Doral: From Bust to Bonanza

Sifting through the sluice pan of another washout Wake basketball season, there’s a remarkable find to be found.

At 7-1, 280-pounds, the nugget is hard to miss.

Doral Moore has turned into a real bonanza.

Through his first two seasons at Wake – and my final two on the beat – I can’t tell you the number of times I was asked why Moore, whose recruiting ranking outranked that of classmate John Collins, wasn’t playing more than 8.4 minutes a game.

My answer was always the same.

Best I can tell, he can’t.

Watching him closely during his brief runs during games, or during the two or three preseason practices opened to the likes of us, I began calling the big guy Tucker. He couldn’t run up and down the court more than two or three times without being totally tuckered out.

Chest a-heaving, hands leaning hard on his knees, Moore would appear on the verge of collapse. The biggest problem I could see was stamina, or lack thereof.

So while willing to assign some of the credit to Ryan Moore, the Deacons’ bearded wonder of a director of athletic performance, Moore’s emergence in his junior season is further confirmation that Danny Manning’s reputation as a stellar coach of big men is deserved.

We figured as much when John Collins, ranked No. 120 by 247sports.com., was the 19th player in the NBA draft after his sophomore season.

To see Moore have his way in last night’s 79-62 victory over Georgia Tech – when he piled up 17 points and 12 rebounds while making eight of 11 shots from the floor – convinced me of Manning’s knowledge and coaching expertise. Even more important, it should also convince any high school center or power forward considering Wake as a way station on their way to the NBA.

The performance was no outlier. It was Moore’s 10th double-double of the season, and his third in a row.

And as for stamina, Moore logged 28 minutes and was still going strong enough to contribute five rebounds and two dunks in the final 10 minutes. Looking back, he’s played more than 28 minutes nine times. For the season, he’s averaging 25 minutes, which is pretty much as many as anyone other than Bryant Crawford.

What has become clear is that with the departure of Collins and Dinos Mitoglou, Manning knew he was going to have to get big minutes from his big man. So – again with the help of Horn – he got him ready for the challenge.

Through 26 games, Moore is averaging 10.8 points and 9.5 rebounds, and it’s worth noting that his numbers are even better (11 points, 11.1 rebounds) against ACC competition. And given that he’s 71 percent from the floor, I’d really love to see him play with a backcourt more capable of getting him the ball in scoring position.

He got five paint-touches in the second half last night, which is not bad, but certainly could be better.

NBA scouts, by now, have to be at least taking a look at Moore. I’ve got to think he’ll have a chance to make a good living in the game at least somewhere on the planet.

Meanwhile, the Deacons, by beating Georgia Tech, improved to 10-16 and 3-11 in ACC play. They finish the regular season against N.C. State (home), Pitt (away), Notre Dame (home) and Georgia Tech (away), a stretch that should spare them the ignominy of finishing dead last in the league.

So what is it with this team?

In Moore, the Deacons have an inside force who would be welcome on pretty much an college roster in the land.

Bryant Crawford, if he keeps on his current pace, will finish among the school’s top-ten all-time for points scored. He already has 1,361, and if he returns for a senior season (and I’ve heard no word that he won’t), he’ll have at least another 36 or so games to play.

Keyshawn Woods is a tough, experienced player with what I consider an old-man’s game. He has been slowed by a nagging knee injury, but has remained a valuable asset off the bench.

Mitchell Wilbekin, who is back in the lineup after also batting injuries, is a grizzled four-year veteran who is shooting 44 percent from 3-point range.

Chaundee Brown, after perplexing us all in the early going, is rapidly getting his feet on the ground and living up to his ranking as the program’s most ballyhooed recruit since Al-Farouq Aminu in 2009. He’s physical and gifted, enough so that I could see him really coming into his own next season.

And the closer I look at Olivier Sarr, I see flashes that suggest he might develop into something worth having.

Granted, none of this adds up to an ACC contender. No one is saying that. But my guess is that in years to come, fans who who still care about Wake basketball will look back and wonder how a team with this much talent spent so much of the season mired in the lower echelons of the league.

I’ve always loved the word synergy because I believe it exists. But if the definition of synergy is the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, what is the antonym?

This season, the antonym is Wake basketball.

How to Cover a Bad Team

If covering a bad college basketball program were easy, anybody could do it.

It takes practice, and few sportswriters in America got more practice at it over the final years of my career.

I readily admit I was spoiled. When I took over the Wake beat in 1992, Dave Odom already had the program up and running to 11-straight post-season appearances. Skip Prosser grabbed the baton in 2001-02 and extended the streak to 16-straight..

Sure I remember the grumbling over how the Deacons, even with the great Tim Duncan, never made it to the Final Four. And when Wake, under Odom, was relegated to three-straight seasons in the NIT, the howls from certain corners were deafening.

Hindsight being 20/20, we can all see now that those were Golden Years for Wake basketball.

All of which made my final seven years on the Wake basketball beat quite a challenge, both personally and professionally. From the time Jeff Bzdelik replaced Dino Gaudio as head coach before the 2010-11 season through today’s 78-70 loss at Syracuse, the Deacons have played 248 games of basketball – of which they have won 103.

The dark ages get even darker when assessing performance against peers. In ACC play, Wake, over that time, is 35-100.

Now covering a good team is not always a gravy train. You may cover Duke, where Mike Krzyzewski only deigns to grant interviews to those on the Blue Devil beat on the 12th.

As in the 12th of Never.

And you also find yourself running with a herd, and having nowhere near the access and cooperation I got under Odom, Prosser, Gaudio and Bzdelik — before Danny Manning, upon taking over before the 2014-15 season, boxed the beat guys off the boards.

But the real drag of covering a bad team was all the negativity and antagonism and downright rancor that bubbles over with each soul-crushing loss. Most of my days as a sportswriter were good ones, but the experience of covering Bzdelik during the days of billboards and an open fanbase revolt will take years to cleanse out of my system.

My best bet is it will take more years than I have remaining. I say that even knowing that most of my mother’s people live into their 90s.

But I did survive the experience, and helping me do so was a line I finally came up with about two or three years into the Bzdelik doldrums. The beauty of the line was it’s not only preemptive, but it also puts the responsibility for what happens on those truly responsible.

Knowing that no one likes to read one negative article after another about them, I began repeatedly making the same request of Bzdelik and his players. Give me something good to write, I told them over and over, and I’m poised, pen and pad and computer at hand. I’m tired of writing the same stuff over and over. Give me something good to write – if nothing else for the sake of variety.

One of my few favorite memories of the doldrums was passing Bzdelik in the hall after the Deacons upended fourth-ranked Duke 82-72 in Joel Coliseum in his fourth-to-last game as head coach.

“You’re always telling me to give you something good to write,’’ Bzdelik crowed. “Well we did tonight.’’

“You sure did,’’ I replied, grinning. “And I’m getting ready to go write it.’’

Sadly, when you’re covering a program as bad as Wake has become, even the good moments have little to do with anybody other than the dwindling few still emotionally invested in the Black and Gold.

So even if I had still been on the beat, and covering today’s game in snowy Syracuse, I could have written about the six-straight 3-pointers Mitchell Wilbekin, Bryant Crawford and Keyshawn Woods nailed to pare a 14-point deficit to 2 with plenty of time remaining. And I could have written how the comeback showed that the Deacons, despite their 12 losses in their past 14 games, have yet to give up on themselves and the season.

And I would have also written how the Deacons lost by giving up points on 22 of Syracuse’s 35-second half possessions, and by not getting Doral Moore – he of the 16 points and 16 rebounds – more than four paint-touches after halftime.

But what would anything I wrote – other than the Deacons’ records of 9-16 overall and 2-11 – really matter? Why would it be relevant to anyone other than, again, the ever-dwindling few still emotionally invested in Wake basketball?

Back in the glory days, I got to know Dick Vitale. When he’d hit town, he’d seek me out, not because of who I was, but because of what I was. I was the Wake beat guy, and Vitale wanted to pick my brain on what was going on with Randolph Childress and Tim Duncan.

Vitale, a beautiful guy who cares about what he does as much as anyone I’ve ever known, rarely made it to Joel Coliseum over the final years of my beat. There was no need.

The hardest part of covering a bad team is that you become as irrelevant as the program you’re covering.

Maybe the day will come when all that changes, when Wake again plays games that really matter. I doubt it will be under Manning, from what I’ve seen in his first 121 games at the helm. But maybe I’ll be wrong, and honestly, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if I were.

Maybe the day will come when Wake gives me something good to write – even if it be from the comfort of my hacienda.

I remain poised, pen, pad and computer in hand.

A Bad Scene and Another Bad Loss

Of the handful of times I followed Wake Forest to Miami during my days as the Winston-Salem Journal’s beat reporter, I never saw an ACC basketball game down there.

The Hurricanes, for the record, joined the conference in 2004-05. But even so the games I covered at what was then known as BankUnited Center did not in any way resemble ACC basketball as I had to come to know it in my long service on the beat.

The stated capacity for BankUnited, known today as Watsco Center, is 7,972, but there was never anywhere close to that for a game against Wake.

Now when Duke or North Carolina hit town, I could see on TV that the place would be rocking.

But not for Wake.

I would arrive in South Florida to find no buzz at all. Miami being a pro town, I’d have to scour the local papers for any mention of the game. The arena would be, at best, two-thirds full and to watch the Deacons play in front of around 5,000 sun-worshipers who had wandered over to Coral Gables reminded me of covering a game in the Southern Conference or, at best, the Colonial Athletic Association.

The downward spiral of both the newspaper industry and the fortunes of Wake basketball led the Journal, by the end of my days there, to save the $800 it would take to cover the Deacons at Miami. Instead we would hire what we call a stringer, a local writer who knew the scene and the game well enough to knock out 600 words and email it in.

And that, as expected, is what the Journal did for Wake’s 87-81 loss last night. I thought for a stringer report, the one filed by Walter Villa, Special to the Journal, was more special than most I’ve read. I did like the way Walter developed the angle between Bryant Crawford of Wake and Chris Lykes of Miami, who were high-school teammates at Gonzaga College High School in D.C.

But watching the game from the comfort of the living room of our hacienda, I wondered how the atmosphere at Watsco Center, or decided lack thereof, was affecting the proceedings.

I do know that Miami could have easily been looking past Wake, which, after all, had lost eight of its previous nine. And I recognize the Hurricanes are probably accustomed to playing in front of sparse, listless crowds.

And I’ve also made mention a couple of times recently how much Wake has improved defensively since December. The latest ACC statistics show that the Deacons rank No. 14 (out of 15 teams) in field-goal percentage defense in all games (.436) but No. 8 in conference games (.439).

Yes I see the percentage has risen, but so has the level of competition.

For all that, the Hurricanes just didn’t look “into it,’’ as we used to say back in the 70s, over the first 25 or so minutes. Keeping track at home, I charted the Deacons getting stops on 18 of Miami’s 33 first-half possession, and on nine of the Hurricanes’ first 13 trips across half-court after halftime.

Then suddenly, without so much as a gale warning, the Hurricanes blew through Wake’s defenses like Irma hitting Homestead. The devastation was such that Miami scored at least one point on 22 of its last 25 possessions.

Teams don’t win on the road in the ACC – or even a facsimile of the ACC – giving up points on 22 of 25 possessions, no matter how many 3-pointers they might hit in the final three minutes to make the score seem at least respectable.

Wake, in Danny Manning’s fourth season as head coach, is a bad team. Just how bad will be determined over this next month as the Deacons try to avoid plunging past Pitt into the conference basement.

A bad team playing bad basketball in front of a bad scene. There are many nights I’m glad to be no longer doing what I did for a living for 40 years.

Last night was certainly one of them.

A Plea For and From My People

It was my people, sad to say, who were largely responsible for the mess we’re in.

So it might well be up to my people to get us out.

My people are the Scots-Irish, the people I knew from birth in the Smoky Mountain town of Franklin, the ones I went to school with and spent my formative years around.

But you don’t have to be from the mountains to be Scots-Irish. We’re everywhere. You may even be one of us.

All of which makes a book by one of us, James Webb, the one-term senator from Virginia, so important to knowing who I am, where I came from and the impact my people have made – and continue to make – on the great American experiment.

Webb, first off, is far too good a writer to be a politician. His work, titled Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America  is a wonderfully compelling read, one I would recommend highly to anyone interested in our country’s history and culture.

Webb traces our lineage to William Wallace of Braveheart fame, and chronicles our pugnacious past from the battle-scarred borders of Scotland and England to the embattled Ulster Plantation of Ireland and on to colonial America, where we couldn’t get along with any of the earlier settlers long enough to be even remotely welcome along the coasts or among established settlements.

So a goodly number of us ended up in the borderlands of the New World, where, originally we were seen as a convenient buffer between those Native Americans disgruntled by the encroachment of Europeans and the colonies’ more refined society. What quickly became evident to those in the power centers of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Richmond, Raleigh and Charleston was that we, the Scots-Irish, could be a bigger pain in the posterior than the Cherokee, Shawnee or Chickasaw.

If you don’t believe it, just read up on the Whiskey Rebellion. Nobody tells a Scots-Irish they can’t make corn whiskey for their own consumption, at least not without a good fight.

We’re, as a people, really good at fighting. It’s in our DNA. Webb, a decorated Marine officer who did himself, his family and his country proud in Vietnam, makes the point repeatedly how an out-sized percentage of Scots-Irish have served in our nation’s military – so often with the kind of distinction Webb himself served.

But what we’re best known for is our independence, self-reliance, strong work ethic and absolute refusal to “bend a knee’’ to an authority we, ourselves, don’t consider worthy of honor or respect. We’re a head-strong breed, one that will follow a leader we trust and respect to the ends of the earth through hell and high water. But let some king, or some lord, or some governor who we don’t know and have never met come along and tell us what we can and can’t do, and they had best be loaded for bear.

Sadly, we can also be known as narrow-minded, jingoistic and even bigoted. All cultures have their unappealing characteristics and it can safely be said that, at least until recent times, education was not one of the Scots-Irish’s priorities.

That’s largely because the Scots-Irish were for the longest time preoccupied with fighting off hostiles in order to scratch out a living in flinty soil.

The conclusion that my people were largely responsible for getting us in the mess we’re in comes from the one of the best magazine articles I’ve ever read. And what makes the 5,000-word piece, written by George Packer and titled Hillary Clinton and the Populist Revolt so amazing is that it was published in The New Yorker a full month before the 2016 election and basically predicted the outcome.

Packer chronicles how the White Working Class, once the traditional base of the Democratic Party, flocked to Donald Trump because it felt abandoned by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic politicians who came before her. Some might feel I’m taking liberties to equate the White Working Class with the Scots-Irish, but I would argue that the overlap of the two entities is such that it makes for a difference without a distinction.

Packer makes the case of how the Democratic Party, my party since birth, lost its moorings after the McGovern debacle of 1972. Instead of continuing to stand up for the working men and women, it hitched its wagon to the rise of the affluent professionals in America, known collectively as “Atari Democrats.’’

By the emergence of Bill Clinton, the center of power in the party had become a coalition of cosmopolitan elite and diversity, one far more concerned with identity and other forms of single-issue politics than how the working people of our country are going to keep a roof over their heads and feed their family.

Even then, plenty of my people, the Scots-Irish, might have remained in the Democratic column if not for the condescension and denigration they felt drizzling down on them from academia, Wall Street and such high concentrations of the cosmopolitan elite as to be found in the publishing, entertainment and media industries.

Packer makes the point that by the 21st century, the only slur acceptable in “polite society’’ was redneck, or perhaps, Bible-thumper. Condescension is toxic to my people. We can smell it from a thousand miles away. When we get spit on, we’ve been conditioned since time immemorial to respond the best way we know how.

Hillary Clinton spit on my people when she complained about the baskets of deplorables. We can debate what exactly she meant, but not where she said it. She said it at a fundraiser on Wall Street, in front of her people.

And as much respect as I have from Barack Obama, clearly a trans-formative figure of American history, he stepped on my people as well with the comment about bitter folks clinging to their guns and their Bibles.

We respond by fighting back. And in 2016, the weapon at our disposal, unfortunately, was the most flawed man in America, Donald Trump.

Today’s Scots-Irish feel abandoned and, worse, roundly denigrated. But I also have to feel that many of my people can see Donald Trump for who and what he is. And I have to feel that if they could see any other politicians as being the least bit concerned about who they are and how they’re doing, then they could be persuaded to vote for their own interests and not those of some fat-cat hedge-fund manager on Wall Street.

Like the one who married Chelsea Clinton.

Not all of them, of course, are gettable. There are those Americans who vote Republican because of Donald Trump. I don’t see many of them changing their stripes. But there are also plenty of Americans who voted Republican despite Donald Trump. And many of them, I have to think, are Scots-Irish.

If even a percentage of them can be peeled away, then I can see a landslide that would deposit Trump and those of his persuasion in the dust-bin of history.

But the last way to convince any of my people to go along is to look down on them, denigrate them, spit on them, call them names.

The Democratic Party has already tried that, and we all see how that worked out.

Show a little respect, the same any culture or people should expect. Otherwise, the only thing you have to lose is the country we’ve always known, one for the people, by the people.

Deacs Fall Playing Hero Ball

The moral of Wake’s 75-67 home loss to 20th-ranked Clemson today is as simple as it is straightforward.

When your team is trailing by four with 40 seconds left and you pull up and take a what-the-hell 3-pointer from 25-feet out – and with 17 seconds left on the shot clock – it might behoove you to make it.

Bryant Crawford took that what-the-hell 25-footer with 17 seconds left on the shot clock and missed, and consequently his Deacons missed a really, really good chance to pull off an upset that would have resulted in their first “winning streak’’ since before Christmas.

The term “hero ball’’ is one that has worked its way into basketball’s lexicon in recent times, and, best I can tell, it’s rarely used as a compliment. Not since the short but eventful run of J.T. Terrell through the program have I seen a Wake player quicker than Crawford to lapse in “hero-ball’’ mode, which would be all well and good if Crawford was known to be money in the clutch.

Of all that Crawford has been known for in his 86-game career, being money in the clutch is not on the list. If it were, the Deacons would have won more than 38 of those 86 games he has been on the floor.

Wake, in many ways, did too many things right to come up once again on the wrong side of the score. For the longest time the defense the Deacons were playing was as good as I’ve seen from a Wake team in I don’t know how long.

These days, as I’ve mentioned, I keep track of Wake’s stops, and the practice has convinced me of the strides the Deacons have made since giving up points to Georgia Southern on 20 of 34 second-half possessions back in November.

Today, Clemson was missing more than the inspiration so plainly evident four nights ago in an 82-78 home victory over North Carolina.

Over the first 43 times the Tigers crossed mid-court with the ball, they managed to score on just 17. The Deacons, meanwhile, were driving hard to the basket, drawing fouls and playing remarkably clean basketball.

If the box score I’m currently perusing is for real, the Deacons played the entire second half without a turnover – a staggering accomplishment for a team that, entering the game, was ranked No. 233 among 351 NCAA Division teams with an average of 14 turnovers a game.

But down the stretch the game resembled losses to Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Clemson, finally finding the basket, scored on 15 of its last 24 possessions and put the game away by outscoring the Deacons 11-3 over the final 3 ½ minutes.

Wake contributed to Clemson’s end-game flurry by fouling the Tigers on six of their last eight possessions. Crawford did his bit by fouling Marcquise Reed – who just happened to be one of the ACC’s best free-throw shooters (86 percent) – on a 3-point attempt in front of the Clemson bench with 3:39 remaining.

Wake led 64-63 when Crawford sent Reed to the line for three. Reed made two and the Tigers led the rest of the way.

But Wake still had a shot, and a pretty good shot at that, even after a basket by Reed extended the Clemson lead to 69-65. David Skara missed for Clemson on the next possession, Doral Moore rebounded and Wake crossed mid-court with just less than minute remaining.

Many teams have rallied from four points down in the final minute, so the situation wasn’t even all that dire. But whatever play or set the Deacons had planned broke down, Crawford found himself with the ball 25 feet from the basket and he decided it was as good as time as any – even, again, with 17 seconds left on the shot clock – to play a little hero ball.

Good teams find a way to win. Bad teams find a way to lose.

Wake, at 9-14 overall and 2-9 against ACC competition, is a bad team.

Wake Shows What a Team Can Do

A collection of players, as Wake spent January proving, does not in itself constitute a team.

January is an interminable month, made even more so this year for anybody wondering when the Wake basketball team would ever live up to its billing by playing like an actual team. The answer finally came last night, only a couple of hours before the calendar turned to February.

The Deacons played like a team to beat Florida State 76-72 last night at Joel Coliseum, snapping a seven-game losing streak dating to a Jan. 3 home victory over Syracuse.

They didn’t play like a great team, or even necessarily like a really good team. Their offense produced only four field-goal attempts for Doral Moore, a 7-1 center shooting 72 percent from the floor and their defense had no answer for power forward Phil Cofer, who poured in 23 points.

And when they had a chance to make things easier for themselves down the stretch, they declined. Bryant Crawford, who makes 89 percent of his free throws, missed two in a row with 3:42 left and freshman Olivier Sarr missed a pair 30 seconds later.

But they did recover to make five of their final six. And that proved to be the difference when the Seminoles, for some reason coach Leonard Hamilton himself had to be wondering about, kept sending the Deacons to the line over the final three minutes.

That’s the whole point of this piece. A team doesn’t always have to play great. And no team ever plays a perfect game. But if a team plays like a team – for all its flaws – it more times than not stands a chance to win.

Other teams will make mistakes, if given the chance. A collection of players rarely gives the opponent that chance. A team will.

Crawford proved once again how indispensable he is to the Deacons’ fortunes. He still made a blind pass or two that resulted in fast-break layups for the Seminoles, and he did whiff on the two aforementioned free throws with 3:42 to go.

But just like no team ever plays perfect basketball, nor does any one player. And on this night, Crawford, playing under control, was a critical asset for Wake while contributing 19 points, 7 assists and 3 rebounds.

He more closely resembled the Bryant Crawford who finished the regular-season last March with a flourish instead of the Bryant Crawford who spent his his previous three games missing 20 of 31 shots from the floor and committing 20 turnovers while contributing only 13 assists – all while barking at teammates when bad, inevitably, slid into worse.

Last night, while he was coming out of a timeout, I could have sworn I saw him actually smile. It was something I hadn’t personally seen in awhile, and the smile looked good on him.
The team statistics that should be most heartening to any Wake fan have to be the 15 assists on 25 made field goals and the 28 free throws the Deacons attempted. In the loss at Lousville, Wake had 12 assists on 29 field goals and attempted 16 free throws. In the loss at Duke, it had 11 assists on 27 field goals and attempted 13 free throws.

The improved ratio of assists to field goals at least suggested that the ball was moving better last night, and indeed, it appeared to be. And the 28 free throws attempted at least suggested that the Deacons were making an effort to drive the ball to the basket instead of relying on jump shots.

Those are all signs that the message coach Danny Manning has to be preaching to his team, on this night at least, finally got through. Whether it will again fall on deaf ears this Saturday against Clemson remains to be seen.

And incidentally, anyone wondering about the physical state of senior guard Mitchell Wilbekin – although at this point I don’t know why one would – your guess is as good as mine. The only mention of Wilbekin’s injury in the pregame notes is that Wilbekin missed the Louisville game “due to injury.’’

Wilbekin showed up at Louisville wearing a boot on his left foot and relying on crutches. The release did not reveal the nature of his injury, or when he might return.