Green: Glory days long gone for Deacons

Staff columnistJanuary 22, 2011 

— They still rev the motorcycle before Wake Forest basketball games in Joel Coliseum, the guy with the barbecue build still dances in the aisle during one timeout and the student section still dresses in yellow tie-dye t-shirts that look like something out of Bill Walton’s closet.

But that’s as close as the Deacons and their fans get to the glory days these days.

The Deacons’ 83-59 loss to fourth-ranked Duke Saturday afternoon dropped them to 7-13 overall and 0-5 in the ACC and, if there was any surprise to what happened, it’s that the Deacons kept it as close as they did.

This is a Wake Forest team that has lost to Stetson, Winthrop, UNC Wilmington and Presbyterian among others. The Deacons were so bad Wednesday night in a 74-39 loss at Georgia Tech that had the Yellow Jackets gone scoreless in the second half, they would have still beaten Wake Forest by five.

“Awful,” is how freshman Travis McKie described what happened in Atlanta.

It was better Saturday against Duke but how could it not be?

When you’ve been walking down a dark road, any step toward light is encouraging.

“We’re learning the hard way,” first-year coach Jeff Bzdelik said.

It’s like learning to walk on broken glass, playing five freshmen and two sophomores in a rotation with one junior and one senior, which is what Bzdelik, who replaced Dino Gaudio last spring, is doing.

To be pushed harder than the 24-point margin suggests was enough to impress Duke coach Mike Krzyzewksi, who complimented the Deacons on their readiness after what he called “some substantial losses”, saying his team was “knocked back” by Wake Forest’s early effort.

But when Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith with all of their skills and years are facing a team that had two freshmen (McKie and Carson Desrosiers) play more than 30 minutes and a point guard (Tony Chennault) playing his third college game, it’s a lopsided fight.

It’s easy to forget now but Wake Forest won an NCAA tournament game in March, beating Texas. Now there are questions as to whether the Deacons will be the first ACC team to go 0-16.

How’d it happen?

The short version is sophomores Jeff Teague and James Johnson bolted two years ago and another sophomore, Al-Farouq Aminu, left after last season. They’re all in the NBA. Put them in old gold and black and the ACC would have more than one top 25 team today.

Tony Woods, expected to be the Deacons’ interior presence, was dismissed from the team and Chennault, their only true point guard, broke a bone in his foot the first game.

A recruiting class ranked eighth by some experts has been handed more than it can handle immediately. That was reinforced to Bzdelik recently when one of his freshman told him he didn’t realize there were so many good players in college basketball.

The Deacons had problems again Saturday, particularly two long scoring droughts that showcased their inability to score at close range, a lack of physical toughness and a tender psyche. Duke had something to do with it but similar things have happened in too many games.

Still, the Deacons saw a glimmer of light Saturday.

“Nobody in our locker room doubted we could win,” C.J. Harris said, sounding like he believed it.

Bzdelik reiterated a familiar litany of challenges he’s given his team: remain optimistic; be stronger; be more mature; and, be tougher.

“If you’ve got hatred because of our record, hate me. Don’t hate these young men,” Bzdelik said. “Throw all the hate on me. But not on them. Love them… because they’re growing up.”

This is the awkward stage.

rgreenjr@charlotteobserver.com

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