The next best thing to winning, as I’ve always said, is to lose with a good excuse.
Ron Wellman should come up with a better excuse for the sorry state of the Wake basketball program than the one he gave Conor O’Neill for the piece now running in the Winston-Salem Journal.
After eight years, that’s the best he could do? That Wake is the 14th seed at the ACC Tournament because two players left for the pros before graduation? That the team fights hard but just can’t get over hump, perhaps for reasons more mental than physical?
People there tell me there were at least 10,000 people in Joel Coliseum on a sunny February Saturday afternoon to see a Wake team going nowhere play Notre Dame. To me, that’s impressive. It also tells me that those fans who have stuck with Wake through the wreckage of a once-proud program deserve better than they’re getting from those responsible.
I understand that there’s only so much Wellman can say to Conor, particularly at this time, with the year-end review coming up after the ACC Tournament. But the fans have been waiting for answers for eight years now, with nothing more to show for their patience than a 10th-place finish in the ACC last season followed by a flameout to Kansas State in the First Four in Dayton.
Sure coach Danny Manning got a bad break when John Collins turned to the NBA after his sophomore season and Dinos Mitoglou bolted for his homeland of Greece after his junior campaign. The timing of Mitoglou’s departure – in late summer – made his loss more of a blow.
But it’s no news flash to say that teams in the ACC lose players to the pros. Last spring, lest we forget, 12 ACC players with eligibility remaining left for the pros. Six were drafted before Collins went to Atlanta as the 19th pick.
Other teams to lose players with eligibility remaining were Duke, Florida State, N.C. State, Louisville, North Carolina and Syracuse. Duke, in fact, lost four, and Florida State and North Carolina two each.
None of those teams are 4-14 in conference play and 11-19 overall. All will enter the ACC Tournament starting tomorrow with something remaining to play for instead of having to win it all to extend the season past the next loss.
To win in the ACC, a program all but has to have players good enough to be drafted with eligibility remaining. So if your excuse for losing is that a player left early, you should be running or coaching a program in the Atlantic 10, or maybe the Sun Belt Conference.
And again, losing Mitoglou in late July was a bad break. But let’s remember who Dinos Mitoglou is, or was. He averaged 8.9 points and 6.1 rebounds and was, by most assessments, a liability on defense. We’re not talking Darius Songaila here, and we’re certainly not talking Al-Farouq Aminu.
As I’ve mentioned, Mike Brey of Notre Dame got a bad break when Bonzie Colson missed almost all of the ACC regular season with a broken foot. And Brad Brownell of Clemson got a bad break when Donte Granthan, a senior forward with 95 games of experience, was lost for the last month and a half with a torn knee ligament.
The injury to Coleman, as well as the one to Matt Farrell that cost him five games, did cause Notre Dame to have a down season. A down season at Notre Dame is 18-13 overall, 8-10 in the ACC and a 10th seed to the ACC Tournament.
If Wake were 18-13 and 8-10 and seeded 10th, I wouldn’t be wasting your time writing what I’m writing now.
As I’ve written before, the NCAA allows all Division I programs 13 scholarships. Brey kept his team in the hunt for post-season play by reaching down his bench to find the likes of Martinas Geben, Elijah Burns, John Mooney and Nikola Djogo.
You play with who you have and Manning, in his four years as head coach, hasn’t stockpiled enough good players to overcome the loss of two others. That’s on him, and no one else.
Manning, I have to think, will be the head basketball coach at Wake next season. Wellman hired him, and Wellman is a proud man. He’s also the proud man who subjected Wake fans to four years of Jeff Bzdelik. He’s going to give Manning every chance to prove that he hasn’t whiffed twice in a row.
But I don’t see how anybody could say that Manning has done enough to deserve that fifth year. And if next season is not make-or-break, then Ron Wellman will continue doing an egregious disservice to those still invested in the fortunes of Wake basketball.