WINSTON-SALEM — Most of the teams in the ACC are looking to their upperclassmen to lead the way during the 2012-2013 season.
Not Wake Forest. The Deacons will rely heavily on the seven freshmen recruited by coach Jeff Bzdelik, who said Wednesday that all will be expected to contribute.
The newcomers are: guards Codi Miller-McIntyre, from Concord, and Raleigh native Madison Jones; forwards Devin Thomas, Aaron Roundtree III, Tyler Cavanaugh and Arnaud Moto; and 7-foot center Andre Washington. They have already picked up the nickname “The Sensational Seven,” but they prefer to be called “Baby Deacs.”
“We’ve got big expectations,” Thomas said. “But we’ve got to prove that we’re sensational first before we can be called that. We haven’t played a game yet.”
First, however, Bzdelik said that the freshmen will have to stop thinking that they are freshmen if Wake Forest has any hope of improving on last year’s 13-18 record (4-12 ACC) and getting back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010.
“We’ve got to win. That’s why they can’t think of themselves as freshmen,” Bzdelik said. “Otherwise, what happens is, ‘Well, I’m only a freshman. It’s okay, I’ll be better next year.’ But no, that can’t resonate in their mind.
“No, I need them to perform now. I don’t want that to be an excuse or a crutch for our young guys.”
Who’s back: The Deacons return two starters – senior guard C.J. Harris (16.7 points per game, .477 field goal percentage), a third-team All-ACC pick last year, and junior forward Travis McKie (16.1 points, 7.0 rebounds per game, .478 field goal percentage) – and two sophomores who saw playing time, guard Chase Fischer and forward Daniel Green.
Harris and McKie were two of the ACC’s leading scorers last season (fourth and sixth in the league) giving Wake Forest a solid scoring punch right off. Fischer was second on the team with 39 three-pointers last season and the 6-foot-10 Green added 25 pounds during the offseason to give the Deacons some muscle inside.
Who’s not: The Deacons lost one starter, forward Nikita Mescheriakov, and part-time starting center Ty Walker to graduation. Junior guard Tony Chennault, junior center Carson Desrosiers and sophomore guard Anthony Fields transferred.
Chennault and Fields never seemed to adapt to the pace and physicality of ACC play, forcing Harris to take on directing the offense. The same could be said of the 7-foot Desrosiers, who was constantly outhustled and outmuscled inside by smaller centers and forwards.
Who’s new: The biggest impact could come from Miller-McIntyre and Jones at guard, and Moto and Thomas at forwards.
Miller-McIntyre and Jones are battling for the starting point guard job, which will allow Harris to play at shooting guard. However, Bzdelik said he could see playing Miller-McIntyre, Jones and Harris at the same time when he wants a very fast lineup.
As for the forwards, Thomas was recently cleared to resume practice after having a minor knee operation last month. He and Moto have the strength, reach and speed to create a mismatch at power forward, while creating another threat by allowing McKie and his 3-point shooting to move to small forward.
Practice priorities: The biggest priority Bzdelik faces is getting the freshmen to adapt to the speed and toughness required to play the college game, especially at the ACC level.
To do that, the Deacons received permission from the NCAA to play two preseason games in Canada, against Brock University on Oct. 19 and Ryerson University Oct. 20. Wake Forest then has a closed scrimmage against UNC Charlotte at the end of the month, followed by a Nov. 2 exhibition game against Rollins, a Division II school that has four D-1 transfers on its roster.
Bzdelik has also changed the way he conducts practices, scrimmaging his players more this year instead of running drills as he has done in the past. He’s also focused more on the defensive end.
“One thing about getting your butt beat – you start really reevaluating yourself, thinking ‘how can I be better, how can I do this better?’” Bzdelik said. “I’ve spent more time this year with coaches – pro, college, even high school – than I have at any time in my life. It’s helped me in a tremendous way.”
What they’re saying: “Let’s face it. The Deacons are still in rebuilding mode, and so is their nonconference schedule. ... The Deacs need to win some early games, because with freshmen contributing at key positions, victories will likely be hard to come by come ACC play.” Robbi Pickeral, ESPN.com