Good Isn’t Good Enough in ACC

Being a head basketball coach in the ACC is a tough gig.

Not just anybody can do it.

Buzz Williams, I’m prepared to say, can do it. Of course the evidence was strong even before Williams took over at Virginia Tech in March of 2014, based on the run he had at Marquette.

With tonight’s 83-75 victory over Wake at Joel Coliseum, Williams’ Hokies are 13-4 overall and 2-2 in conference play. They made the NCAA last year, finishing 22-11 overall and 10-8 in the ACC. They made the NIT the season before that, finishing 20-15 overall and 10-8 in the ACC.

Williams had to dig out of a mess at Virginia Tech, and his first team finished 11-16 and 2-16. He has spent the last three seasons proving what he proved during his six years at Marquette, where the Golden Eagles made the NCAA Tournament five of those years.

The man can coach.

Danny Manning, hired at Wake Forest two weeks after Williams arrived in Blacksburg, may or may not prove to be ACC coaching timber. He’s now coached 112 games at Wake, and it’s still anybody’s guess.

The Deacons did make the NCAA Tournament last season, finishing 19-14 overall and 9-9 inside the conference. But with tonight’s setback, Manning’s fourth team at Wake Forest is 8-8 and 1-3 in conference play.

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the Deacons are facing a murderous stretch during which they will play Duke twice, Virginia, Louisville, Florida State, Clemson and Miami – all over the next eight games.


I thought at the time that Ron Wellman, Wake’s director of athletics, took a flyer when he hired Manning in early April of 2014.

Yes, Manning had coached Tulsa to the NCAA Tournament the previous year, and yes he was one of the great players in the history of college basketball over the second half of the 20th century.

But he had only two seasons of head coaching experience, both spent at Tulsa. And close scrutiny of his time there shows that his first team was 17-16 overall, and his second was 10-12 in early February before getting hot in time to win 11 of its last 12 and finish 21-13.

So the case can be made – which I’m getting ready to make – that Manning was hired at Wake based on a six-week run at Tulsa. That and the fact he was one of the great players in the history of college basketball over the second half of the 20th century.

Tonight, the Deacons lost because they couldn’t exploit their size advantage inside. Virginia Tech has only regular taller than 6-6, and that one player, the 6-10 Kerry Blackshear, was limited to 21 minutes because of foul trouble.

There’s so much that goes into being a successful head coach in the ACC, and a big part of it is knowing how to use your personnel to its greatest advantage. And Manning has said repeatedly that a key to this season – and every season – will be the number of paint touches his big players get.

Tonight, playing against one of the smallest teams they’ll see this ACC season, Doral Moore had five paint touches in the first half and six in the second. He had none in the final nine minutes.

He did finish with 11 field-goal attempts, but had to crash the boards for six offensive rebounds to do so.

I watched the game, so I know how hot Brandon Childress got late. And I know Bryant Crawford followed two straight 3-pointers by Childress with one of his own.

But if anybody for Wake even took a look inside down the stretch, I missed it.

For Wake to beat Virginia Tech, that can’t happen.

Being a good coach isn’t good enough to make it in the ACC. To make it in the ACC, especially at places like Virginia Tech and Wake, it takes a great coach.

During his 112 games as Wake’s head coach, Danny Manning has shown no signs whatsoever of being a great coach.

I’m still looking, but I’ve yet to see it.

Let Mueller Do His Job

There are 62,984,825 reasons I’m not, at this time, in favor of the impeachment of Donald Trump.

For that’s how many Americans voted for him.

Go ahead and tell me how Hillary Clinton actually got 65,852,516 votes, almost three million more than Trump. And you would be right. But your point would be irrelevant.

Presidents are elected in our country not by popular vote but by getting 270 votes in the electoral college. Trump got 306, so he’s our president.

And as much as I despair over the direction Trump is taking our country, and as much as I detest being led by a President with all the maturity of a 12-year-old with ADHD who misplaced his Ritalin months ago, I also know how I would feel if a person I voted for was removed from office before the completion of their term.

I would be, to put it politely, rankled.

Make that extremely rankled.

So it’s hard for me to expect others to accept what I never would. In this instance, I would need to know why my guy (or gal) was being kicked out of office and the evidence would have to pretty damn compelling.

Folks on my side of our nation’s great political divide are convinced that Trump should be removed from office for conspiring with Russia, our long-time adversary, to rig the 2016 elections.

They point to all the times that Jared Kushner, Jeff Sessions and others in Trump’s orbit have had to “amend’’ the information they gave on security forms for not including contacts with Russians or those with Russian interests.

They point to the guilty plea of Michael Flynn, hired by Trump to be our nation’s security adviser, for lying to the FBI about, among other things, his conversations with the Russian ambassador.

They point to the recently released book, Fire and Fury, by Michael Wolff, which quotes Steve Bannon, Trump’s former “chief strategist,’’ as opining that the meeting of Flynn, Kushner and Donald Trump, Jr., in Trump Tower with a lawyer linked to the Kremlin was “treasonous.’’

If they were trying to convince me of Trump’s complicity, they’d have an easy sell. Personally I feel pretty sure Trump was involved in Russia’s efforts to disrupt our electoral process.

But my opinion, by itself, doesn’t matter. This country is not ruled by fiat.

Again, for Trump to be removed from office, someone needs to get the goods on him. Fortunately for our nation, someone is trying.

I long ago gave up any hope for the investigations being conducted in Congress. In these partisan times, each side is going to protect their own. That’s pathetic in my mind, choosing party and president over country, but that’s where we are in American in 2018.

All along I’ve been patiently awaiting what special counsel Robert Mueller uncovers in his Justice Department investigation. From everything I know and have read about Mueller, he is the ultimate Boy Scout who is extremely thorough and good at what he does. I have confidence that if there’s fire kicking up all this smoke, he will find it.

And if I didn’t have confidence in Robert Mueller, I could no longer have any confidence in our American electoral process.

I shake my head in wonder every time politicians or pundits start drawing conclusions over whatever reports have leaked out of Mueller’s investigation. This means Mueller is looking into this area. That means the investigation is nearing an end.

Listen, I wrote sports for a living for 40 years. To attempt to determine what’s going on with Mueller’s investigation would be like trying to write a story of a football game without knowing what quarter we were in, and without benefit of a scoreboard.

I don’t know that Mueller’s investigation is going to uncover, but I’m willing to wait. And I’m willing to abide by his conclusions. For the sake of our country, we need to.

But for the sake of our country, we also need to allow Mueller’s investigation to continue unimpeded. Otherwise those convinced that Trump was indeed involved will have no way of knowing whether they’re right or wrong.

Sadly, that’s becoming difficult as Republicans throw more and more roadblocks in Mueller’s way.

Instead of rallying around our country, they’re rallying around their party and president. Instead of wanting a fair and thorough investigation, they want to investigate the investigators.

My question to them is, why do they hate America so bad that they’re willing, if not hell bent, on looking the other way when a foreign adversary does us wrong?

Let Mueller do his work, and then let the chips fall.

As hard as it has been for the likes of me to have Donald Trump in the White House, it might have been harder for our country to have Hillary Clinton as our president. The rabid right has been on her trail now for 25 years, and they were never going to let up long enough to allow her to lead the way our nation needs to be led.

As hard as it has been for the likes of me to have Donald Trump in the White House, at least everybody can now see who he is and what he stands for. I sense a national revulsion to his presidency. I see it every day I pick up a newspaper and read the letters to the editor and when I scroll my Face Book page.

I believe in shining a light in our nation’s darkest corners, in order for all to see. We’ve seen Donald Trump and who he is.

Now let’s go to work and make sure our nation never makes such a calamitous mistake again.

Seeing him get swept out of office by a blue tide in 2020 might, in the long run, be the best resolution.

The Adhesion of Selflessness

Basketball is a beautiful game when the five players on the court play with one heartbeat.’’Dean Smith.

Ahead of the pack on a two-on-none, Bryant Crawford made a beeline for the basketball for a layup in Wake’s 77-71 loss at Boston College today.

I have no way of knowing if the teammate running alongside Crawford, freshman Chaundee Brown, had any problem whatsoever with Crawford’s play.

I have no way of knowing if Coach Danny Manning had any problem with Crawford’s play.

But I do know there was one person who would have had a serious problem with Crawford’s play, and that was Dean Smith.

My formative years as a sportswriter were spent in Chapel Hill, where I was lucky enough to learn much of what I know about the game of college basketball from Smith. And I can still plainly remember his biting reaction when a Tar Heel would take it to the basket himself instead of passing off to an open teammate.

It didn’t happen often, and when it did, it rarely happened again. Smith recognized that selflessness is the adhesion that holds a team together.

“Basketball, more than any team sport, is a team game,’’ Smith said. “(It’s) about thousands of small, unselfish acts, the sacrifices on part of the players that result in team building.’’

Smith also said that “good people are happy when something good happens to someone else.’’

None of this is to say that Bryant Crawford is a bad person, or even a particularly selfish player. I do know he has a warrior’s heart. I’ve always admired his drive, his competitive spirit.

And I’m certainly not hanging this ACC loss on him or his failure to pass the ball to a teammate for an open basket.

But what it appeared from watching the game on television was that the thought never occurred to him. And, maybe it’s just me and Dean Smith, but, in my mind, it should have.

Crawford ended up getting his today, scoring a season-high 24 points. But it took him 24 field-goal attempts – of which he hit eight – to do so. That was twice as many field-goal attempts than the next guy, who happened to be Brown with 12.

I recognize there was more of a load on Crawford with Keyshawn Woods being out with an injured knee. But I went into this game wondering if the closing of one door would open up another for a player like Brown, a highly-prized freshman who, going into the game, was averaging a paltry 6.8 points a game.

So there was cause for some excitement when Brown nailed four 3-pointers in the first half for 14 first-half points. But Brown had yet to get a shot in the second half when the offending (at least to me) play took place, and Crawford motored to the basket on a two-on-none.

If Crawford had given it up to Brown for a layup there, would it have gotten Brown going again? It’s anybody’s guess.

But everyone can see that the Deacons are going to need more from Brown to have the season they want.

Brown did make a couple of 3-pointers late to finish with 20, so all might be good there. Wake lost this game, despite playing defense well enough to get stops on 40 of 76 Eagle possessions, because the Deacons shot just 29 percent in the second half. Nor did getting outscored by 15 points at the line help the cause.

There may be people reading this who feel I’m making way too much out of one play. They may be right.

But I do feel it’s something that bears watching. I know one coach who is no longer with us who would be watching.

On this point, I feel I’m in good company.

Catching Up With Chris and Jeff

There’s so much to be said for being 65.

Health obviously comes an issue, especially for a man of considerable girth who has spent 50 years wearing out his wild side. And folks my age don’t read the obituaries without a palpable sense of trepidation.

Live as long as I have and you’ve lost – and continue losing daily — so many folks who have been on this journey through space and time with us.

And that never stops hurting.

But the rewards are many. Living this long gives one a chance to finally figure some things out.

Living this long also means you’ve crossed paths with so many people, many of whom you’ve gotten to know really, really well. And lucky me for living in an age of mass and social media where I’m able to keep up with so many of them from afar.

Rarely do I sit down to watch a sporting event on television these days that I don’t know somebody in the game. It can be a player, but more often these days it’s a coach I came across during my years covering ACC football and basketball.

The ones I usually know best are those who came through Wake, where I rode the Deacons’ beat for the Winston-Salem Journal from 1992 through this past August. And two I know really well – Chris Mack and Jeff Battle – are coaching their teams against each other as I write this.

Mack, the head coach at Xavier these past 10 seasons, was an assistant for Skip Prosser at Wake in Skip’s first three seasons of 2001-02, 2002-03 and 2003-04 It’s has been fun to see how well he has done, coaching the Musketeers (where Prosser also flourished) to a No. 2 seed – highest in school history – in 2015-16, the season he was named national coach of the year by the U.S. Basketball Writers, CBS Sports and Basketball Times.

Mack left his mark at Wake, mostly for his hand in helping Prosser develop the marketing scheme of tye-dye shirts and a Deacon riding a motorcycle that, for some tired reason, persists today.

To paraphrase Richard III, an idea, an idea, my kingdom for an idea.

At Wake, Mack had a real edge about him. You can still see it today, especially when he plays cross-town rival Cincinnati. But the years have smoothed that edge out a bit, and he has grown to the point he’s one of the premier coaches in the college game.

Wake played Xavier regularly in the Skip Prosser Classic, so pretty much every year I’d call Chris before writing my advance. We’d discuss the game coming up, but we’d also catch up on families and all our mutual acquaintances.

I did get a kick after Wake beat the Musketeers in 2013 when Mack – his sharp edge showing through – kept his troops across the hall in the visitors’ locker room at Joel Coliseum longer than it took me to write my game story.

Battle, meanwhile, is now an assistant for his good friend Ed Cooley at Providence. Jeff was at Wake Forest from 2001-02 through 2013-14, where he was an assistant to three coaches – Prosser, Dino Gaudio and Jeff Bzdelik.

He’s a bit reticent by nature, and I didn’t get to know Jeff that well the first half-dozen or so years around.

But over the years I was around when Battle’s wife, Joyce, died of cancer. I was around when Prosser, his mentor and close friend passed. Shared experiences pull people together and the better I got to know Jeff the better I liked him.

I felt for him in 2011 when Cooley, upon being named head coach at Providence, tried to get Jeff to join him. I knew how badly Jeff wanted to take Cooley up on his offer, but Jordan, his son, was going into his senior year at Mount Tabor High School.

And being the father he is, Jeff wasn’t going to pull Jordan out of his comfort zone during his last year of high school.

Danny Manning hired his own staff upon arrival for the 2014-15 season, leaving Jeff on the sidelines for a year. But by the time a position came open in Providence, Jordan was already at upperclassman at East Carolina and Jeff was able to head north.

Jeff Battle is one of the really good guys I got to know over my coaching career, so I pull for Providence hard against whomever the Friars are playing.

That is, of course, unless they’re playing Xavier, and then my allegiances are decidedly split between two good friends.

There is so much to be said for being 65.

Deacs Break Boeheim Spell

It took six tries, but Wake finally gave Jim Boeheim something to really whine about tonight at Joel Coliseum.

Known almost as much over the years for his bellyaching as his Hall-of-Fame coaching acumen, Boeheim was actually, best I could tell, on his best behavior after the Deacons beat Syracuse 73-67 for their first ACC victory. No grousing about the calls. No grumbling about having to eat at a Denny’s. No we-wuz-robbed kvetching at all, at least none that I could detect listening to the post-game video provided so graciously by the Syracuse Post-Standard.

People I know who know Boeheim say he’s a prince of a guy. And you certainly don’t have to read this to know he’s one of the greatest college basketball coaches ever. His 915-360 record, all of it fashioned at Syracuse, his alma mater, assures his spot in the sport’s pantheon.

Not only that, but I might, in a weak moment, even admit that I’ve enjoyed Boeheim’s acidic, dripping sarcasm on certain occasions. We might have heard some tonight but, again, not being there in person, I couldn’t be sure.

Maybe he was ripping his guards when asked about his team’s paltry nine assists. Or maybe he was just explaining that passing is not this team’s thing.

“We don’t get assists,’’ Boeheim. “We dribble-drive mostly, and try to score that way.’’

Tonight the Deacons beat Syracuse for the first time by containing the dribble-drive well enough to get stops on 20 of the Orange’s 35 second-half possessions. What’s more, they allowed Syracuse only six offensive rebounds.

The Orange, a team that can hurt you as bad on the second shot as the first, managed only 11 second-chance points. Coach Danny Manning of Wake will tell you that’s too many, but he knows that this night he didn’t get beat on the boards.

He’ll also tell you his team won the hard way, by playing the second half without leading scorer Keyshawn Woods and most of the final 10 minutes without center Doral Moore. Woods injured his knee in the first half, and his availability for Saturday’s game at BC may or may not have been determined – but wasn’t revealed. And Moore picked up his fourth foul with 10:36 left and sat the next eight minutes.

Earlier the Deacons were losing games at the defensive end, especially in the second half and especially, especially down the stretch. So Manning has to be encouraged to see the Deacons make a second-half stand for the second game in a row. The Deacons got 19 stops on 36 possessions Saturday at North Carolina, which means the last two teams have scored on just 44 percent of their second-half possessions.

If Wake plays defense that well at BC and as the season progresses, it might even be playing games that matter come March. Given the pratfall out of the gates, that would be some accomplishment.

I did like the way Manning mixed in the zone tonight, but I noticed that at winning time he went man and the Deacons responded by getting stops on seven of the final 10 possessions.

Wake’s three biggest offense plays, in the mind of Boeheim as well as my own, were the three 3-pointers out of the left corner, the first two by Bryant Crawford and the third by Chaundee Brown. Just when I was wondering what all the fuss was about this Brown guy, he nailed that trey for a 55-53 lead with 4 ½ minutes to go.

He even acted like he meant to make it, impressive for a freshman who had missed all five of his earlier shots from the floor.

Baskets by Terrence Thompson (off a nice feed by Brown) and Brandon Childress put the Deacons ahead to stay for the final two minutes, though a well-placed mic might have picked up the teeth-gnashing on the Wake bench when knock-dead free-throw shooters like Mitchell Wilbekin, Bryant Crawford and Childress kept missing free throws.

I thought Wake had made a mistake by inbounding to Olivier Sarr with 19 seconds left in a two-point game.

But Sarr sure showed me by draining both, then hitting two more with seven seconds left for good measure.

Manning and his players had good reason to be feeling pretty good when walking out the back door of the Joel in the bitter winter wind. It’s not every day, after all, that Wake beats Syracuse in basketball.

Before tonight, it wasn’t any day.

R.I.P. Rick Hall: You Earned It

Musically, my favorite haunt is the intersection of Williams Avenue and Charles Boulevard – as in Hank Williams and Ray Charles.

And if you really want to see me reduced to a mass of quivering protoplasm (to steal a line from my pal Rico Cavatinni) then just play Dark End of the Street done by anybody who did it. For purposes of this post, I’ll link the version by a rich kid from Waycross, Georgia named Gram Parsons who spent most of his short, tortured life at the corner of Williams and Charles.

See, I grew with the mistaken belief that Nashville was the Mecca of all good music. These days, to direct my prayers of gratitude and appreciation to whatever higher being is responsible for the glory of music, I face further west.

Memphis is the center of my musical universe because Memphis, unlike Nashville, got soul.

Gram Parsons knew this. So did Dan Penn and Chip Moman, the two white cats that wrote Dark End of the Street.

Penn, who also wrote the Aretha Franklin classic Do Right Woman, Do Right Man, was knocking around Florence, Ala., when he fell in with a couple of other budding musicians named Billy Sherrill and Rick Hall to form a band called the Fairlanes. Sherrill eventually headed to Nashville where he had a huge hand in writing and producing such standards as Stand By Your Man by Tammy Wynette and He Stopped Loving Her Today by George Jones.

One of his last projects before heading to Nashville was to open a recording studio with Hall and another investor. They dubbed it FAME studios for Florence Alabama Music Enterprises, but the place became legendary for the small town just outside Florence where it relocated after Sherrill split for Nashvile fame.

A town called Muscle Shoals.

In previous research excursions back through musical time and space, I came across Arthur Alexander, whose song You Better Move On I knew from childhood having worn out the Rolling Stones’ album December’s Children (And Everybody’s).

I wasn’t hip enough as a kid to know Arthur Alexander, but there was a guy a half-generation ahead than me living in Liverpool, England who was.

“We were trying to get that bass sound Arthur Alexander was getting in Muscle Shoals,’’ John Lennon said. “We love his records.’’

He loved Arthur Alexander so much the Beatles covered his Anna (Go to Him). The Beatles version was killer, of course, but check out Alexander’s original.

Muscle Shoals, as the story goes, may not have ever got going without the $10,000 Hall earned off the bat from selling You Better Move On to Dot Records in Nashville. The payoff allowed him to move from Florence to Muscle Shoals and build the low cinderblock building in which so much musical magic was made over the years.

The most famous Muscle Shoals’ story is probably about the time Aretha Franklin came to North Alabama to record. The visit ended with the drunken cantankerous Hall brawling with an equally drunken and cantankerous Ted White, Aretha’s husband and manager.

But thankfully, before it came to blows the visit produced I Never Loved a Man and the first takes of Do Right Woman.

It always blew me away checking out the back of the album to see that the musicians making this deep soul music were for the most part white men wearing crew cuts who looked more like Alabama State patrolmen than the hippest of musicians. Only years later would I learn that one was Spooner Oldham, whose funky stylings on the electric piano opened Aretha’s ears and set I Never Loved a Man in motion. Another was a bassist named David Hood, whose son, Patterson Hood, plays in one of my most favorite of contemporary bands, The Drive-By Truckers.

The story of Muscle Shoals is well-documented, so much so that a basketball coach at Wake Forest named Jeff Bzdelik was all excited one day telling me about the documentary he and his wife Nina had watched the night before called Muscle Shoals. Bzdelik, I have to think, might have known music better than coaching basketball.

Rick Hall was born Roe Erister Hall on Jan. 31, 1932. His mother abandoned the family before Hall was five to work in a bordello. His father was a sharecropper who occasionally found work in a sawmill. The family home had a dirt floor with no running water.

Hall’s wife died when a car he was driving crashed in 1956. Two weeks later his father died after a tractor Hall had bought him overturned.

Hall, grief-stricken, spent the next four years drowning in a bottle, not worth shooting, until emerging from the doldrums to set up shop at the corner of Williams and Charles and churn out hits by Arthur Alexander, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Clarence Carter, The Osmonds, Mac Davis, Jerry Reed and countless others.

Grief couldn’t kill Rick Hall. Neither could fisticuffs from Aretha Franklin’s husband or the heartbreak of losing his legendary rhythm section, The Swampers, to their own studio venture in 1969, at the height of all he had going on.

But cancer finally caught up with him and Hall died yesterday. He was 85. The intersection of Williams and Charles is adorn with crepe, but the music, as always, sounds heavenly.