WINSTON-SALEM — The history of Wake Forest basketball is literally written on the walls of Budd Gymnasium, where the Deacons practice on campus. Seven ACC players of the year. Five Elite Eight appearances. Six ACC championships. One Final Four. Its all high enough on the walls that it literally hangs over Jeff Bzdeliks head.
The time has come for Bzdeliks program to start living up to those standards. If its going to work, if hes going to build the kind of program that Wake Forests fans and alumni expect, it has to show some signs of progress now.
The rebuilding started with an 8-24 season in 2011, which was reasonably well tolerated, and a 13-18 season last year, which was not. Bzdelik was brought in to change the culture, to make the basketball team a greater part of campus life, to create leaders he said Wednesday the program had stopped creating, and hes proud of the progress hes seen. But he also knows its time to take the next step.
Im a big boy. I understand the nature of this business. We gotta win, Bzdelik said. We werent going to compromise our values. We were going to stick by our principles. OK. Hopefully, weve gotten through all that, and we should have, and now weve got to win.
That doesnt necessarily mean winning 20 games and making the NCAA tournament, even though thats where the program stood in 2010 when Dino Gaudio was fired and Bzdelik was hired, but another 13-win season isnt going to cut it. If it was difficult to counsel patience last spring, it would be impossible under similar circumstances this spring.
The decline of Wake Forest, from top-25 program under Dave Odom, Skip Prosser and Gaudio to inconsequential also-ran, has been as damaging to the ACC as it has to the school. The league needs its traditional powerhouses to be nationally competitive, a mandate that extends to Virginia and Georgia Tech as well. (N.C. State and Maryland, which lagged behind recently, appear to have picked up the pace.)
A deeper ACC means more competition and more NCAA tournament bids for everyone, so theres more on the line here than merely Deacon pride, although Deacon pride is still a big part of it.
It would mean a lot to get back to where Wake Forest basketball used to be, said senior guard C.J. Harris, a Winston-Salem native and the last player left from the team that went to the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2010. A lot of that is on us. Weve got to start putting up some Ws.
The good news: Harris and Travis McKie are legitimate ACC difference-makers, two constants amid the seemingly endless waves of transfers, arrests and dismissals that have prevented any kind of continuity within the basketball program.
But with only four players returning who saw significant minutes last season, a seven-man recruiting class that includes top-100 recruit Cody Miller-McIntyre, Ravenscrofts Madison Jones and forward Devin Thomas will have to contribute immediately.
We cant think of you as freshmen, Bzdelik said he told them. We need you to perform now.
Bzdelik knows he doesnt have time to wait. For him and for them, its now or never.
DeCock: luke.decock @newsobserver.com, Twitter: @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947