Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio goes over instructions with freshman Al-Farouq Aminu.
Saturday's practice was a snapshot. Check back with Wake when it goes to the underrated Anaheim Classic next month over Thanksgiving weekend (just watch and see how many teams are in the NCAAs in March that played in this event, such as Arizona State, Baylor, Saint Mary's and maybe Providence and UTEP). By then, maybe the freshmen will be more ready to assume a starring role.Watching this practice, it is clear how much Aminu will help with his offensive skills off the dribble, a potential matchup problem at small forward, and how much of a defensive presence Woods and Walker can become for a team that was vertically challenged a year ago, when the Demon Deacons missed the postseason despite going 17-13 overall, 7-9 in the ACC.
Wake Forest hopes its freshmen class, including Ty Walker, can help bring the Demon Deacons back to the tourney.
Gaudio said none of the three freshmen would start if the season were to begin this week. The Demon Deacons return all five starters. McFarland, a junior, didn't look like he was going to give up any minutes. He got the ball in the post and easily turned around and scored on multiple possessions."All three of them have talent, but they've got to realize it's a whole different level from high school to college," said McFarland, who started 27 of 30 games last season. "You can't take a possession off or you'll get your ass kicked. I don't think anybody's spot is solidified." None of the three freshmen complained about being the focal point of the coaching staff early in practices. Johnson, who was an unheralded freshman a year ago but ended up leading the team in scoring at 14.6 points per game, said he had no clue how hard he had to play a year ago. "During the first open gym, guys were diving on the floor, running back and forth, I got so winded so fast," Johnson said. "It took until our first exhibition to click. It's hard at first. You're used to putting your hands on your knees when you get tired. But the upperclassmen kept reminding me. They'll get it. They'll run hard." Johnson was one of the players, as well as the injured junior guard Ishmael Smith (wearing a boot because of a broken foot for a few more weeks), who was encouraging the three freshmen to push themselves and play smarter. "It's been challenging," Woods said. "Guys are my size, my strength if not stronger. I'm trying to be in condition, get low and learn the plays. It's challenging." Walker said he anticipates that at least one of the three will start, saying he wouldn't be surprised if it were Aminu. Johnson can play power forward, Aminu small forward and then McFarland at center with Walker and Woods off the bench. The guards are set with sophomore Jeff Teague (13.9 behind Johnson) a lock at the point and then a rotation of a healthy Smith, junior L.D. Williams, senior Harvey Hale and sophomore Gary Clark. A year ago, Gaudio had to start two of the three in the class -- Johnson and Teague -- because of the talent gap and low numbers. The depth on this team, except at the point, allows Gaudio to use minutes as a hammer over the freshmen big men, who may not be ready -- yet. "They're going to have to earn everything they get," Gaudio said. They all understand that. But Gaudio should feel comfort in knowing that none of the three, at least in words and when you watch them in their actions, so far appear to have a foot out the door in the spring. The one-and-done class of 2007 may not have coattails in Winston-Salem. "I'll guarantee probably three years here or as long as it's possible to reach my potential to the next level," Walker said. "Tony has the same time range as me. Farouq and us kind of made an agreement. Farouq might not stay all four years if he's doing good. But we all want to stay as long as possible."