The Lengths Clemson Has Gone to Lose

Throughout my life, I’ve heard that nothing is forever.

Nothing, that is, other than Clemson traveling to Chapel Hill to get beat in basketball.

Clemson made its 59th straight fruitless trip to play North Carolina this week. If that’s not forever, it’s the closest thing the game of college basketball has to offer.

If the Tigers, following last night’s 87-79 setback, managed to beat-feet it out of the Smith Center in rapid order, they may have even made it back down I-85 to the Upstate before the snow got too heavy to make it home.

Think about all the hours Clemson basketball teams have bused up and down I-85 when required to play at Chapel Hill. All of the trips were made in winter, so think of all the lengths the Tigers had to go and the conditions they had to brave.

All just to get beat in basketball.

Being the incorrigible wise-acre everyone knows me to be, I couldn’t resist checking Google map for the distance between Clemson, S.C. and Chapel Hill. The result was 271 miles, which, for these purposes, will be rounded off at 270.

Take 270 and multiple by 2. Teams traveling to Chapel Hill have to get back home.

Now take 540 and multiple it by 59. What we get is 31,860 miles.

The circumference of the earth is 24,901 miles. So for all the miles Clemson traveled to play in Chapel Hill, the Tigers could have headed east and circumnavigated the globe once, and made it all the way to Beijing on their second trip around.

Instead they traveled those 31,860 miles up and down I-85 between Clemson and Chapel Hill. All just to get beat in basketball.

The streak was once far easier to understand than it is today. Throughout the early years of the ACC, Clemson remained little more than fodder for the big guns of the conference such as N.C. State, Duke and, yes, North Carolina.

But let the record book show that Clemson has also brought some good teams to Chapel Hill.

Bill Foster’s 1980 squad won 23 games and made it to the Final Eight.

Cliff Ellis’ 1987 team, led by Horace Grant, the ACC Player of the Year, finished 10-4 in the ACC and won 25 games.

Ellis’ 1990 team, anchored by Dale Davis and Elden Campbell, finished first in the regular season at 10-4, and beat BYU and LaSalle in the NCAA Tournament. I saw them lose to Connecticut 71-70 in the regional semis in the Meadowlands.

Rick Barnes’ 1997 team, featuring Greg Buckner and Terrell McIntyre, won 23 games and beat Miami of Ohio and Tulsa in the NCAA Tournament before losing to Minnesota in double overtime in the Sweet 16.

And all of Oliver Purnell’s last four teams – as well as Brad Brownell’s first – won at least 21 games in what was probably the program’s most sustained run of success. The 2008 team made it all the way to the championship of the ACC Tournament, for the first time since 1962 and only the second time in school history. Those of use gathered in Charlotte thought we were going to see some real history made.

But no. The Tigers lost the title game, 86-81 to who else but North Carolina?

And the Clemson faithful have to know that if all were fair in the world, the Tigers would have won in Chapel Hill. Truth is, they would have won more than once.

As a young pup just starting out, I witnessed two losses that rankle Clemson fans today – as they should.

All this took place in 1974 and 1975, my senior season in college (when I was already working part-time for the local paper) and my first year as a full-time sportswriter.

The 1974 loss was a real travesty. The Tigers were royally screwed in Carmichael Auditorium. They ended up losing 61-60 when, with the game on the line, Jo Jo Bethea was twice called for traveling and the Tigers, as a team, were twice called for three-second violations. The second three-second call was made on Tree Rollins before the Clemson advanced the ball past half-court.

The words Coach Tates Locke used in describing John Russell, one of the ACC’s first black officials, would cause even those reporters covering today’s White House to blanch.

Now anyone who knows ACC basketball knows that Tates Locke was a real beauty. With the help of a way-too-influential booster named B.C. Inabinet Locke cheated his behind off to make Clemson good in basketball. I know this to be true because Locke confessed it all in his autobiography, Caught in the Net.

The book also revealed that Locke was a basket-case coaching basketball by the time he brought his best team to Chapel Hill in 1975. He was chasing speed with scotch and beer, and his life was a wreck. Once, while vacationing on a house boat, he really lost it and ended up choking Charlie Harrison, an assistant coach.

“Tates was having a nightmare,’’ Harrison recalled to Rick Telander of Sports Illustrated. “But it scared me good.’’

The 1975 team might have been the best I ever saw play for Clemson. Rollins was a beast as a sophomore who averaged 13.7 points and 11.7 rebounds. Stan Rome, a freshman, was a talented 6-5 wing who averaged 10.4 points and 4.7 rebounds and shot 53 percent from the floor. Wayne Croft, Colon Abraham and Bethea were all really good players.

But the catalyst was Skip Wise, a burly, street-wise 6-5 freshman guard from Baltimore who tore up the league during his one pass before heading off the the ABA and, eventually prison for the distribution of heroin. Wise, who averaged 18.5 points, was the first freshman named first-team All-ACC.

What I remember best about the 1975 game was Wise backing freshman Phil Ford down in the paint and shooting over him for another basket.

But in the end, what happened was just another variation of what always happens when Clemson plays at Chapel Hill. Walter Davis drilled a 20-foot jumper with 15 seconds left and the Tar Heels pulled out a 74-72 victory.

My favorite recollection of the night occurred afterward, in a cramped hallway as I and other intrepid reporters made their way to the losing locker room to get reaction from Locke and his players.

Those from my era will remember that Carmichael Auditorium was a three-sided arena built into the side of Woollen Gym. The visiting locker rooms were actually in Woollen Gym, down the same hall where the pool was located. There were lockers on both sides of the hall, and benches bolted into the floor for students to sit on and change into their bathing suits with the chlorine fumes wafting all around them.

Even at 22, I thought I knew what to expect from Locke.

But it’s safe to say I was not prepared for the fireworks that followed.

The editor I was working for at the time, a good man named Howard Owen, was into recruiting big-time. And Clemson, at the time, was recruiting Larry Gibson, who, like Wise, was from Baltimore. Unbeknownst to me, Owen had written that Clemson’s chances for Gibson didn’t look good because of the reports coming out of the upstate how Locke and Wise were at loggerheads.

(Gibson, for those who have forgotten, did spurn Clemson to sign with Lefty Driesell and Maryland).

So here stands Tates Locke, jacked up on who knows what, and he has just had his heart ripped out of his chest and stomped a second-straight season in Chapel Hill. And just before he begins his address to all us scribes jammed in around him, he’s handed a clipping of Howard’s column.

Tates’ face gets redder and redder the deeper he reads. And then he asks, in a tone he somehow manages to keep conversational, “Is this man here?’’

I’m looking over Locke’s shoulder and I see Howard’s column mug staring up at me.

“No, he’s not here,’’ I offer.

“Is anybody from this paper here,’’ Locke asks.

Stupid me, but I answered “Yes. I’m from the Chapel Hill Newspaper.’’

“You’re excused,’’ Locke said, again his voice not that much louder than a whisper.

“Huh?’’ I ask.

“You’re excused,’’ Locke repeats, his voice rising like the needle of a thermometer on a Sahara sunrise.

Forty-tree years have passed, so I can’t remember everything Locke screamed at me as I walked back down the hall and around the corner. I do remember something about how Howard Owen had better not write anything like this again, and if he does, how Tates Locke was going to track him down and strangle him til his eyeballs popped out.

Again, I was 22 and in my first season as a full-time sportswriter. I didn’t know at the time what I was getting myself into, but I knew it wouldn’t be boring.

I also knew that some year some Clemson team was going to walk into Chapel Hill and win a game of basketball. I’m retired from the newspaper business these days, and I’m still waiting.

They Didn’t Know About Tommy Bo

From all I’ve heard, scouting reports can be pretty extensive in the NFL, especially in preparation for playoff opponents.

Shame on the Pittsburgh Steelers for not incorporating research taken from the pages of the Winston-Salem Journal into the defensive game plan for yesterday’s divisional matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

I confess that being only a casual fan of pro football, I had lost track of Tommy Bohanon, the fullback/H-back at Wake from 2009 through 20012. I knew that he had caught on with the New York Jets as a seventh-round draft pick, but I had also heard that he got cut in September of 2016, after spending two seasons starting at fullback for the Jets and another mostly on the shelf with a broken collarbone.

So, much to my surprise I looked up yesterday and lo, there was Tommy Bo running all by himself through the Steelers’ secondary to catch a touchdown pass in the Jaguars’ 45-42 victory.

Having covered Tommy Bo for four seasons, and getting to know him well enough to like him, I was glad to see him doing himself proud. His doing so also sparked a recollection from his days at Wake.

I remembered vaguely writing about what a good receiver Bohanon proved to be and I remembered that, for all the weight he was able to throw around in Ethan Reeve’s training room, he had the best hands for a big guy I had ever seen.

All it took was a quick Google search – the same search the Steelers could have easily taken – to pull up the piece I wrote midway through his senior season. Bohanon’s statistics from the 2017 regular season show he caught only six passes for 43 yards, but clearly if the Steelers had looked a little deeper then Tommy Bo wouldn’t have been running all by his lonesome through their secondary en route to a critical fourth-quarter touchdown.

Bohanon, converted from fullback to H-back before his senior season, caught 23 passes for 208 yards as a senior. Five of those catches resulted in touchdowns. Another helped save the Deacons the embarrassment of losing the season opener to Liberty, when his 28-yard reception from Tanner Price in the fourth quarter set up a two-yard plunge from Deandre Martin that proved to be the winning touchdown.

Again, I’m not big expert of pro football, but I could see that Mike Tomlin and the Steelers’ coaching staff were off their game yesterday. Turns out, their problems began before kickoff.

With one quick Google search, they could have known what we know. Watch Tommy Bo out of the backfield.

Moore of the Same

The official Wake Forest game notes for today’s trip to Duke stated that the Deacons had lost 17-straight games in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

That, in itself, is a sad commentary of what was once a great rivalry between two charter ACC schools.

It’s also wishful thinking.

Wake, going into today’s game, had lost 18-straight at Cameron Indoor. I should know. I was there, crammed into the suffocating confines for all 18.

I also had the good fortune of being there for all five victories during Wake’s run of nine-straight wins over Duke back in the 1990s, back when it really was a rivalry. If that seems like ancient history, well, that’s because it is.

Tim Duncan was on the court the last time Wake won at Duke. The same Tim Duncan who retired at the end of 2015-16 after a 19-year Hall-of-Fame NBA career.

Duncan may or may not have been watching on television when Duke extended the streak to 19-straight home victories with today’s 89-71 beat-down. I admit I was. And what I saw was pretty much what we’ve all come to expect when the Deacons travel across Guilford, Alamance and Orange counties to play the Blue Devils in basketball.

I saw one team that may win the national championship. I saw another destined to spend March watching the Dukes of the world play the only games that really matter anymore in college basketball, the ones played in the NCAA Tournament.

Today’s cuffing was mild by the standard set over the past 19 seasons. It wasn’t the good fight Wake waged the past two seasons, losing by eight in 2016 and by five last year. But at least it wasn’t as bloody as the 43-point loss (94-51) in 2015 or the back-to-back 31-point poundings of 1998 (78-47) and 1999 (102-71).

The Deacons actually improved their margin of defeat at Duke over the past 19 trips. The margin had been 19.7 points a game. After today, it’s 19.6 points a game.

Obviously Danny Manning had nothing to do with the first 15-straight losses at Duke. They were before his time.

Instead today’s result is simply another stark reminder of how far the Wake basketball program has plummeted since Skip Prosser’s sudden and shocking death in 2007, and how hard it is to get back to where all college basketball teams want to be.

All college teams want to be relevant outside their own base.

But what has Wake accomplished in basketball since 2010 that would be of any interest whatsoever to anyone sitting in, say, Peoria, Illinois – or anyone, for that matter, who doesn’t bleed black and gold?

Was it making the NCAA Tournament last year, only to get jettisoned before the original field of 64 began play?

If you want to pick the point, OK, I’ll give it to you. Wake was relevant last March. For a couple of days.

Duke didn’t need Mike Krzyzewski – sitting out with what was described as flu-like symptoms – to beat Wake for the 19th-straight time at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The Blue Devils did benefit from a whistle that resulted in them taking 34 free throws, compared to nine by the visitors. And they did benefit from the foul trouble that limited center Doral Moore to only 17 minutes.

But the question I kept asking was what good does having Doral Moore on the court at the offensive end do when Wake goes possession after possession without getting him the ball?

I keep track of two stats while watching Wake these days – the number of stops the Deacons get on defense and the number of times they make an entry-pass to Moore in the post.

The defense had shown improvement since the first of the year, but today Wake managed only 36 stops on 78 Blue Devil possessions. Duke took charge by scoring on 16 of the last 22 times it had the ball in the first half, and put Wake away with points on nine of 10 trips down-floor midway through the second half.

But after hearing Manning mention, repeatedly, how important it is for his big men to get paint-touches, I have to wonder how he feels knowing that in Moore’s 17 minutes today, Bryant Crawford and company found him with an entry pass only six times.

And that was counting the time he found himself ahead of the pack for a fast-break layup.

None of those six times, incidentally, came in the first half, while Duke was gaining control. Maybe the biggest indictment of Wake’s fractured offense, though, was what happened when the Deacons did get Moore the ball three times over the final 3 ½ minutes.

All three passes resulted in dunks, with Moore getting fouled and completing the three-point play on one. So seven of his nine points came after the game had long-since been settled.

By now Doral Moore has to know that if he wants the ball, he needs to go get it off the boards. He has no teammates willing or able to pass it to him.

And by now Manning and his team are filing out of Cameron Indoor and getting ready for the drive back across Orange, Alamance and Guilford counties. For the 19th-straight time, Wake is returning empty-handed.

Following the first 18 of those losses, I made that trip back home as well. And I can remember riding back up I-40 wondering what the hell happened to the Wake basketball program and what it was going to take to make it what it once was?

I’m wondering the same today. The only difference is today I’m wondering that from the comfort of my own home.

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.

Gulp.

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.