A Dark Cloud Gets Darker

College coaches are busy people. Regardless of the season, they rarely have time to waste.

So whenever the need arose to give Danny Manning or Dave Clawson a call in accordance with my duties as Wake beat reporter for the Winston-Salem Journal, I made sure I asked at least two questions. If natural follow-up questions were in order, I’d follow up. But my main intention was to ask the two things that I – and the fans who followed Wake basketball or football – most needed to know.

What is your reaction to whatever it is I’m calling about? And what do you see as the impact on the program?

The tragic news that assistant basketball coach Jamill Jones, while in New York City, allegedly punched a man who ended up dead caught up with me in Boston, where my bride Tybee and I were visiting our daughter Rebecca and her beau/fiance Steve. For at least the hundredth time I was thanking my lucky stars that I retired last August and thus, was no longer responsible for chasing down the story

In incidents such as these, nobody wants to talk. Most good lawyers will maintain that in incidents such as these, nobody should talk — at least not on the record. The chances are far too great that they’ll end up saying something that, in time, they’ll wish they’d never said.

Best I can tell, no one has called Danny Manning for his reaction. If they have, I’ve seen no comments from Manning anywhere.

All of which is completely understandable.

Jones has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor assault. The New York Post is reporting that because the Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death of Sabor Szabo a homicide, that Jones might eventually be charged with murder.

The Post quotes Jones’ lawyer, Alain Massena, as casting doubt on that ever happening.

“I can tell you the reason why the charge is what it is now – the reason it’s the appropriate charge – is because the District Attorney’s Office and I obtained information that the public does not have,’’ Massena told the Post. “If we put all that information out there, I think it would put a different picture of that night. But our concern right now is to respect the fact that a family has lost a son.’’

The only official reaction from Wake Forest was to put Jones on leave and express the university’s heartfelt condolences to the Szabo’s family. And that will almost certainly be that until the facts emerge as to what really happened outside a Queens Hotel early Sunday morning of Aug. 5.

Police have said that Szabo banged on the window of Jones’ SUV, apparently mistaking the SUV for his Uber ride. The Associated Press reported on Aug. 10 that a person familiar with the investigation told the news organization that Szabo may have been drunk and knocking on car windows before Jones allegedly confronted him.

According to the AP report, police say that Jones got out of his vehicle, punched Szabo, and got back in his vehicle and sped off. Szabo was said to have fallen and hit his head, never to regain consciousness. He was taken off life support Tuesday.

The questions I have will remain questions until verifiable facts emerge. But one of the biggest is why did Jones, according to police, leave the scene? And why, if the incident took place in the early hours of Sunday, did almost five full days elapse before Jones turned himself in to police on Thursday?

Maybe there are reasonable explanations. I will certainly remain open to the possibility. But I can imagine that Ron Wellman, the director of athletics, feels the need to know the same answers before he and other officials at Wake decide Jones’ immediate professional fate and whether or not any additional actions might need to be taken.

Which brings us to the second question I always have in these circumstances. What will be the impact of all this on the Wake basketball program? I did see where Justin Bauman, the director of basketball operations the past four seasons, will expand his duties to include those of interim assistant coach.

I got to know Bauman well enough to think of him as a good man, and he’ll do the best job he’s capable of doing. But for the life of me, I can’t see how any impact on the Wake basketball program from all of this is going to be anything but decidedly negative.

There are plenty who love Wake basketball who are convinced that the program has been struggling under a dark cloud for many years now. Some even trace that struggle all the way back to another unspeakable tragedy, the death of Skip Prosser 11 summers ago.

The more cynical among the masses will maintain that little has gone right since Chris Paul punched Julius Hodge of N.C. State is a super sensitive area in the regular-season finale of the 2005 season – and then told us reporters on the scene that he did no such thing.

Obviously 13 seasons is a long time for a dark cloud to hover over any program. Unfortunately, for many reasons, the dark cloud has just this month gotten darker.

Much, much darker.

Wake Has a Lot on Line at Linebacker

Wake has waited a long time for Nate Mays to make a significant contribution to the Deacons’ football fortunes.

We’re all getting ready to find out if Mays – or make that Mays’ game – was worth the wait.

For all the attention being focused this preseason on the quarterback battle, and whether Jamie Newman or Sam Hartman will make their first college start in the Deacons’ Aug. 30 opener at Tulane, what happens at linebacker may end up having at least as big an impact on Wake’s chances at a third-straight winning season.

Brandon Chubb no longer plays linebacker at Wake, and hasn’t since his first-team All-ACC season of 2015. Marquel Lee no longer plays linebacker at Wake, and hasn’t since his second-team All-ACC season of 2016.

For that matter, Jaboree Williams and Grant Dawson are gone as well, having exhausted their eligibility last fall. Neither, as far as I heard, were ever mentioned for All-ACC honors, but they did both start all 13 games last season and finished second and third in total tackles.

There were a number of reasons Wake ranked 11th in the ACC last season with an average of 28.3 points allowed, and 14th by giving up 347.4 yards a game. The offense was explosive enough to obliterate the school record for points in a season, and thus Clawson wasn’t as bound and determined to keep the defense off the field as he had been the first three season.

But in watching Wake roll to an 8-5 season and second-straight bowl victory, I couldn’t help noticing the Deacons weren’t getting the same production at linebacker. That’s not as much a knock on Williams and Dawson – two gamers who gave their team pretty much all they had – as much as a recognition that Chubb and Lee were two of the best linebackers to ever play at Wake.

Now with Williams and Dawson departed, who steps up? The best bet, of course, is Justin Strnad, a redshirt junior who really came on last season – his first in the substitution rotation – but who, like Newman and Hartman, has yet to start in college.

My question all along on Strnad concerned his size, and whether he was big and strong enough to plug the middle. But he has steadily put on weight, and is now listed at 6-3, 230, up from 225 pounds last season and 220 two seasons ago.

But let’s say Strnad turns out to be the real thing, and has a great season. That still leaves Wake one short at linebacker, unless some inexperienced player makes the kind of splash it’s tough to expect an inexperienced player to make.

The candidates are Mays, DJ Taylor and Jake Simpson. Mays is a redshirt junior listed at 6-1, 225 pounds who logged all of 65 plays in the 2017 regular season while making all of three tackles. Taylor and Simpson are sophomores who played as first-year freshmen, though neither did much to distinguish themselves.

Simpson, listed at 6-0, 215, played in 12 games last season, making five tackles. Taylor, listed at 6-1, 230, played in five games, making five tackles.

Clawson is too good a coach not to project, and he could see he needed help at the position once Chubb, Lee, Williams and Dawson were done. And it’s not like he didn’t address the issue.

One possible solution should have been Zack Wary, a rangy 6-4, 225-pound linebacker who showed real promise while playing in eight games as a redshirt freshman in 2015. But Wary’s career was sidelined by injuries that remain undisclosed, though anyone following the program knows that Wary was battling concussion-like symptoms from his time on the field.

All along I thought two prime candidates would be Jeff Burley and Chase Monroe, two linebackers who signed to significant acclaim before last season. But linebacker is obviously a physically demanding position, and the reports from preseason are that Burley and Monroe are expected to miss the 2018 season with injuries that – stop me if you’ve heard this before – remain undisclosed.

Clawson, for the record, said the battle is among Mays, Simpson and Taylor to start alongside Strnad. Les Johns of DemonDeaconDigest reported that Mays and Taylor were getting first-team reps the first week of practice. But it also sounds like Clawson might have a Plan B, which would entail at least occasionally rotating Ja’Cquez Williams, a 6-2, 210-pound redshirt sophomore into the mix from his position as backup to Demetrius Kemp at rover.

“I think there’s clarity in who the candidates are and who’s going to play,’’ Clawson told Les and Conor O’Neill of the Winston-Salem Journal. “I think the battle is how much are they going to play.

“The four guys who are going to play inside for us are going to be DJ and Nate and Justin and Jake. How much they’re going to play, what the distribution is. . . we’re getting Ja’Cquez some work in there. Those are the guys that are going to play.’’

If you pull for Wake, you’d better hope they not only play, but play well. The season just might depend on it.

Missing Preseason Camp

For the first time in what seems like forever, preseason football at Wake is preceding without me.

That means I’m left to gather information the same way as most of you reading this, by perusing the steady stream of camp accounts from Les Johns of Demon Deacon Digest and Conor O’Neill of my long-time haunt, the Winston-Salem Journal – and checking in to see whatever the regulars on the message boards are bandying about.

And from all I can glean, Dave Clawson and company are getting along just fine without me.

The one question I get most since retiring going on 12 months ago is “do I miss being a sportswriter?’’ — the only profession I held from the time I graduated from college in 1974. The short answer is no. The newspaper industry imploded over my final years, and I rode the wreckage from the top floor right down the sidewalk. And by then I was long-since tired of plane flights, hotel rooms, rental cars, long solitary drives home through the dead of night, not to mention the ever-encroaching set of restrictions placed on my ability to do the job the way I had done it for the first 30 or so seasons.

By the time I hit 65, I was ready to retire. I knew it, and so did anybody and everybody who had to deal with me over those final years. I’ve not regretted my decision one moment.

I don’t miss attending games. I attended enough games.

But I do miss seeing so many good friends one gets to know over a long career, though, truth be told, so many of them had already reached the finish line – whatever form that might take – before me. And there are days and assignments that I look back upon fondly.

Early August was always one of my favorite times. I really enjoyed covering preseason. I loved watching a coaching staff build a team block by block. I had great fun hanging out with Les and Steve Shutt, the media relations director, and members of his cracker-jack staff. And it was always a treat to meander down from our perch on the balcony of the adjacent indoor center to see what observations and pearls of wisdom Clawson might have from the session.

Often I’d chat a bit with a player or trainer or assistant coach, or maybe Dave’s daughter, Courtney, a bright, amiable young person I expect great things from once she graduates from Davidson.

There were the unavoidable issues we had to work through, to determine how much I had seen that I could report without ruffling the wrong feathers in ways that couldn’t be smoothed over. And I readily admit I chaffed from time to time at not being able to report developments – which most often took the form of injuries – that had always been on the record under previous staffs.

But that’s a whole other subject to which I will return in posts to come. What I will say, however, is that the changes had more to do with what was going on throughout the sport of college football than it did with one coach named Dave Clawson.

And besides, what we should never overlook is how lucky we are to have those daily accounts from Les and Conor.

By now, most college programs have closed almost all of their practices, preseason or otherwise. So any information that comes from those places consists of whatever the media-relations arm chooses to disseminate – that and, of course, the general flow of rumors, speculation and scuttlebutt that emanates from non-sanctioned sites and message board chatter.

Clawson, lest we forget, was burned badly by a turn-coat of a home radio analyst named Tom Elrod. And if I happened to interpret Clawson’s reaction as at least partly a pretext for doing what he wanted to do all along, that probably tells you just how hard-bitten I had become by my final days as a sportswriter.

What Clawson did, to his credit, was reach a compromise. Once game week arrives, practices are closed to the media. That’s a first at Wake, but, again, these are different times. I am thankful he thought enough of the local media – not to mention the fans – to keep preseason camp open.

Otherwise we wouldn’t have the on-site accounts from Les and Conor to chew over.

Though I would have one less thing to miss from my days as a sportswriter.

Can Clawson’s Success Be Sustained?

One of the first lessons I learned as a pup starting out in the sportswriting business all those many years ago was to avoid cliches.

What I wasn’t told is that cliches are unavoidable.

In defense of cliches, if they didn’t contain at least a kernel or three of truth they wouldn’t have been repeated often enough to become cliches. And even if they didn’t, coaches quotes are the mothers’ milk of any beat reporter, and I never in my time met a coach would could avoid making a point in the same wording it had been made countless times before.

Dave Clawson is hardly the first coach to maintain that he wasn’t out to build just a team; his goal was, instead, to build a program. And he certainly won’t be the last.

Pay attention and you’re liable to hear the same words spoken dozens and dozens of times this preseason alone.

Four years into his stay at Wake, Clawson has proven he can build a competitive team. He proved it twice, in 2016 and 2017, with both teams closing winning seasons with resounding bowl victories.

The case can even be made that Clawson has proven he can build a program. He certainly did so at Richmond, and again at Bowling Green.

The looming question, of course, is has he done enough to build a program even at Wake Forest? My sense is that, yes, Clawson has indeed succeeded where so many who came before failed.

But those looking for confirmation may be holding out to see what happens in year five, which begins tomorrow morning with the first practice of preseason.

The personnel losses from last season’s 8-5 edition would be enough to send most of the gains from past rebuilding efforts swirling down the drain. Gone, of course, is quarterback John Wolford, the heart and soul of Clawson’s first four Wake teams. No one is irreplaceable, but John Wolford comes as close as any Wake player I can name since maybe Riley Skinner.

Others who left the college playing field for the last time after the 55-52 Belk Bowl victory over Texas A&M include tight end Cam Serigne, defensive ends Duke Ejiofor and Wendell Dunn, linebackers Jaboree Williams and Grant Dawson, kicker Mike Weaver and even safety Jessie Bates III, the first Wake player ever to leave college for professional football after his sophomore season.

I added them all up, and if my public-school education hasn’t failed me, that’s a total of 275 career starts right there.

Exacerbating the loss of Wolford was the off-season news that his heir apparent, Kendall Hinton, will be suspended for the first three games of the season for the ubiquitous “violation of team rules.’’ So whoever starts the Aug. 30 opener against Tulane – be it redshirt sophomore Jamie Newman or freshman Sam Hartman – will be starting for the first time since high school.

Before Jim Grobe, success was always frustratingly fleeting at Wake. The conventional wisdom was that a coach might be able to keep a core of players long enough to make a little noise for a season or two, but eventually the loss of those players would relegate the Deacons back to their customary spot at the bottom looking up.

The reasons I think the success Clawson has built can be sustained are three-fold.

First, he and his staff have recruited aggressively, and they’ve recruited well. What more proof do we need than the influx of such game-changers as Greg Dortch and Scotty Washington and Chuck Wade and Essang Bassey and Matt Colburn and Cade Carney, not to mention such potential game-changers are Newman and Hartman and Sage Surratt and Boogie Basham and Coby Davis and Christian Beal and Jeff Burley and Chase Monroe and Sulaiman Kamara and Mike Allen?

If the game-changers continue to change games and the potential game-changers prove they can as well, the Deacons won’t be lacking for ACC talent.

Second, Clawson and his staff have proven to me that they know what to do with talent good enough to compete with the teams on their schedule.

But my prediction that Wake is gearing up for its third straight-winning season – which has been done only once since the ACC began – is based mainly on the old slogan for the cigarette that helped make our fair burg famous.

It’s what’s up front that counts.

And up front on offense Wake has the fruits of Clawson’s unrelenting efforts to build from scratch an offensive line that is the envy of other teams in the ACC. It was a long, arduous process that I was there to watch, as Clawson and his coaches bit a whole bandolero of bullets in half while playing offensive linemen too young, too inexperienced and too overmatched physically to block those they had been assigned to block.

But over time – in this case three seasons – those young linemen, Justin Herron, Phil Hayes, Ryan Anderson, Patrick Osterhage and Jake Benzinger, grew and continued to grow into grizzled, physically imposing players with a very grand total of 123 starts among them.

The surest way to control a game of college football is with a dominant offensive line that allows a coach to dictate and not always be in a position of having to react. Rarely do you see a losing team with a strong offensive line, and I don’t expect to see one this season at Wake.

Hoping Cam Returns to Scene of Prime

The players I got to know best during my days as Wake beat reporter for the Winston-Salem Journal were the ones who made an impact early in their careers, and thus were the guys I needed to talk with after games and practices and during our weekly Tuesday gathering to eat chicken and talk football.

Few players in my time made a more immediate impact than Cam Serigne, whom, I’m pleased to say, I got to know quite well during what is sure to be a Hall-of-Fame four-year career.

Wake completed only 12 passes in Dave Clawson’s first game as head coach, a decidedly inauspicious 17-10 loss at Louisiana-Monroe. It was also the debut of Serigne, whose three catches tied Matt James and EJ Scott for team best.

By season’s end he had emerged as one of the few bright spots of a long and dismal 3-9 campaign. His 54 catches not only led the Deacons, but also set a school record for tight ends, as well as any redshirt freshman.

Cam, luckily, was easy to get to know, a real stand-up guy who I’ll remember best for his bright eyes and ever-present smile. Along the way I also had the pleasure of meeting his father David on the Deacons’ road trip to beat Indiana in the fourth game of the 2017 season, and I could tell where Cam’s good nature came from.

College football is a grueling sport, and Serigne, like most players, had his share of ups and downs. After catching 46 passes as a sophomore, a nagging hamstring that just wouldn’t heal bothered him throughout his junior season. That, and an ever increasing emphasis on the running game resulted in him catching only 30 as a junior.

But Serigne, who had by then transformed his body from a 220-pound redshirt freshman to a 250-pound redshirt junior, was always best when needed most. And one of my favorite plays of the season was when he caught the 41-yard touchdown from John Wolford to start the scoring in the Deacons’ 34-26 Military Bowl victory over Temple.

His senior season, in many ways, was his best. The Deacons stacked another story on Clawson’s remarkable rebuild by finishing 8-5. And although he ranked fourth on the team with 44 catches, nine of them came in the Belk Bowl in a 55-52 shootout victory over Texas A&M. He also tied Greg Dortch for most touchdown catches for the season, with nine, and his 37-yard reception from Wolford in the second quarter not only staked Wake to a 38-21 lead, but also set an ACC record with 21 career touchdown catches by a tight end.

What a memorable way to end an unforgettable career.

So by reading this you have to know how happy I was to see the news that Serigne has signed a free agent contract with the Carolina Panthers, and how hard I’ll be pulling for him to make the team. It won’t be easy, given that the Panthers have five other tight ends – Greg Olsen, Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz, Evan Baylis and Jason Vander Laan – also competing for a start on the opening day roster.

But Cam showed us all who he was during his time at Wake, a determined, dedicated, talented young man willing to do whatever it takes to make his team better without one word of complaint or regret.

Last seen on the field, he was at Bank of America Stadium catching nine passes in a victory.

What a great story it will be if he’s back in that field when the Panthers’ open their 2018 season at home on Sept. 9 against the Dallas Cowboys.

A Request: Please Share the Road

The drive back from our two-week sabbatical at the beach helped restore my faith in humanity.

The four-hour hump back from Myrtle Beach can be a pain, especially around Chadbourn – as forlorn a town as I’ve ever driven through. But on this particular day, Sunday, I spent most of my time around folks who share the same highway philosophy.

In that, I mean, they share the road.

Before we continue, I’ll make anyone reading this a promise. If ever I’m in the left (passing) lane and see you approaching in my rear-view, I’ll look for the next opportunity to pull right and let you by.

After all, it only makes sense. I’d rather have you in front of me than hanging on my rear bumper. And if you want to proceed at a speed faster than mine, your wish is my command.

I’m not into vigilantism. Besides, if there’s a highway patrolman up ahead, he’ll see you before he sees me.

Part of it is my lifelong aversion to being in other people’s way. It makes me uptight to think I might be blocking someone else from seeing what they want to see or going where they want to go. With each passing year, I’ve grown to despise big crowds more and more.

So a recurring problem, especially while driving, is to encounter people who obviously don’t have the least bit of problem being in other people’s way. If I didn’t know better, I’d surmise that some even relish it.

If it were only discourteous, boorish or ill-considered, that would be bad enough. But truth is, those who commandeer the left-lane and render it their own personal lane are actually causing far greater risk to all those they encounter on their trip from Point A to Point B.

There’s a good reason some states and municipalities erect highway signs that say “Left Lane for Passing Only.’’ 

Some are even imposing fines.

The Winston-Salem Journal, in an obvious attempt to lighten its insurance load, once required us all to sit through a session on defensive driving. The first question asked was “What causes wrecks?’’

The answer, to me, was obvious. “Two or more cars winding up at the same place at the same time.’’

“Exactly,’’ the instructor said.

It’s a moment that invariably comes to mind every time I find myself in a logjam on a four-lane road. And when one driver is taking their own sweet time in the left lane, and determined to exercise their constitutional right to which every lane they choose, then it doesn’t even matter if I’m in the left lane or right.

What does matter is that before long there is bound to be four, five, six or even more cars jammed together in close proximity, all piled up on each other with blood pressure spiking. And some of those cars are going to be hell-bent on getting by the logjam, and they’re going to start taking, in the words of Rodney Crowell, those crazy chances.

This is where I confess I’m not the most patient person in the world. And I readily admit I’m guilty of moves on the road, and gestures to my fellow travelers, of which I’m not proud.

But then there are days like Sunday when I’m cruising along with people who show consideration. Except for a couple of notable exceptions, the drivers I encountered recognized how much better – how much more civilized – a drive can be when the left lane remains open to those who wish to proceed at a higher rate of speed.

My best moments on the highway are when I can find that sweet spot – I call it a bubble – when I’m moving along at preferred speed with all other traffic well ahead of me and the rest just dots in the rear view. It can be relaxing even, and again, so civilized.

And it’s then, and only then, that I can groove on all that beautiful scenery our country has to offer.

So if we encounter each other out on the highways and byways, I’m hope it’s a pleasant experience. Just share the road, and I’ll promise it will be.

Remembering Len Chappell

Certain records are relics of their era.

Two that immediately come to mind are from 1941, when Ted Williams was the last player in Major League Baseball to bat better than .400 and the 1961-62 NBA season when that force of nature named Wilt Chamberlain was the last to average better than 50 points for an entire season.

I’ve lived 65 years and hope for many more, but I never expect to see either of those records seriously challenged.

Closer to home, one record that at least appears unassailable is averaging 30 points over an ACC basketball season. That was last accomplished in 1961-62, and was last seriously threatened by the Great David Thompson of N.C. State, who averaged 29.9 over his senior season of 1974-75.

In the years since, no one has come closer than the 27.7 points Dennis Scott averaged for Georgia Tech in 1989-90.

The last man to average 30 in a season was a two-time ACC Player of the Year, a first-team All-ACC performer in all three seasons of varsity eligibility who was the go-to star for the only Wake Forest team to ever play in the Final Four the same season (1961-62) he became the school’s first consensus All-American.

Len Chappell, the greatest Wake player born in the mainland United States, died Thursday. I got the sad news last night when I returned from a long, relaxing day at the beach.

In that he played well before I arrived at the Winston-Salem Journal in 1978, I didn’t know Len well. But I did have the pleasure of talking with him a few times during my days as the Deacons’ beat reporter.

Anybody who knows anything about Wake basketball history knows what a monster Chappell was on the court. A rugged but deft 6-8 center from Portage, Penn., Chappell averaged 24.9 points and 13.9 rebounds over the three seasons he was eligible while shooting 50.7 percent from the floor. During the three seasons he and his running mate and sidekick Billy Packer were on the court, the Deacons won 62 games and lost 27.

Most of what I wrote about Chappell can be found in my two forays into the publishing industry, the first being Tales From the Wake Forest Hardwood and the second The ACC Basketball Book of Fame. It should go without saying Chappell figured prominently in both.

And most of what I know about Chappell came from two people who knew him well, the crusty but unfailingly helpful Packer and this delightful character named Charlie Bryant, who somehow survived – with bottomless sense of humor intact — serving as assistant coach for both Everett Case at N.C. State and Bones McKinney at Wake.

Packer repeatedly told a story that he maintains McKinney told him, about how he and Chappell ended up at Wake in the first place. McKinney, upon succeeding Murray Greason as head coach limped home with a 6-17 record in his first season of 1957-58, so he needed talent and he needed it fast.

As the story goes, he got on the scent of two all-time greats during a visit to see a good friend named Harold Bradley, who also happened to be head coach of rival Duke. During the visit Bradly was said to have left the room without taking the precaution of erasing the blackboard.

“Posted on that blackboard were the names of guys who Duke was recruiting,’’ Packer recounted. “They had Chappell’s and Packer’s names up and that’s how he contacted us.

“That was his story. He always said that’s how he got our names.’’

Though I never had the opportunity to see Chappell play, it sounds like I missed a great one.

“In those days, 6-8 was pretty tall for a center,’’ Packer explained. “But he weighed 255 pounds and it was all solid, and he was an incredible shooter. And he had really good speed and he was a great rebounder – although he was not a great jumper. He had terrific hands.

“He was not a playmaker, and he was not a finesse player, but he could shoot and he could rebound and he could score, and he could shoot from inside and outside. And he more than held his own defensively. He was by far and away the best big man in the league.’’

Given that one of the ACC’s most colorful characters, McKinney, ran the show, those were madcap years at Wake. Packer himself was known to be quite the instigator of all kinds of merriment and mayhem.

But a man needs a plan, and Packer had a fool-proof method of getting what he wanted.

“Packer was the ring-leader of that bunch,’’ Bryant recalled. “He led them around. If Packer wanted something, he would always have Len upfront to do the dirty work.

“And they generally got it.’’

But that was not to say that Chappell was anybody’s fool. He was quiet by nature, and perhaps even a tad shy, but Bryant says it was easy to detect plenty of bytes on the old hard drive.

“Len was a sharp guy,’’ Bryant said. “Everybody thought Len was a dummy. He wasn’t. He was very sharp.

“But Len was just a dynamite player. He had the best touch for a big husky guy I’ve ever seen.’’

I’d forgotten what an impressive nine-season NBA career Chappell forged after being drafted by Syracuse as the fourth player picked in the 1962 draft. He scored more than 5,00 points and made the 1964 All-Star team.

Wake has endured other downturns in his basketball history, though none have been as deep and as long-lasting as the one the program is currently experiencing. In every previous instance, the coach and his staff have been able to go out and recruit the kind of talent needed to pull the Deacons from the doldrums.

In 1959, it was Chappell and Packer. In the mid-70s, when Carl Tacy was endeavoring to get the program back up and running, he brought in Skip Brown and Rod Griffin. Dave Odom wasted no time restoring the program to its previous status when his first full recruiting class included Rodney Rogers and Randolph Childress.

Can incoming freshman Jaylen Hoard be the Len Chappel, Rod Griffin or Rodney Rogers of his day, and if so, will he hang around longer than one season to see that the job of restoration is done right?

Who knows? But to paraphrase one of my favorite songwriters, Paul Simon. . .

Where have you gone Len Chappell?

Wake basketball turns its lonely eyes to you.