Wake Caught Betwixt and Between

So Rich Washington announced he is leaving Wake, and he did so in the thoroughly modern manner.

He posted on Instagram.

Washington is a long 6-6 sophomore wing with what looks like a smooth left-handed shot, but he was too much of a stick figure to command much playing time. He did log 17 minutes of mop-up “action” as a freshman, but experienced a setback with an injured arm and has yet to appear this season as a sophomore.

So the news that he’s bolting for whatever greener patch he can find is, in itself, small potatoes.

But it does contribute to a trend is rapidly turning into one stuffed super spud for a program that continues to lose players almost as fast as it can bring them in.

Most people agree that, these days, there are two ways to get and stay good in college basketball.

You can either go the route of Duke, Kentucky and Kansas and recruit the best players available knowing full well they will probably leave for the pro game after one season. And of course that requires the rinsing and repeating of recruiting another loaded class the next.

My long-time pal Ed Hardin of the Greensboro News and Record wrote a really good column a few weeks back on how coaching an AAU all-star team season after season must be souring the stomach of Mike Krzyzewski, the greatest coach in the history of the college game whose Duke Blue Devils lost another tough one last night at Virginia Tech.

The other method is practiced by the likes of Virginia, Villanova, Xavier, Gonzaga and Purdue. They’ve proven you can be as good – if not better — than anybody by recruiting the right players, keeping enough of them around in this day of rampant attrition and developing them into major contributors by their third, fourth or fifth year in the program.

I looked it up this morning. Virginia, ranked No. 1, is starting a redshirt senior (Devon Hall), a senior (Isaiah Wilkins), a redshirt junior (Jack Salt) and two sophomores (Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome). At Xavier, ranked No. 3, Chris Mack has gone for the most part with a two seniors (Trevon Blueitt and J.P. Macura), a junior (Kaiser Gates) and two sophomores (Quentin Goodin and Tyrique Jones).

Villanova, ranked No. 4, is regularly starting three redshirt juniors (Eric Paschall, Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth), a junior (Jalen Brunson) and a redshirt freshman (Omari Spellman).

Gonzaga, ranked No. 7, is regularly starting a redshirt senior (Johnathan Williams), a senior (Silas Melson), a redshirt junior (Josh Perkins), a sophomore (Killian Tillie) and a redshirt freshman (Zach Norvell, Jr).

Purdue, ranked No. 8, is regularly starting four seniors (Dakota Mathias, P.J. Thompson, Vincent Edwards and the gone-but-not-forgotten Isaac Hass) along with a sophomore (Carsen Edwards).

And to look closer to home, North Carolina, ranked No. 9 has gone most often with a two seniors (Joel Berry and Theo Pinson), a grad transfer (Cameron Johnson), and two juniors (Luke Maye and Kenny Williams). And that’s one season after winning a national championship with three seniors (Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Nate Britt) and a junior (Justin Jackson) playing key roles.

Wake’s chronic problem, meanwhile, is that Danny Manning’s program has found itself caught betwixt and between. Manning, in his four seasons at the helm, has not recruited players capable of making an immediate splash, nor has he been able to keep enough of his players in the program long enough to develop them into the kind of players who could play regularly for first-division ACC programs.

The problem, of course, started with Manning’s infamously ill-fated predecessor. In his four years as head coach, Jeff Bzdelik pinned the program’s rebuilding hopes on 16 scholarship freshmen, of which a grand total of three (Travis McKie, Devin Thomas and Codi Miller-McIntyre) played their final college games for Wake.

Manning was expected, if nothing else, to establish some stability to the turmoil. Unfortunately for the long-suffering Wake fanbase, it really hasn’t worked out the way everyone hoped.

Manning, over his first four years, has either brought in or (in the case of Rondale Watson) kept around 14 scholarship freshman. Of that total, Washington was the sixth to either leave or be asked to leave. And who would be surprised if a player like Melo Eggleston were fair behind?

More to the point, who would shed a tear if Eggleston – who has played all of 19 minutes against ACC competition – were to join the exodus?

A common defense I’ve heard of Manning is that he is a good recruiter. But saying isn’t making it so.

I’ll willing to believe it only if the likes of Bryant Crawford, Doral Moore, Chaundee Brown and Olivier Sarr prove capable of holding their own in ACC play next year, and the program gets a huge boost from the incoming class of Jaylen Hoard, Isaiah Mucius, Jamie Lewis and Sharone Wright.

It’s a ballyhooed class all right, every bit as ballyhooed as Bzdelik’s first class of McKie, J.T. Terrell, Carson Desrosiers, Tony Chennault and Melvin Tabb. And we all remember how that worked out.

So we’ll see and we’ll all see together.

We witnessed a rare occasion on Saturday, when a fourth-year senior, Mitchell Wilkbekin, played for Wake on Senior Day. He was only the fourth to do so since the dark ages descended on the program in 2010-11.

If Senior Day remains a time for Wake to honor walk-ons and grad transfers, then the Deacons are destined to remain where they are today.

So long Rich Washington. We hardly knew you.

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