While the fans of their natural rivals prepare to watch the only games that really matter in modern college basketball, the fans at Wake are left to watch only another player leave their program.
While fans at North Carolina, Duke and N.C. State gather around the TV to cheer on their teams in the NCAA Tournament, those fans still invested in the fortunes of Wake basketball are digesting the news that Donovan Mitchell will transfer and debating what that means.
In itself, it’s no staggering blow. Mitchell showed promise as a sophomore, particularly as a shooter capable of making 43 percent of his shots from 3-point range. But he played only 11.3 minutes a game and averaged 2.9 points and 2.2 rebounds.
If there’s a concern, it should be over the trend that appears to be accelerating coming out of Danny Manning’s fourth season as head coach.
The way I see it, as I wrote back on Feb. 27, there’s two ways of building a competitive college basketball program in today’s times.
A coach can recruit the best players available, and hope to get the most out of them before they bolt for the pros. That’s how Mike Krzyzewski has Duke back in the hunt for a sixth national title, and why I think Kentucky is one of the real sleeper teams in the NCAA Tournament field.
Or a coach can recruit good players he feels will fit his program, keep them around long enough to coach them up, and forge a tough, smart, battle-hardened unit capable of conquering the college basketball world. And that’s how Tony Bennett of Virginia conquered the ACC in 2017-18.
The problem for Manning, as I wrote a few weeks back, is that he has found himself caught betwixt and between.
He has yet to land the kind of players that change the direction of a program the day they arrive. And he keeps losing players who might, at some point along the way, help pull the Deacons out of their customary spot among the lower echelons of the ACC.
By my count, Manning has recruited 14 freshman to Wake. Two, John Collins and Dinos Mitoglou, have left the program for the pros. No one should blame the players or Manning for that. If anything, that’s a compliment to Manning for helping to make Collins and Mitoglou millions.
But that still leaves 12 players. And of that dozen, five (Rondale Watson, Cornelius Hudson, Samuel Japhet-Mathias, Rich Washington and Mitchell) have either on their own volition or not departed for the next step on their basketball journeys.
One, Mitchell Wilbekin, concluded his career at Wake. So the question that looms over the program is, of the remaining half-dozen (Bryant Crawford, Doral Moore, Brandon Childress, Olivier Sarr, Chaundee Brown and Melo Eggleston) how many will be suiting up for the Deacons to start Manning’s fifth season at the helm?
And will those remaining, along with the incoming class of Jaylen Hoard, Isaiah Mucius, Sharone Wright, Jr. and Jamie Lewis and anybody Manning might be able to land on the open grad-transfer market, be enough to pull the program out of the doldrums it has wallowed in these past eight years?
Dave Odom turned the program around with the influx of such talents as Rodney Rogers and Randolph Childress. So I’ve seen it done at Wake. And maybe we will see it next year from somebody like Hoard or Mucius. We can only hope so.
These have been disappointing times for a once-proud Wake basketball program. Increasingly, I’m seeing that disappointment turn into despair.
And once a program reaches the point of despair, something drastic has to be done if nothing more for the sake of those folks with any hope left to invest.
I stumbled across another indicator that does not bode well for the immediate future of Wake basketball. It reared its ugly head after I got to wondering during Virginia’s march through the ACC just where the Wahoos’ coach, Tony Bennett, would rank among the best coaches in the history of the ACC.
As I’m wont to do when my mind wanders in such directions, I decided to devise a formula and plug in such variables as wins and losses and championships and awards and try to arrive at the conclusion in as objective a manner as possible.
I’m actually pretty excited about the project, which I’m anxious to share with you in days to come.
But one conclusion I reached, is that the list of great coaches in the ACC is actually pretty exclusive. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the great coaches such as Krzyzewski and Dean and Roy and Bubas weed the others out. You have to be a great coach to even stay in the ACC long enough to make your mark.
And when two programs win 38 of the 65 conference championships to be won, that doesn’t leave many for everybody else.
The 15 I would include in my own personal Hall of Fame of ACC coaches are Krzyzewski, Smith, Roy Williams, Vic Bubas, Frank McGuire, Gary Williams, Bennett, Terry Holland, Norm Sloan, Everett Case, Dave Odom, Bobby Cremins, Bones McKinney, Lefty Driesell and Jim Valvano. By my calculations, no one else is close.
And while composing my list, a realization struck me between the eyes. Some of these coaches might have lost early in their tenures at a particular school, but they didn’t lose for long. A great coach might get beat up on for awhile, but a great coach will not allow himself or his program to get beat up on year after year.
And it’s going to take a great coach to again make Wake a contender in the ACC.
Danny Manning, for all I can glean, will enter his fifth season as Wake’s head coach in 2018-19. Except for the brief and partial respite of 2016-17, when Wake finished 10th in the regular season and was eliminated from the First Four of the NCAA Tournament, ACC teams have been beating up on Manning and the Deacons with impunity.
How long will that last?
How long will that be allowed to last?