Another Book Destined to Gather Dust

Syracuse, before tonight, had never won an ACC Tournament game in three tries.

Which tells us only that it took the Orange that long to play Wake in the ACC Tournament.

Let the record show that at around 9:09 p.m. on Tuesday, March 6, 2018, the Deacons closed the book on another basketball season and put it on the shelf. Historians may find the need to pull it down from time to time for one reference or another, but I imagine most fans reading this would probably just as soon forget it’s there.

What would, after all, be worth remembering? Certainly not the 11-20 overall record, or the 4-15 mark against fellow ACC schools.

Oh yeah, my bad. Bryant Crawford did get an honorable mention for All-ACC.

And what can we say about the way it ended — with a 73-64 loss – that hasn’t been said in so many of the previous setbacks?

Yes, the Orange did need the win badly for its NCAA Tournament hopes, after losing four of its final six down the stretch of the regular season to fall to 19-12 and 8-10.

And yes the Orange were playing in Brooklyn in front of what was described as a generous and adoring home-state crowd.

But again, what Syracuse had going for it most of all was the opportunity to play Wake. Teams have to relish that opportunity, just as they did for all four seasons Jeff Bzdelik was head coach and now for three of the four with Danny Manning at the helm.

You know that if you play Wake, at some point or another Wake is prone to stop playing.

The Deacons kept playing offense tonight, scoring on seven straight possessions to pull to 62-56 with 1:24 remaining.

Problem is, they had long since checked out on defense. Syracuse, one of the most offensively challenged teams in the ACC, scored on its final eight possessions to keep the Deacons at arms’ length.

For the half, the Orange scored on 21 of the 33 times they crossed half-court with the basketball, shooting 67 percent (12-for-18) over the final 20 minutes.

But none of the last eight Wake teams have been adept at keeping the opponent from scoring, so why should this one be any different?

Opponents also have the luxury of knowing they don’t have to worry about stopping Doral Moore, the 7-1 center. No one does that better than Moore’s teammates.

Moore, whose 69 percent field-goal accuracy would lead the league if he had enough attempts, got five shots from the floor tonight. He appears to have hit the wall physically, to the point he logged only 23 minutes tonight. But in the final game of his junior season, Doral Moore contributed 7 points and 4 rebounds.

By my count, he touched the ball once in the second half off a pass from a teammate – which resulted in a dunk that pulled Wake to 60-48.

To be the force he should be as a senior, he’s going to have to get in better shape and he’s going to have to get better teammates more willing to share the basketball.

My good friend Wes Durham, along with color analyst Cory Alexander, made the case for Danny Manning’s fifth year with 4 ½ minutes remaining. And from everything I know, it appears Manning will get that fifth year, despite his 52-72 overall record and 21-56 mark against those ACC teams he was hired to compete against.

Maybe the rosy scenario they painted will be realized. Maybe the Deacons of 2018-19 will be the Clemson of 2017-18, the team of veterans who got tired enough of losing that they found a way to win. Maybe all three scholarship juniors, Moore, Crawford and Keyshawn Woods (1-for-9 from the floor tonight) will return. Maybe sophomores Brandon Childress and Donovan Mitchell and freshmen Chaundee Brown and Olivier Sarr will show vast improvement.

Maybe the program will get a major influx of talent from the incoming class of Jaylen Hoard, Isaiah Mucius, Sharone Wright and Jamie Lewis.

Wake fans can always wish and hope. They certainly have enough practice.

So the book has been closed on Manning’s fourth season, the one that began with consecutive losses to Georgia Southern, Liberty and Drake and ended with seven losses in the final nine games. Another season ended at the ACC Tournament before the other three ACC teams from North Carolina even arrived.

It’s a book that’s destined to gather dust, just like the ones next to it on the shelf.

But did I mention that Bryant Crawford got an honorable mention for All-ACC?

Brey Lives to Play Another Day

Mike Brey is a really good guy, a throwback to a time when college basketball coaches and those who covered their teams cared as much for each other as circumstances would allow.

I can’t say that I ever got to know him well, but many of my sportswriting compadres in North Carolina did when Brey was Mike Krzyzewski’s assistant at Duke from 1987-1995.

Brey somewhere along the way learned the same lesson as Jim Grobe. Be a decent person and treat everybody well and nobody will ever have anything bad to say about you.

Nobody I know who covered Duke during those days has anything bad to say about Mike Brey. And I loved hearing the story recently how Bill Cole, with whom I worked for going on 40 years at the Winston-Salem Journal, caught up with Brey when Notre Dame visited North Carolina a couple of weeks back.

Cole and Barry Jacobs, another long-time pal who knew Brey well from his days at Duke, drifted down to the Notre Dame locker room after the game. And when Brey emerged, the three of them stood around and talked like old friends.

Brey wanted to know how everybody back along Tobacco Road was doing, and at no time seemed in a hurry to take off.

Mike Brey is a dying breed in this day when most interactions a sportswriter has with coaches are at the infernal “availabilities.’’ By the time I retired in August, I was long-past done with “availabilities.’’

I find myself these days rooting for the coaches who I know to be good guys, which is why I had so much invested in today’s under-card game between Brey’s Irish and hapless Pitt. So I was able to breathe a sigh of relief when Notre Dame pulled out an horrendous unsightly 67-64 victory in today’s first round of the ACC Tournament.

Bonzie Colson is also one of my favorite ACC players, which is all the more reason I regretted my stoopid mistake of yesterday’s blog by calling him Bonzie Coleman. Stoopid me. But going into the tournament, I thought it would be a great story if Colson’s return would help lift the Irish into the NCAA Tournament.

Maybe the Irish still have to beat Virginia Tech tomorrow night to get the bid. I don’t know. Nobody knows, and nobody will until Sunday’s Selection Show, if then.

I do know Colson and the Irish face a tall order against Virginia Tech, and I have to wonder how much Colson, after missing 15 games with a broken foot, will have left in his legs. The Hokies won’t play with the same snail’s pace as the Panthers, so there’s a chance they’ll run Notre Dame out of The Barkley Center.

But I’d love to see the Irish make the Dance, for reasons other than it should give the ACC one more representative.

Tim Brando and Mike Gminski were discussing the future of Pitt coach Kevin Stallings, who I never got to know. But I’ll never forget my first impressions of the man, dating to March 14, 2000. It was Stallings’ first season as head coach at Vanderbilt, and Dave Odom’s Wake Forest squad was sent to Nashville to play the Commodores in the first round of the NIT.

When we hit Nashville, the papers were full of the Commodores griping how they felt they should have been invited to the NCAA Tournament, and how they were screwed to be relegated to the NIT. It had to make me wonder about their state of mind going against a suddenly-hot Wake team that had won three of its last four games.

Well Vanderbilt gave the Deacons a real game in the first half. But once Wake got a leg up early in the second half, the Commodores were done.

What I saw that game was a team and a coach who gave up on each other. The benches at that old barn known as Memorial Coliseum were along the base line and I’ll never forget Stallings standing there, arms folded, a disgusted look on his face, steadfastly refusing to call to.

The season was over in his mind and he was not about to prolong it any further.

Given Stallings’ 35-37 record in his final four seasons at Vanderbilt, I was stunned to see him hired by Pitt after Jamie Dixon flew the coop back to his alma mater of TCU. And Stallings’ 4-32 record against the ACC hasn’t exactly made me rethink my position.

During halftime, I checked out the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to find what I expected. Stallings’ future at Pitt is a ripe topic of discussion in the Steel City. Heather Lyke, Pitt’s director of athletics, addressed it recently on a local radio show.

A potential snag is Stallings’ buyout, which, according to reports I’ve seen, is in the neighborhood of $10 million.

Stallings, after today’s loss, was asked whether he felt he had to sell the powers that be at Pitt on his vision for the program to get a third season as head coach.

“I doubt it,’’ Stallings responded. “And I think they know what my vision is. I think that’s already been communicated. I doubt if that is really something that plays into it.’’

What we do know is that Stallings is done for the season and Brey has lived to play another day. Good things happen to good people.

New Day Calls for New Way

If only I could remember what I felt like waking up on Saturday, March 9, 1974 but I can’t. Way too long ago.

I do know I was a senior in college and I know I had to be excited out of my 21-year-old mind. N.C. State, en route to its first national title, was playing Maryland that night in the finals of the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, and, by golly, I was going.

Not only was I going, I was set to sit courtside to watch such Titans as David Thompson, Tommy Burleson and Monte Towe for State and Tom McMillen, John Lucas and Len Elmore for Maryland go at it with it all on the line.

It wasn’t really fair that I was going and sitting courtside. But the ingenuously named Chapel Hill Newspaper, the paper I was working for, had only two full-time writers, Ladd Baucom and Mark Whicker. And it so happens that while the CHN was an afternoon paper five afternoons a week, our Sunday edition came out in the morning.

And as such, somebody who knew far more than me had to stay behind and edit the copy, write the headlines and probably paste the type up on the dummies. Whicker, who had attended the first two days, knew how to do it. I didn’t.

The shame of it all is that Mark — the guy whose seat I took – is one of the best sportswriters I’ve ever known, a fast friend from Reidsville who went on to make a real name for himself with the Winston-Salem Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Philadelphia Daily News, the Orange County Register and his current gig with the LA Daily News/LA News Group.

But if Mark couldn’t be there, then somebody had to.

So it just so happens that the first game I ever saw at the ACC Tournament turned out to be what is universally considered the greatest game in ACC history. N.C. State was ranked No. 1 in the country, having won 32 straight conference games. Maryland was ranked No. 5.

But only one would advance to the NCAA Tournament in a day that only one team from a conference received a bid. The Pack of those days always figured out a way to win, as they did that night by outlasting the Terps 103-100 in overtime.

For the next 42 years I attended the ACC Tournament hoping to see something that good again. I followed My Elusive Dream, as the song goes, from Greensboro to Landover back to Greensboro back to Landover to Atlanta back to Greensboro back to Atlanta back to Greensboro back to Landover back to Greensboro back to Atlanta to Charlotte back to Greensboro back to Charlotte back to Atlanta back to Charlotte back to Greensboro to Washington back to Greensboro to, of all places, Tampa back to Charlotte back to Atlanta back to Greensboro back to Atlanta back to Greensboro and back to Washington.

I saw some unforgettable games while chasing that dream, the most memorable to me being Randolph Childress’ legendary performance while leading Wake past arch-rival North Carolina in 1995 to the Deacons’ first conference title in 33 years.

But for all the miles I traveled and all the thousands, if not millions, of words I wrote, I never saw a game to match my first. And by the time the NCAA Tournament expanded in 1975 to include more than one team from a conference I realized I probably never would.

When the tournament moved to Brooklyn last season, I had been chasing that dream long enough. Old, worn down and still recovering from shoulder surgery, I passed.

What I realized while missing my first tournament since 1974 was that I really didn’t miss it all that much. Yeah I missed hanging out with so many good friends, particularly the all-night hell-raising sessions in the beer-drenched hospitality rooms. I missed the excitement of championship Saturday night or Sunday and I missed the dove bars and free sodas and popcorn.

But today it’s just different. I promised myself when I retired I would not be an old curmudgeon grousing about how nothing today is as good as it was back in “my time,’’ but there are some days it’s harder to keep that promise than others.

Today I’m happy to be watching from the comfort of my hacienda, drinking my own adult beverages and texting with friends all around the country – some of them on site in Brooklyn.

Here’s hoping you’ll hang out at least part of the week with me, and lend me your thoughts on the proceedings. I did this last year while still with the Winston-Salem Journal, and had a blast.

I’ll be paying particular attention, of course, to tonight’s game between Wake and Syracuse. I’ll be curious if the Deacons make it to Brooklyn in spirit as well as body, but they look for all the world like a team that packed it in weeks ago.

Predictions were never my thing as a working sportswriter (I know, I know, contradiction of terms), but I was coerced into coming up with one before the 2012. That’s the year I picked Florida State and even wrote a song about it that I posted on my original blog My Take on Wake.

The Seminoles, sure enough, roared to their first title and when word of my prediction made its way to the FSU fan base, I swear for a week there I could have been elected mayor of Tallahassee. Of course that would have require relocating to Tallahassee.

So what the hell? I might as well dip my quill once again in the ink of prognostication just for fun. And what fun is it to pick Virginia or Duke, the two favorites? Personally I’m picking State to knock off Clemson and then lose to Virginia in one side of the bracket and Miami upending Duke in the other.

And just for smiles, I’m picking Miami to win it all with Chris Lykes, the 5-7 freshman pepper pot, being named Most Outstanding Player.

In case you’re wondering, I expect Wake to be headed home tomorrow after losing to the Cuse tonight.

But that’s just my two-cents worth and I’d love to hear yours.

Let’s do this thing. Tip off in 10 minutes.

Wake Fans Deserve Better

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.

Some payoff.

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.

The Value of Experience

The Wake basketball program is crying out loud for experience on the coaching staff.

Long before today’s altogether ignominious 64-56 loss at Georgia Tech, that cry became a primal scream.

For awhile there I thought that Tech was going to out-Wake Wake and lose a game that should never be lost. But in the end, the Deacons proved once again that no team around is more adept at tripping over their own shoelaces with victory in its grasp than Danny Manning’s fourth edition.

It’s what the Deacons do.

To do so today, the Deacons had to turn the ball over 22 times, force one ill-considered shot after another and act like they’ve never even been introduced to Doral Moore, the 7-1 center averaging a double double in conference play who got all of five second-half touches in the paint off passes from teammates.

One would think that with Ben Lammers, Tech’s senior center, saddled throughout the game by foul trouble, then the strategy would be a steady stream of passes to Moore in the post. Whoever might think that hasn’t been watching Wake basketball.

One would also think that if Ron Wellman and the other powers that be at Wake are going to climb out on a limb far enough to hire a head coach with all of two years of head coaching experience, they would at least see to it that the newbie had an experienced old hand at his side on the bench.

One would think they would see to it that the staff had a guy like Ernie Nestor, whose 41 years spent on a college bench included two stints at Wake, and 11 seasons as a head coach at George Mason and Elon.

Or maybe a guy like Trent Johnson at Louisville, whose 31 years of college coaching experience (20 spent as a head coach at Nevada, Stanford, LSU and TCU) has helped guide David Padgett through his first season at the helm.

Or maybe, just maybe, like the guy sitting courtside today watching Wake lose for the 14th time in 18 conference games and wrestle the 14th seed in the ACC Tournament from the Jackets.

I was lucky enough in my time as Wake beat reporter for the Winston-Salem Journal to get to know Dave Odom well enough to call him a good friend. So I was glad to find him calling the game today alongside Bob Rathbun, one of the friendliest play-by-play announcers to ever find his way to Joel Coliseum.

All of which got me to thinking. Could the answer to at least one of Wake’s many problems be so close at hand?

Randolph Childress remains the all-time favorite athlete I covered at Wake, but for all his drive and will, he still has only five years of experience as a college basketball coach. He sits beside Steve Woodberry, who has 12 years of coaching experience in college, who sits beside Jamill Jones, who has five years of coaching experience in college.

Added to the 11 years Manning has spent coaching college basketball, Wake has a grand total of 33 years of college coaching experience on the staff.

Kevin Keatts, whose staff at N.C. State also has a total of 33 years, has proven that experience doesn’t have to be essential. But a closer look at the Pack staff reveals James Johnson, a veteran of 18 seasons on a college bench who spent two of those seasons as head coach at Virginia Tech.

I know Odom well enough to know he loves Wake. So I know he had to be biting his tongue hard watching today’s travesty, though he did mention repeatedly how Wake should be getting the ball inside to the big guy and how that missed layup by Brandon Childress going one-on-five with 12 seconds remaining was probably not the right shot to take.

My favorite comment from the day, the one that had me laughing out loud, came when Wake committed one of its 22 turnovers.

“Those turnovers would be driving me absolutely crazy,’’ Odom remarked.

A smart man can learn a lot from a lifetime of coaching basketball, and no one I know knows more basketball than Dave Odom. He’s also pretty good at coaching the game, as his 240-132 record over his 12 seasons at Wake would attest.

What I don’t know is whether Odom would consider a spot on the Wake staff, nor whether his wife and sweetheart Lynn would hear of it. The two have a wonderful life, with one home in a tony neighborhood of Winston-Salem and another at Emerald Isle. And a deal-breaker could well be Odom having to relinquish the all-time dream job as chairman in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational Basketball Tournament.

Besides, Odom, at age 75, doesn’t need Wake. But that’s not the point. Rather Wake needs Dave Odom, or someone like him, and it needs them badly.

We all saw that again today and we’ll see it again Tuesday in the first round of the ACC Tournament.

But say Ron Wellman takes my sage advice and talks Dave Odom into joining the Wake coaching staff as a bench coach with no recruiting responsibilities. Say Odom becomes for Manning what Ernie Nestor was for him – a seasoned sounding board to help him keep up with all that has to be kept up with once the ball is tossed into the air and play begins.

Even then, that would leave the biggest question of all, given the lack of interplay one sees these days on the Deacons’ bench.

If Danny Manning had a Dave Odom on his staff, would he even listen to him?

A Hard Day’s Night: The Proper Story

It was April 14, 1964, when the final touches were being put on the first movie starring the Beatles.

United Artist even had a title, A Hard Day’s Night, one of many malaprops from the twisted, if unwitting wit of drummer Ringo Starr. The director, Richard Lester, had been driving the boys hard over the whirlwind seven weeks spent filming in and around London, and he needed to get the low-budget production in the can.

But one problem remained, a big one. The movie needed a theme song.

I’ve often thought how cool it would have been to have met John Lennon, one of my many heroes. But I also know that on that one particular date, April 14, 1964, I wouldn’t have traded places with Walter Shenson to have done so.

For it was left to Shenson, the producer of A Hard Day’s Night, to bring up to Lennon that a theme song would be required. It needed to be an upbeat tune, and it was needed soon – as in yesterday.

Those who know the story of the Beatles know that Lennon, at least before he met Yoko, was one of the angriest humans to ever walk the planet. I’m no psychologist, but I would hazard to guess that had something to with abandonment issues.

For as the story goes, his ne’er-do-well father Freddie sailed off to sea, his free-spirited mother Julia dumped him on his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George and his best friend Stu Sutcliffe died in Hamburg from an aneurism or some other nerve disorder. And oh yeah, Julia died as well, after getting hit by a car on a Liverpool street.

There was a darkest of dark side to Lennon, which came out in full fury during a party celebrating Paul McCartney’s 21st birthday. That was the night Bob Wooler, a regular on the Liverpool hip scene, chided Lennon for a holiday trip he had made to Spain with manager Brian Epstein.

The insinuation was that Lennon, like Epstein, was gay.

Flying into Wooler, Lennon started pounding him with his fists and kept pounding until he was pulled off and held down long enough to regain his senses.

This was the same John Lennon who, 10 months later, Shenson had to approach to request – no, make that require – that a song be written posthaste.

The scene in Bob Spitz’ biography, titled appropriately enough, The Beatles, is totally predicable. It describes a Lennon all put upon, muttering and brooding and chain-smoking while riding in the car from the studio back into London.

Can’t you just see him?

I can.

So next morning when Shenson was told Lennon wanted to see him in the Beatles dressing room, we can all imagine how apprehensive he must have been. Only 10 hours had elapsed, so Shenson probably expected nothing more than a progress report.

“He and Paul were standing there, with their guitars slung over their shoulders,’’ Shenson recalled. “John fiddles with a matchbook cover on which were scrawled the lyrics to a song – A Hard Day’s Night – which they sang and played to perfection.’’

Lennon, still seething, fixed Shenson with his glare.

“OK, that’s it right?,’’ Lennon demanded.

“Right,’’ Shenson replied.

“Good,’’ Lennon practically spat, “Now don’t bother us about songs anymore.’’

A Hard Day’s Night is one of my favorite movies, one that gets better every time I see it. And I can’t help laugh when I hear the Beatles launch into the theme, opening with that idiosyncratic chord George Harrison produced off his 12-string Rickenbacker 360.

“It was an F with a G on top,’’ Harrison once revealed during an on-line chat. “But you’ll have to ask Paul about the bass note to get the proper story.’’

And that, music lovers, is the proper story of A Hard Day’s Night.