Wake’s Resurrection

The word dead, as with the word unique, is absolute. Nothing can be more unique than unique and nothing can be deader than dead.

But just try to tell that to the downtrodden faithful joyously awakening from the dead(est) decade in the once-storied history of Wake Forest basketball.

The alarm has sounded loud and clear across the ACC. Long-slumbering Wake is awake. Deacon basketball is back.

And not only are the Deacons good – good enough to win 10 of the 14 conference games they’ve played going into Saturday’s home game against Miami – but they’re also great fun. They play fast and loose basketball, a style so loose, in fact that they’ve been known to make 26 turnovers (as they did at Florida State) and still win.

They also play fearless basketball. Otherwise they wouldn’t be making left-handed 30-foot skip passes into the corner as Alondes Williams did in last night’s 69-51 victory at N.C. State. Otherwise they wouldn’t rank tied for first in the ACC (with Notre Dame) with five conference road victories, second in the ACC (behind Louisville) with 609 3-pointers attempted, second (to UNC) with 924 offensive rebounds, second (to Duke) with 78.9 points a game and third (to Duke and Virginia) with 100 blocked shots.

Sure they can occasionally drive this former coach with impeccable Biddy-League basketball credentials crazy by reaching for a rebound or loose ball with one hand, or barrelling hopelessly pell-mell into heavy traffic. They may be sloppy at times, and they may be fool-hardy.

But no one can call them scared.

A team, it has often been said, takes on the personality of its coach, and no ACC coach in recent times has been as colorful as that bald, beer-bellied native of Lone Tree, Iowa, (population, 1,312) Steve Forbes. Throughout my 40-year sportswriting career, I was always especially drawn to the great characters of the game, the likes of Bobby Cremins and Jim Valvano and Skip Prosser, the coaches who not only won but constantly reminded folks that basketball, at its heart, is a game, and all games should be fun.

And few have been more fun than Steve Forbes. He naturally likes people, and people naturally like him. He’s what we call in the sportswriting game, great copy. Five years into blissful retirement, my life is grand. One of the few regrets of my career is I never got to cover Steve Forbes.

In this age of Covid and Zoom, Forbes artfully assembled a team on the fly consisting of players who already knew how to play the game well. His remaining task was to teach those players how to play together.

Who knew Williams (6.9 points, 2.8 rebounds at Oklahoma), Jake LaRavia (12.5 points at Indiana State) and Dallas Walton (6.5 points, 2.8 rebounds at Colorado), were as good as they’ve proven to be?

Well at least one man had an inkling, and he’s coaching Wake Forest basketball.

Since the ACC moved the championship game back to Saturday night and expanded to 15 teams, the tournament has tipped off on Tuesday. And since that time, starting with the 2014 tournament, teams finishing in the top four have received a double bye and sat out until Thursday, while teams five through eight have received a single bye and debuted on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Wake has played on Tuesday all seven seasons of the new five-day format. It also bears mention that the Deacons have played on Wednesday only twice, in 2014 and 2017, and never on Thursday.

Maybe, just maybe, the Deacons will pull off the miracle of all miracles and finish first in the ACC. Remarkably, sitting here on Feb. 10, it’s within their grasp.

But short of that, what an accomplishment it would be for Wake to finish in the top four and receive a double bye. Let the dregs begin play in Brooklyn on Tuesday, and the middling teams show up for Wednesday.

It’s time – some would say well past time – for Wake fans to sit back and watch the rest fight it out for two days for the right to play their team. The old-time faithful might have forgotten what it’s like, but would have great fun remembering.

ACC basketball has always been the tonic to help me get through the dead of winter.

Thanks to Steve Forbes and his team, this is the season the dead of winter has come alive.