The Burned-Out Husk That is Wake Hoops

So as we could see again from last night’s first-round knockout at Virginia, all Danny Manning needed was five years to assemble a Wake team this bad.

Does rock bottom have a trap door? We’re getting ready to find out with Saturday’s visit from Boston College.

What we know already is that Manning’s fifth team at Wake is his worst. We know that from the KenPom rankings and we know that from the naked eye. Back-to-back blowouts at Virginia Tech (87-71) and Virginia (68-45) have dropped the Deacons to 8-10 overall and 1-5 in ACC play, with little to no relief in sight.

Last night’s fiasco reminded me all too well of a lost weekend spent in Atlanta in Jan. of 2013, in the third season of Jeff Bzdelik’s ill-fated four-year run. I drove down on Friday, got a room and made it to McCamish Pavillion well before the 3 p.m. tip.

As it turned out, I could have packed my computer and headed back up I-85 at the first media timeout without missing anything worth watching. Georgia Tech scored the game’s first 16 points and that was that. The final carnage was Yellow Jackets 82, Deacons 62.

So I had to feel empathy last night for my buddy Les Johns of Demon Deacon Digest, as well as Stan Cotten and Mark Freidinger of the IMG Broadcast team. They drove up I-29 yesterday, had to get a room because of the 9 p.m. tip, and drove back today.

And for all that bother and effort, the game was over by the first media timeout. The Cavaliers led 17-3 and again, that was that. Virginia extended its lead to 25-3 and the Deacons never got closer than 14.

I read somewhere recently where legendary reporter Bob Woodward, he of Watergate fame, expressed gratitude he didn’t have to cover another scandal like the Russia probe. Eighteen months into my blissful retirement, I’m thanking my lucky stars I no longer have to cover the burned-out husk that is Wake basketball.

For as much empathy as I have for Les, Stan and Dinger, I have all that much more sympathy for the fans who have tried somehow to remain faithful to the once-proud Deacons basketball program. Let’s just say their faith is stronger than mine.

I keep hearing that Manning is a good man. You’d think I might have an idea one way or the other, having covered him for his first three seasons. But truth be told, I never knew him well enough to find out.

Danny being Danny, I never got the chance.

But I have to say I was bothered by his comments after the drubbing at Virginia Tech.

First he clearly threw Ikenna Smart, the grad student transfer from Buffalo, under the bus the Deacons drove to Blacksburg for the beat down.

“He wasn’t feeling good the last day or so,’’ Manning explained. “I reflected back on playing 15 years in the NBA and there were a lot of days I went to the gym and didn’t think I was going to play – and ended up getting into your routine and feeling good and going out there and playing.

“I was hoping for that – to be honest with you – when we got on the bus coming to the game, that he was going to find a way to give us a minute.’’

And then he implied strongly that Wake got a raw deal by the officials after Mike Eades was sidelined early with a knee injury.

“Today’s game was a lot different with the dynamics of the referees,’’ Manning said. “We only had two out there. So you know that’s going to change some of the things in terms of that last set of eyes out there and calling some different things.’’

Listen, in 45 years as a sportswriter I never met a coach who didn’t feel in his heart of hearts that he got shafted by the officials from time to time – if not all the time.

But Wake, a team that couldn’t beat Houston Baptist or Gardner-Webb at home, went into last night’s game having scored a larger percentage of its points from the free- throw line than any team in the country. More to the point, Manning had all that to say after the Deacons shot 38 free throws on the road against the ninth-ranked team in the country.

The other attribute I’ve heard about Manning is that he is a good recruiter. And that, to me, is a fallacy.

Good recruiters recruit players good enough to win games, and Manning’s record at Wake is 62-83 overall and 21-57 in ACC play.

The tag “good recruiter’’ is often determined by the prep rankings of the players they recruit. I never quite understood that. To me, recruiting has always been a means to an end – which is to win games.

Jaylen Hoard is a nice player who will be playing basketball for many years. But he’s a freshman in need of muscle and polish still feeling his way through the rigors of major-college basketball, as we’ve seen so painfully in the last two games. On the swing through Virginia, Hoard made 4-of-15 shots from the floor while averaging 6.5 points and 6.5 rebounds.

Sharone Wright, Jr., and Isaiah Mucius also appear to have talent, and may someday develop into decent ACC players. But ask yourself, could either crack the rotation of any ACC team with NCAA Tournament aspirations?

Besides, the term recruiting has taken on a much different connotation in this day of fly-by-night players. There’s a booming market for transfers and grad students, one that coaches such as Kevin Keatts at N.C. State and Jim Larranaga of Miami have taken full advantage of.

When circumstances – such as a mass exodus of veteran players – have forced Manning out on the open market, who has he returned with?

Torry Johnson and Ikenna Smart.

Last night’s loss actually elevated Wake’s standing in the KenPom ratings, all the way up to No. 154. Manning’s previous worst team, his first in 2015, was ranked No. 120. There’s plenty of basketball left to be played, but it will take some effort for the Deacons to reach their previous low-water mark under Manning.

It’s also worth noting that Wake has easily the lowest KenPom ranking in the ACC. Boston College is next, at No. 108.

So what is there left this season to look for. For me, it’s signs that Ron Wellman and the powers that be at Wake have recognized that Manning, like Bzdelik before him, is woefully over-matched as an ACC coach.

I know it. You know it. When will Ron Wellman know it?

And if he already does, what will he do about it? And when will he do it?

That’s not much to keep one’s interest in college basketball, but at Wake, that’s all you’ve got.

11 thoughts on “The Burned-Out Husk That is Wake Hoops

  1. It’s very sad, Dan. After being a longtime season ticket holder (and graduate), I refused to buy tickets this year. I haven’t attended a single game and haven’t watched more than 2-3 minutes on tv. Ron Wellman’s hiring of Bzdelik and then Manning, has ruined Wake Forest basketball for me. And he appears too stubborn to admit he’s made mistakes in these hires. I don’t expect championships every year, but I expect the team to be competitive. I’m going to have to be shown Wake Forest is serious about being competitive again before I consider returning to the court. For the last 9 years it’s been all talk and no action. Thanks for continuing to share your thoughts with us.

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  2. I enjoy good , competitive basketball but when I enter the Joel and see an almost empty student section and upstairs level
    , it’s sad but that is only half of my feelings. I have not seen good basketball. I’ve seen turnovers, and a team that plays as if it has no direction. I don’t understand how it has gotten this bad. Even at the Duke game, the students that attended were for the most part from a sorority rush event only and not screaming basketball crazy fans as we see at Duke, UNC, State and other schools. I can’t wait for baseball , tennis, soccer and football.

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  3. Thanks for keeping the pressure on Dan. I’ve heard, though can’t confirm, that Mike Buddie, Wellman’s former Associate AD, is the one who discovered Clawson; and pushed Ron to interview him. If true, I would say Wellman’s resume at Wake in major sports looks mighty mighty thin. Buddie, by the way, is now the AD at Furman, and has made two outstanding HC hires there in football and basketball, unlike his former boss. Maybe Buddie would like to take the helm here some day. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

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    1. The story I heard was that Ron dispatched Mike Buddie to Bowling Green to check Clawson out and Clawson was so bound and determined to get the job he kept Buddie in his seat at the kitchen table deep into the night, outlining in infinite detail what it would take for Wake to win in football, and that Buddie came back and told Ron that Dave was definitely the guy. Ron talked about it when Dave was hired.

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    1. Hey Gary. Great hearing from you and thanks for reading. First off I would be stunned — barring anything short of the kind of scandal I would never expect — if Ron Wellman makes a move during the season. Not exactly sure what that would accomplish other than giving fans the kind of hope that’s been lost these past few years. But pretty much any coach Wake might want to target is busy these days coaching his teams. Of course so much of that goes on back-channel. What I do think Ron owes the paying customer is some recognition that there is a need for a change and that Danny isn’t working out. What he might say and when he might say it is a big question, but I just don’t get how he can rest on the “Danny’s a good man, and we’ll get it done,” line anymore to anyone who has been paying attention. People don’t like getting played for the fool, and they resent it. One course of action would be to announce late in the regular-season that Manning won’t be returning next season and embarking on a search for his successor. Then comes the question of who makes the call. Can Ron get a third swing after his two wild misses? Who could make the case that he should?

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  4. Thank you, Dan, for stating so eloquently what most Wake fans, if not all, feel at this point. It is hard to fathom how far Wake basketball has fallen the last decade. What scares me most is that I see so much apathy from the fans now. I know I feel it creeping in by how the losses just don’t sting anymore. With Bzdelik there was a lot of anger, justifiably. But now there isn’t as much anger as there is just indifference. If I am Wellman or the powers that be, that should scare me to death. You can win back most angry fans with a good hire, but apathetic fans may be lost forever.

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    1. A riled up fan base is a problem for an athletic program. An apathetic fan base is fatal. When nobody cares about your product, your product is going to fail. Simple stuff. You’re right Grant. At least when people were raising hell about Bzdelik, they still had enough stake in the game to do so. So few have any stake left in the program. Two generations (four years) of students have passed through Wake since the basketball was worth watching. There’s so few students, and you can certainly see why. No one should have to be shamed into going to something that’s not worth watching. Wake has big troubles in basketball, and I agree with you. The biggest might be apathy. Apathy is poison.

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  5. Any coach worth his salt that WFU might “want” will know that there will be an AD change soon and think twice. Nathan Hatch needs to “encourage” the AD to retire so that the new AD can hire a new hoops coach.

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  6. Hey Dan, been reading in the shadows and wanted to pop my head out from under the troll bridge to give w couple thoughts.

    1 – I think the apathy stems from the fact that many, if not most, Wake die hards know Wellman well enough that they are consigned that Manning isn’t on a real “hot seat”. It’s extremely hard to fathom why this is, but of you’ve been around WFU long enough, I think you can see how it would go that way.

    2 – The argument that Danny Manning is a “good recruiter”, as you so eloquently pointed out, is as passe as tye dye and the “Hey Song”. The talent level at Wake is so low, that a player like Brandon Childress, who was and is borederline role player on most top tier teams is the only player who can make a 15 ft jump shot with regularity. Danny Manning is not a good recruiter.

    3 – I have bought my Daddy, who you met and so graciously signed a book for, tickets to a Wake game every year since I moved to Baltimore in 2010. This season I was told not to but them. The thing I feel is getting lost is that it’s not just alumni who are losing interest. It’s the real world.

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