Swofford said the ACC isn't going to go to 16, and frankly, there's really no need.

The ACC's decision to add Pitt and Syracuse will undoubtedly strengthen men's basketball more than its last round of expansion (Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami).

But it will create more controversy given how a potential 14-team league might be divided.

The Panthers and Orange may come in 2012 if they can buy their way out of the Big East's exit demands of 27 months and a $5 million departure fee. The Big East has publicly stated that it wants the two schools in for the duration and for BCS purposes it may need them to ensure that the league still has the necessary amount of teams. The ACC is in no rush to add Pitt and Syracuse, but those two schools would rather not go through more than one lame-duck season.

Nevertheless, there is already discussion about how the two will be incorporated into the ACC. Formal talks on the matter won't occur until the annual meetings later in the academic year. But if the league goes to divisions, or at the very least goes to a divisional-style scheduling format, there still might be at least one team in a difficult spot: Wake Forest.

Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg looks at the divisional setup along regional lines -- and it makes some sense. ACC associate commissioner Karl Hicks agrees, and he acknowledged that's the way it might turn out.

If that were to happen, the North would have to be Virginia Tech, Virginia, Maryland, Pitt, Syracuse, Boston College and one more team.

The South would be Georgia Tech, Clemson, Florida State and Miami, and then there are the three schools in the Research Triangle (Duke, UNC and NC State) that would likely demand to be in the same division together.

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James Johnson Danny Green
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonThroughout the years, Wake has savored its home games against powerhouses like North Carolina.

That leaves the Demon Deacons as the odd team out. Would Wake have to be put in the North, separated from its three in-state rivals?

The current 12-team divisional alignment in football isn't set up in a North-South split. Wake Forest is in the Atlantic and at least has NC State on its side with Maryland, Clemson, Florida State and Boston College. But the Demon Deacons' two in-state rivals that it would rather play more -- UNC and Duke -- are in the Coastal with Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Virginia and Miami.

Wake will make it clear that it doesn't want to be shipped away from the three other North Carolina schools if the league goes to two seven-team divisions. The Demon Deacons want in some form two games against the three in-state schools if there are divisions or if it's one 14-team league.

"If you do it North-South, then one North Carolina team has to be in the North,'' Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman said. "We want to play North Carolina more than we do. It's been four years since we played them at home in football, so we are interested in a concept where we play the North Carolina schools. That's a point of emphasis for us. As soon as we announce our schedule, our fans are disappointed that we don't play every North Carolina school in football or [twice in] basketball. Those rivalries were established before the league was in 1953.''

Wellman said when the ACC gets together next month, the topic of how to align a 14-team league will likely be discussed. Wake Forest is nearly two hours away from the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, but Deacons fans clearly want to feel attached to the state's other ACC teams.

The other option for the conference would be to keep Wake Forest in the South and ship Miami to the North with the rationale that the Hurricanes would have to fly to every ACC school anyway due to its location (technically, the Hurricanes could drive to Tallahassee for FSU, but even that is a lengthy drive on a school night).

If the ACC were to go to 16 (which is the preferred number by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina's Roy Williams, among others) and the additions were two more Big East schools (say, UConn and Rutgers), then geography naturally would put both in the North. That would be the easiest solution for the ACC, allowing Wake Forest to compete in the South.

Of course, there will be some other issues here, too. Maryland will demand that it still has its rivalry games with Duke and North Carolina. The Terps would still get to be paired with the two Virginia schools, but losing a Duke home game would seriously dampen the spirits in College Park.

In the end, Hicks said the league doesn't have to go to divisions.

"Ultimately, it will come down to a vote of the ADs and they'll decide what they'll want to do,'' Hicks said. "It will be hard to take those North Carolina schools and separate them. Rivalries and geography will be in play. The good news is that we have time to work through it. We do have permanent partners in our scheduling now. It's the same issue we have now in scheduling, but we added two more teams.''

• If Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe is officially out of a job, then the NCAA tournament selection committee will have two of its 10 members not working while serving on the committee. The other is Jeff Hathaway, who was forced to retire at Connecticut as athletic director.

WAC commissioner Karl Benson, a former committee member, said that the personnel on the committee has always been overrated and that the committee will be fine since the system itself is all that really matters.

Hathaway's term as chair of the committee started on Sept. 1 (replacing the outgoing chair, Ohio State AD Gene Smith) and NCAA men's basketball tournament spokesperson David Worlock said there has been no change in his position. The same may be true of Beebe if he's officially out. The committee won't meet again until November, and the heart of their work doesn't really begin until January and February, anyway. Hathaway and Beebe certainly would have more time to focus on the national landscape.

The only issue that will be in play for the selection committee: Would Hathaway have to leave the room when UConn is discussed and would the same apply to Beebe when Big 12 teams are talked about, since neither would be employed by either entity?

The consensus from former committee members is that bringing in two more new members to go along with the two regularly scheduled new members to the committee wouldn't be prudent. No one wants to see a committee that has four of its 10 members doing the selections and seeding for the first time. So if Hathaway and Beebe both stay, then the only hiccup will be their role when the teams that they formerly served are being discussed.

Wake Forest's free fall from one of the top teams in the country to a complete embarrassment on and off the court is hard to fathom.

In mid-January 2009 -- not exactly ages ago -- the Demon Deacons were undefeated and No. 1 in the national polls. Now? Now the Deacons are coming off an 8-24 season and are reeling after a series of arrests, suspensions and transfers.

"I'm not going to say we've hit rock bottom," second-year coach Jeff Bzdelik said. "We haven't. All I can tell you is that we've made great strides and have a foundation for the future."

That's what a coach is supposed to say. And with three commitments so far, Wake Forest does indeed have a top-25 recruiting class for 2012.

But that doesn't mask the problems. Fast-tracking to the 2012-13 season probably doesn't seem too inviting for a passionate fan base that has constantly wanted to be considered one of the class programs in the ACC. There was a time -- just a few seasons ago -- when the noise level in Lawrence Joel Coliseum was so loud after the Deacon mascot entrance on a motorcycle that it seemed to lower one's hearing a bit. Beating Duke or North Carolina at home wasn't farfetched. It could and did happen.

That must seem like another time and place, when college players wore high socks and short shorts. But it wasn't. Even during previous coach Dino Gaudio's final season, the Demon Deacons beat Texas in the first round of the NCAA tournament. That was 2010.

But you can excuse Wake fans if that seems to them like a long time ago. The Deacons won just one ACC game a season ago and were one of the worst power-six conference schools in the country (if not the worst), losing at home to Winthrop and Presbyterian and finishing with 24 losses.

"In my 30-something years of coaching, 34, whatever it is, personally it was the most difficult for me," Bzdelik said. "I spent 90 percent of my time with 10 percent of the players who, to be quite frank, dealt with issues that had nothing to do with being on the court."

Those issues were and are many.

Center Tony Woods was supposed to be on last season's team, but was dismissed from school in October after an assault charge (he's now at Oregon). Ari Stewart (8.5 points per game) was suspended for the 2011 ACC tournament for academic issues and was then granted his release from the program following the season (he's now at USC). Forward Melvin Tabb had multiple run-ins and was dismissed by the university in August. He was arrested on three charges: felony breaking and entering, possession of stolen goods and obtaining property by false pretense.

And that's not all.

Second-leading scorer J.T. Terrell (11.1 ppg), a promising sophomore-to-be, withdrew from school earlier this month to seek medical help following a DUI arrest. And senior big man Ty Walker, once a highly touted prospect, is suspended for the fall semester after violating the university's student code of conduct. Until Walker returns, the Deacons will be playing with just eight scholarship players (and four walk-ons).

WFU athletic director Ron Wellman said the university did its due diligence and checked out the players in advance. They were cleared academically and admissible.

"The behavioral expectations at Wake Forest are high," Wellman said. "We're doing exactly what I think you have to do. It's a process and when you lose a number of players like we have, you're starting over and now we're bringing in young players. It's beyond basketball. I'm excited about where we're going. There's no reason we can't get to that level again and be in the top four or five in the conference to where we were even before that. We were ranked No. 1 a couple of times. And there's no reason Wake shouldn't be at that level. We have had a consistent, outstanding, championship program and that's where Jeff is taking us."

Added Bzdelik: "I know what I'm doing is right. We're making young men mature. We're teaching them how to be men."

It is true that Bzdelik isn't taking any crap and isn't afraid to cut a player loose. But there clearly is a disturbing trend that can't go on.

The feeling from Wellman and Bzdelik is that this should be the end in terms of off-court problems. They'd like us to believe it was a "weeding out" sort of process.

"Jeff didn't recruit any of them," said Wellman, sticking true to his longtime friend and hand-picked successor to Gaudio. "Jeff has certain expectations, the right expectations with conduct off the floor and academic responsibilities, and all I'm saying is that Jeff is doing the right thing. It's not an indictment of anyone else. I'm just pleased with how Jeff is handling the direction of the program."

Whether it was intended or not, that statement by Wellman is a zing at Gaudio and his staff. Yet the aforementioned players recruited to Wake by the previous staff were highly coveted by schools all around the country. Passing on Walker, Woods, Stewart or Terrell was not much of an option in a big-time program.

And this was, not long ago, a big-time program.

Prior to his sudden death four years ago, Skip Prosser had the Demon Deacons in a position to be a regular atop the ACC. Sure, they were fortunate that Chris Paul grew up in the area. The recruiting of Paul and his play during his tenure was no doubt an enticement for ensuing NBA talents Jeff Teague, James Johnson and Al-Farouq Aminu.

Wake Forest won 27 games in 2004-05 and was No. 1 in the country early in the 2005-06 season. The Deacons were a bit of a disappointment in Prosser's final two seasons, but somehow Gaudio, Jeff Battle and Pat Kelsey held the program together, keeping a much-hyped recruiting class of Aminu, Walker and Woods intact.

The job those three coaches did to offset a major implosion after Prosser's stunning death can't be understated. Wellman did give Gaudio a chance. He probably had no choice at the time.

Gaudio led the Demon Deacons to a 24-win season in 2009 before being upset by Cleveland State in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The following season they won 20 before getting blown out by Kentucky in the second round of the tournament.

After that, Gaudio was fired by Wellman, who then hired his pal Bzdelik from the University of Colorado. (He'd also coached Air Force and the Denver Nuggets.)

Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong since Bzdelik arrived.

But don't tell that to Wellman.

"I'm thrilled with the direction," Wellman said. "[Bzdelik] has made every decision that is in the best interest of the future success of our program. I could not be happier with the direction of our program.

"I've never seen a coach handle situations as well as Jeff. He has counseled and verbalized his expectations and followed them up. He's done a superb job of being in front of them and outlining expectations. He is going the extra mile to counsel them of what is expected and he understands the way they should live their lives and represent the university."

What about on the court, though? Wake Forest isn't Duke and it isn't North Carolina. Sure, there is a history of moderate success in previous decades with stars like Tim Duncan, Randolph Childress and Rodney Rogers during the Dave Odom era.

But Wake has never been able to deal well with NBA departures and it certainly hasn't been easy adjusting to this latest talent drain.

North Carolina and Duke are still and will likely always be the class of the league and in the top five in the country on a consistent basis. If the ACC stays as is with its current 12-team makeup -- a big if based on the current climate in college sports -- then Wake Forest has a chore ahead of itself.

Florida State has emerged as a top-four ACC program under Leonard Hamilton. Virginia Tech can't seem to quite break through to the Big Dance, but continues to be very competitive in conference. First-year coaches Mark Turgeon (Maryland), Mark Gottfried (NC State) and Brian Gregory (Georgia Tech) have already made their marks in recruiting before even coaching a game. It seems apparent Virginia is primed for a breakout season under Tony Bennett. It also seems apparent second-year coaches Brad Brownell and Steve Donahue were the right choices at Clemson and Boston College, respectively.

So where does that leave Wake? Will the talent level rise again? Bzdelik is confident it will.

He clearly has unquestioned support from Wellman, so the onus is now on Bzdelik and his staff to be right about the remaining players, the upcoming recruits and the ability to continue an upward trend.

Terrell's departure and Walker's fall semester suspension have to be the last black marks for a while. If there are more, climbing out of a massive sinkhole will be even more daunting. If the worst is over, there's no reason the Demon Deacons can't start to move up in an ACC that consistently has teams rotating in and out of that tier just behind Duke and Carolina.

That upward momentum might not be represented in the win column for at least two seasons, but Bzdelik is confident it will come.

"We're positive right now, everything is positive," he said. "We're moving forward now. We are moving forward. There is no doubt in my mind. This group is extremely competitive and hungry and humble and it's unified and determined to get Wake Forest to where it's always been, where it should be."

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