Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that in the modern game of college basketball there are only two reasons for a coach to play as much zone as Wake played in Tuesday night’s 71-67 victory over No. 17 N.C. State.

One is by design. Go the Syracuse route and recruit enough active, long-armed players to make the zone a real pain in the posterior to face.

The other is by necessity. Play zone because your man-to-man presents no more impediment than a busted turnstile on the Green Line.

Danny Manning, by lineage, is a man-to-man guy. He said so when he became head coach at Wake to the surprise of no one who knows his background at Kansas – one of college basketball’s most staunch man-to-man programs.

But desperate times call for desperate measures and Manning has seen the need for this, his fifth team at Wake, to be a zone team. Good for him. Something had to be done as the Deacons sunk ever lower in rankings of defensive efficiency and shooting percentages and point totals of the opponents continued to soar.

And if he can find a few more teams that attack the zone as poorly as N.C. State did in the first half last night, he might even win a handful of ACC games in this – again – his fifth season as the Deacons’ head coach.

I’ve been really impressed with what Kevin Keatts has done in his first two seasons as the Wolfpack’s coach. He’s one of many examples why it doesn’t always take three, four, or even five seasons to turn the fortunes of a program around.

But I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand why he didn’t get more grips on his team in the first half last night when Wake packed its zone back and just dared N.C. State to heave it up from outside. Not until halftime – by which point the Pack had missed 13 out of 14 3-pointers to fall behind by as many as 22 points – did Keatts get his message across that the way to beat Wake is to take the ball to the hoop.

N.C. State took the ball to the hoop after the break and roared back into contention, scoring on 13 of the first 19 second-half possessions to tie the game at 58. If you were like me, you probably thought Wake’s goose was cooked. But to the Deacons’ considerable credit, they showed enough grit and fortitude to get six straight stops in winning time and make the plays needed to pull out their first ACC victory over.

Yeah, I know. Markell Johnson, probably the Pack’s best player, missed the game with a back injury. But my position is and has always been that you play with and against who is available. Once you start factoring in the impact of an injury you’ve entered the hazy, slippery realm of conjecture.

Say Johnson had been available, and was as bad against Wake as he was against North Carolina, when he 1-for-7 from 3-point range with five turnovers? We’ll never know, so it’s useless to speculate.

The team Danny Manning put on the floor beat the team that Kevin Keatts put on the floor, and that’s all that matters. And he did so by out-coaching Keatts. His strategy of playing a compacted zone worked.

And maybe you also noticed that with the Deacons clinging to a 67-66 lead, Manning called timeout and hustled Torry Johnson into the game for Sharone Wright, Jr., and that it was Johnson who not only sank the runner but also nailed the two free throws with 13 seconds left to all but clinch the victory.

Manning also showed flexibility on offense with a lineup that had freshman Jaylen Hoard essentially playing center for key stretches. Hoard was certainly up to the task, finishing with 16 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals for a stat line that would have done Josh Howard proud.

Danny Manning hasn’t had all that many good nights as head coach at Wake, but he had one last night. Good for him.

Now if he can just carry that momentum into the next two games at Virginia Tech on Saturday and at Virginia on Tuesday.

And maybe, just maybe, he can pack his zone back into the lane and tempt Buzz Williams and Tony Bennett to allow their teams to launch one brick after another from 3-point range.

If there’s another way Wake can escape falling to 1-5 going into the Jan. 26 home game against Boston College, perhaps you can see it.

Because I certainly can’t.

The Big Four — Sans One

Dean Smith could be petty, and he could definitely be persnickety. But like many people who achieve greatness, Smith had many facets to his personality.

In the proper setting, he could be exceedingly polite. He was taught to be polite and he wanted to be polite, whether he achieved his goal or not.

So it was Dean just being Dean when he walked out onto the Greensboro Coliseum court before North Carolina’s game against N.C. State early in the 1974-75 season. He noticed that directly behind the Tar Heel bench sat a fan of Wake Forest, which would play Duke in the second game that evening.

“I want to apologize in advance,’’ Smith told the Wake fan. “My players stand to acknowledge a teammate’s good play, and you may have your view blocked.’’

Hugh Strickland, a fan so devoted to have set some kind of record by attending 339 straight Wake basketball games – home and away – looked up from the newspaper he was perusing.

“Oh that’s OK, coach,’’ Strickland replied. “I’m just going to sit here and read my paper until the varsity game starts.’’

It’s important to remember that there was a time – once upon a time – when one devoted to Wake basketball had not only the temerity, but the well-earned right to rib a fan, player or even coach of a rival ACC school – and get away with it.

“Good one,’’ Smith acknowledged with a grin.

It’s also important to remember that the occasion was an early-season tournament played from the 1970-71 season through the 1980-81 campaign called the Big Four Tournament. The coaches hated it, but the fans loved squaring off against their traditional rivals so early to start establishing bragging rights for the next three months.

The Big Four, at the time, was as select a group as there was in all of college basketball. To be in the Big Four meant that you not only played in the ACC, but were a member in good standing of the inner ring of the ACC.

If you don’t believe it, check out the first 17 seasons of ACC play. Teams from the Big Four – N.C. State, North Carolina, Duke and Wake – won 16 championships.

And while you’re at it, check out the next 13 seasons, when teams from the Big Four won 11 more titles.

To be a member of the Big Four meant you were the crème de la crème of college basketball.

Wake was never the scourge of the Big Four. Of those 16 championships before 1970-71, N.C. State won six, Duke and North Carolina won four each and Wake won two.

But Wake had a way of rising to the occasion against its blood rivals, and teams from N.C. State, Duke and North Carolina knew from experience to expect a game when they played the Deacons. Wake really made its mark in the aforementioned Big Four Tournament, winning the event four times and making the finals twice more.

In short, Wake was never the class of the Big Four, but there was no doubt that the Deacons belonged.

One doesn’t hear the term Big Four very often anymore in basketball, and for good reason. The sobriquet is as antiquated as another term used back then for ACC basketball as played by North Carolina schools, Tobacco Road.

Just how antiquated the term Big Four is happened to be on full display last night on ESPN, with the doubleheader of Duke playing at Wake and North Carolina playing at N.C. State. I watched both games intently, and was impressed by the play of three of those teams.

The Wolfpack didn’t have its best showing, and will struggle to beat anybody of note this season with Markell Johnson making only one of seven attempts from 3-point range. But the team clearly has a new spring in its step under second-year coach Kevin Keatts, enough so to be ranked No. 15 going into ACC play.

And unless I miss my bet, the Wolfpack will enter the final week of the regular season with at least a shot of earning a double bye at the ACC Tournament. I’ll also be surprised if either Duke or North Carolina are playing before Thursday in Charlotte.

All of which make the demise of Wake basketball that much harder to take for those of us old enough to remember who the Deacons once were and realize how far they’ve fallen. What we saw once again last night is that given the downward trajectory of the last eight (going on nine) seasons Wake is lucky to even belong to the ACC, much less an aggregate extolled enough to be called the Big Four.

Les Johns, to my mind, nailed his lede when he wrote in Demon Deacon Digest that “Duke played with its food a bit Tuesday night.’’ Les noted how the Blue Devils, hardly known for their 3-point eye, spent the first half launching 15 3-pointers and turning the ball over nine times.

And still led by eight at halftime.

Mike Krzyzewski hasn’t won 1,040 games and five national championships at Duke by being slow in the uptick, which rendered the adjustments made at halftime so thoroughly predictable. The message was clear: Take the ball to the rack and dare Wake to stop you.

Barely more than a minute into the second half – by which time Duke had scored four point-blank baskets on its first three possessions en route to a 50-36 lead – the game was over and settled. Unfortunately for the Deacons, the carnage continued.

The Blue Devils crossed mid-court with the basketball 36 times in the second half, and scored on 22 of those excursions. But here’s the real indictment against the defense as played by the Deacons.

Sixteen of those 22 successful possessions resulted in points scored from inside two-feet. And many of those were uncontested.

To get shredded by Duke is going to happen from time to time, even to good teams. The Blue Devils are that potent.

The problem at Wake is that it doesn’t take a Duke or North Carolina or N.C. State to eviscerate the Deacons’ defense. On a good night, even a Houston Baptist or Gardner-Webb can do it.

The bigger problem is that the inability to stop the other team from scoring has persisted from the day that Danny Manning became head coach before the 2014-15, infamously belying his boast that his program would be one that would “hang its hat on defense.’’

And as Conor O’Neill astutely noted in his game story for the Winston-Salem Journal, the Deacons’ defense – instead of improving – continues to regress dramatically.

Wake has never been ranked bv KenPom better than No. 125 in defensive efficiency. This season’s team, the fifth with Manning at the helm, was ranked No. 213 even before last night’s blood-letting.

Conor also pointed out how in three games against teams from Power Five conferences, Wake has been torched for 92 by Georgia Tech, 82 by Duke and 81 by Tennessee.

If there’s an explanation for the implosion of a once-proud program I have yet to hear it. Krzyzewski was asked on this week’s ACC teleconference leading into last night’s game why Manning was having such a hard time righting the Deacons’ ship in basketball.

“You should ask Coach Manning that,’’ Krzyzewski replied. “He’s on later.’’

Les Johns, to his credit, did exactly that to conclude last night’s post-game presser.

“What’s it going to take – micro-level – to get the Wake Forest program to where it can compete again with the Dukes of the world?’’

And Manning’s answer?

If you heard one, that makes one of us.

“We don’t have enough time,’’ Manning said, presumably meaning the amount of time it would take to answer the question. “There are a lot of different things that go into it. The bottom line is that when you step out on the court, you have to find a way. You’ve got to find a way.

“You have to be able to compete, and compete every possession. And I thought there were some possessions when we did a good job competing. But it’s got to be the mindset that ‘We’re going to win every possession.’

“And there were too many empty possessions for us tonight.’’

Hugh Strickland died 18 years ago and I still miss him, though I am lucky enough to know his son Gary – the long-time scorekeeper for Wake basketball – and his grandsons David, Michael and Scott. The one solace I have is Hugh didn’t live long enough to see what has become of his beloved Wake basketball, or have to listen to Danny Manning try to explain it away.

A Wedding I’ll Never Forget

It’s in the eyes of others, we see who we are,

By staring in her shining eyes, he saw he was a star.

She saw something precious, she saw something right,

That gave her heart a’ flutter, and made her head a little light.

Happiness is a hard place to write from, or at least it always has been for me.

When I’m happy, I’m usually too busy enjoying the sensation to take the time to settle in and commit to the kind of work required to chronicle the moment. And writing, while fun, can be work.

All of which is a long-winded explanation of why you haven’t seen any posts from me in a while. For over the past week, this old boy has been as happy as I’ve ever been.

It’s the Glory of Love,

Sweet Love,

The one thing you never get too much of,

Is Love,

And that’s the Glory of Love.

Our daughter, Rebecca, married her beau Steve Kinsella on Saturday at the Arts Council in Durham. A grand and glorious and unforgettable time was had by all. Rebecca did pretty much all the planning for the occasion, and anyone lucky enough to be in attendance will attest that Rebecca out-did herself.

Which, for Rebecca, is harder to do than it is for most of us. I’m bad about bragging on my kids, but I’m confident in saying there are few people on this planet more together, more grounded, more competent, more organized, more understanding of what really means something in life – and what doesn’t – than one Rebecca Cooper Collins, 28, presently of Boston, Mass.

Like most folks they’d found heartache, like most folks they’d felt pain

Like most folks they were ever braced to have it all come around again,

But they saw in each other’s eyes, a light to shine when life gets rough,

And to tell them they would never have to live in a world without love.

The magical week began on Saturday, Dec. 22, when Rebecca and Steve rolled in from Boston, where Rebecca specializes in alternative energy ideas and applications for Eversource Energy (she’s out to save the planet – someone has to) and Steve is gearing up for the final semester of a two-year MBA program from Boston U.

They remained with us through Christmas, by which time we were joined by Tybee’s sister Kim from Chapel Hill. We know how to have a good time in our home, and, as always, we managed to hurt ourselves in the most rollicking and silly and good-time ways.

The love birds flew the coop for Fuqua Varina, where Steve’s parents John and Beth live, and we braced for the arrival of our son, Nate, and his family on their way east from Dallas. Sadly, it had been way too long since we had seen Nate and his bride Laura, but the visit was made all the more special by knowing it would be our grand daughter Isla’s first time ever in our home.

Isla is three, and turned out to be the fireball of light and joy and love we just knew she would be.

I had already resolved to not follow my usual instincts and put my old bearded face right in hers’ when she walked in the door. Tybee was only one of many to warn me not to scare the poor girl out of her wits before she even knew who we were.

But as it turned out, Isla stormed into our house like she owned the place – which of course she did. Nate and Laura had to drop off the rental car, and the whole time Isla was alone with Tybee and me, she just flitted around the house chattering, and singing and getting into everything a 3-year-old will get into.

She sings songs that she makes up, which tickles me in so many ways. Laura, by the way, is a songbird who performs regularly in musicals in and around the Dallas area. Nate is a percussionist with degrees from Eastman and a masters from SMU who at times is in the pit for Laura’s musicals, when he’s not teaching high school music or marching band (big in Texas) or playing with any number of orchestras or ensembles.

He sat in with the Dallas Wind Symphony for a recording that was nominated for a Grammy in 2018, so we kidded how he needed a business card reading Nate Collins, Grammy-nominated artist.

If there’s one thing I know, love’s the window to our soul,

It’s by looking deep inside our hearts, we find our heaven above.

And if you’re wondering about the meaning of anything,

Just remember the Glory of Love.

The wedding was an exceedingly tasteful, relatively contained affair involving somewhere around 80 of the dearest, most loving and beautiful people we’ve ever known. No one has a better family, and all of us from both sides, the Collins’ and the Kinsella’s rallied around the love birds to make it an occasion that could not have been more glorious and unforgettable.

There was, of course, an open bar and all kinds of dancing to the set list that Rebecca put together as only she could. Every song that came on I just shook my head and repeated “Oh, I love that song.’’

I had a couple of rough moments containing my pure joy, like when I escorted Rebecca to the altar, gave her and Steve big hugs and took my seat next to Tybee. And for the father-daughter dance, I had pretty much decided on Joe Cocker’s version of You Are So Beautiful, but as usual Rebecca was a step or two ahead of her old man.

“What about Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?, by Hank Williams,’’ Rebecca suggested. To know what that meant to me one has to know the special place Hank Williams has always had in our family – dating to his biggest fan ever, my mother Frances Cooper Collins. That’s why there was such loud oohing and aahing from my brothers Tom and Joe and their families when Hank’s whiskey-cured voice came over the speakers.

And not once did I step on Rebecca’s toes – at least not literally.

We gather together, to celebrate,

The love of Steve and Rebecca, and hear the sweet vows that they make,

Always look out for each other, always be the best of friends,

That’s the special kind of love, the kind that never ends.

The other rough moment came during my toast to the newly weds. Oh I didn’t have any trouble giving it. I was born for such occasions. But like I’ve said, I’m bad about bragging over my family and my difficulty was in containing all the reasons and explanations and stories of why Rebecca Cooper Collins is such a special person to a toast that would end sometime before the New Year began.

It was difficult, but somehow I managed. I almost began with “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth,’’ but I didn’t think most of the guests would get the Lou Gehrig reference. And besides, that speech was about death. This occasion celebrated life.

So I just told the room what I felt, that my heart was busting with love and joy and happiness.

Happiness is a hard place to write from.

But it’s a joyful place in which to reside.

It’s the Glory of Love,

Sweet Love,

The one thing you never get to much of,

Is Love,

And that’s the Glory of Love.

Two Programs Headed in Opposite Directions

Wake sports, or at least the two Wake sports that mean much of anything to the rank-and-file among us, were on full display Saturday, front-and-center for all America (and for that matter, all the world) to see.

And what all America (and for that matter, all the world) could see by tuning into ESPN and ESPN2 was two programs heading in decidedly different – some might say opposite – directions.

On the Mothership, we could see one of America’s scrappiest teams coached by one of America’s scappiest coaches, doing what needed to be done in a most heroic and improbable fashion to beat Memphis 37-34 in the Birmingham Bowl. To watch Dave Clawson will his team to an unprecedented third-straight bowl victory brought to mind the highest compliment one coach could ever bestow on another.

In the immortal words of Bum Phillips, Clawson “could take his’n and beat your’n, and then he can turn around and take your’n and beat his’n.’’

I’ve always loved that quote (spoken in respect of Bear Bryant) because it reminded me so much of the way my Papaw Collins of Waynesville, N.C. used to talk – before he died.

And if that was all there was to see from Wake yesterday, it would have been a golden moment for the black and gold on national (international) television.

Sadly, any satisfaction (not to mention pride) in what is taking place at Wake sports-wise these days has to be tempered by what could be found just next door on the Deuce, where the Deacons’ basketball team was getting steamrolled by Tennessee 83-64.

There’s no shame in losing on the road to the No. 3 team in the nation, or at least there wouldn’t have been if the loss had not come in such a predictable and unequivocal fashion. But what those of us who switched over to the Deuce saw was what we’ve seen so many times before, with the Deacons melting right before our eyes.

As mentioned a number of times, I watch Wake basketball these days with a pad in my hand to chart the Deacons’ defensive stops.

And Wake was right there, trailing only 22-21 after Torry Johnson’s layup with 7:25 left in the first half.

That was before the soggy bottom of Wake bag broke open and the Volunteers scored on nine of their final 11 possessions of the first half and nine of their first 11 possessions of the second half. It’s along about that time that analyst Jimmy Dykes made a comment as astute as it was obvious.

“From Wake Forest, there’s not a lot of resistance right now on defense.’’

It’s a quote to be clipped and saved, for it sums up up so succinctly the Danny Manning era of Wake basketball. For the second half, Tennessee scored on 23 of the 34 times it brought the ball across half-court.

The difference in the state of the two programs can be boiled down to two words – hard and soft.

Clawson is a hard coach to beat. He played Memphis yesterday without his best player (Greg Dortch) and with a third quarterback (Jamie Newman) who was filling in for a second quarterback (Sam Hartman) who was filing in for a first quarterback (Kendall Hinton).

And he won when the guy filling in for Dortch (Alex Bachman) caught two clutch passes from the guy filling in for Hartman and Hinton in the final 75 seconds.

He won when his team kept playing hard enough to overcome an 18-point deficit.

He won because that’s what good coaches do.

Good coaches win.

By now anyone paying attention can see that as far as football coaches go, Dave Clawson is a keeper. The question now becomes how long can Wake keep him?

Meanwhile, over on the Deuce, the word that kept coming to mind was soft. If there’s a softer team than Wake playing in the ACC these days, I don’t know who it would be. And the Deacons just happened to be going up against one of the most physically mature teams in college basketball, and the results were not a pretty sight.

Olivier Sarr, the great hope in the middle, played as soft as he has been playing since showing up before last year, with just one field goal, two free throws and three rebounds to show for his 25 minutes. But we all knew that about Sarr long before yesterday.

What was particularly sobering was how soft Jaylen Hoard, the supposedly next great star, played for all the world to see. Hoard contributed three rebounds and seven points in 25 minutes while somehow managing not to get himself hurt down there amid the rough and tumble of major-college basketball.

Danny Manning got blown out of another game on national television because that’s what bad coaches do.

Bad coaches lose badly.

Ron Wellman, who calls the shots at Wake, is apparently willing to stick with his bet that a bad coach at sometime after four seasons will turn out to be a good coach. But by now, who can believe him?

And whereas Mike Norvell of Memphis was the latest to realize that Dave Clawson is not a coach to be tangled with, I’d imagine there’s no end to the number of basketball coaches who would relish taking on Danny Manning.

Take Brad Brownell of Clemson, for instance, who is 5-0 in his chances at beating Danny Manning in ACC play.

Can you imagine Dave Clawson being 0-5 against any ACC coach not named Dabo Swinney?

If so, that makes one of us.

For Wake, Exam Break Time Well-Spent

Back when Wake was a team to be reckoned with in the ACC, a home victory over Davidson would be nothing to email or text home about.

Of course that was so long ago, folks were still writing letters.

Not really.

It just seems that way.

Many seasons have passed since Wake was a team to be reckoned with in the ACC, which made tonight’s 67-63 victory over Bob McKillop’s Wildcats its best effort of the season.

Yeah, I know Davidson was playing without its best player, Kellan Grady, a second-team All-Atlantic 10 guard averaging 19.4 points. But it’s always been my contention that a team plays with who’s available, no excuses. And I’ll remain consistent by saying Wake took a nice step tonight, Grady or no Grady.

Dave Odom always loved exam break, because it gave him a chance to go back to basics and correct all the mistakes from the season’s first brace of games. And it certainly appeared tonight that Danny Manning put the 11 days since the Deacons last played to good use.

The defense – the Deacons’ most glaring shortcoming over Manning’s four seasons – was really, really good tonight. Or at least it was until it wasn’t. The Wildcats closed the game by either scoring or getting fouled (or both) on their last seven possessions, and 10 of their last 11.

But over the first 36 minutes, while they were building a 14-point lead, the Deacons were downright suffocating on defense. By my count, Wake got 18 stops on Davidson’s 28 first-half possessions, and then came back out and stymied the Wildcats on 15 of their first 26 trips across half-court in the second half.

Davidson shot 37 percent from the floor for the game, made seven of 24 shots from beyond the arc and got to the line for only 12 attempts.

That’s a showing against a good team that Manning will take any time, if he can get it. The biggest reason he’s failed in his four-plus seasons to turn the program’s fortunes around is that he has got that kind of showing so few times.

The late-game largess has become so routine as to be predictable. But the Deacons were able to overcome their generosity tonight because they kept scoring themselves.

As I’ve mentioned, I watch games these days with a pad in hand, charting Wake’s defensive stops. But over the 11 days since the Deacons last played, I decided to also keep tabs on another problem that has saddled Wake in the early going.

After every loss, it seems, Manning has decried his team’s inability to get enough paint touches. Teams assemble these days during the first semester of summer school, back in May, so if six months later a team is not doing what the coach wants, then whose fault is that?

But for tonight I decided to also chart the possessions that Wake got the ball either to the basket, into the lane, into the key or in the short corner along the base line. All teams strive to break down the defense, because it opens up so many more ways (foul shots, follow shots, kick-out jumpers) to score.

Bad teams – and Wake would certainly qualify over most of Manning’s tenure – tend to settle for jump shots without making the defense work. We’ve all seen the Deacons lose games because they quit getting the ball inside, and we’ve all heard Manning grumble about it later.

My bet is that another major point of emphasis over the past 11 games has been to be more aggressive on offense and attack the defense more. If so, the concentration on that facet of the game paid off tonight.

Again, by my count, the Deacons got the ball inside on 28 of 34 first-half possessions, and on 29 of 37 possessions after halftime. The ball moved, and so did the players, allowing Wake to shoot 48 percent from the floor, get to the line for 20 attempts and mount a balance attack.

On a night no player took more than 12 attempts from the floor, Jaylen Hoard (16 points), Brandon Childress (16 points), Chaundee Brown (13 points), Torry Johnson (10 points) and Olivier Sarr (8 points on 4-of-5 shooting) all had offensive games they could feel good about.

Those who have found me at My Take on Whatever know I’ve been pretty critical of Manning and his inability to pull the once-proud Wake program from the doldrums of the Jeff Bzdelik years. And I’m not about to declare after one nice victory over Davidson in mid-December that the Deacons have turned the corner.

A much more telling test will come Saturday when Wake travels up I-40 to Knoxville to face Rick Barnes and his third-ranked Volunteers of Tennessee. If the Deacons show the same improvement at Thompson-Boling Arena, then I’ll begin to wonder if maybe Manning is finally building something worth watching at Wake.

Of course it’s been so long, it might be hard to recognize. But we’ll see, and we’ll all see together.

Welcome Aboard

It would be terribly remiss of me to not acknowledge and thank all the folks who have found their way to My Take on Whatever these past few weeks.

And heaven forbid it be said that Country Dan Collins has ever even once in his 66 years on this planet been remiss. I shudder at the thought, wondering just how I could sleep at night.

So thanks from the bottom of my heart, and welcome aboard. To expand the circle means more fun for everybody.

Upon launching this blog a little more than year ago, I wasn’t exactly sure what I intended to do with it other than write about whatever interested me at the time I was writing it. But I had just retired after 40 years spent writing sports for the Winston-Salem Journal, and I did know I get off on writing too much to just stop.

And I don’t have the patience, discipline and focus to write all those novels I was so bent on writing “One of these days.’’ So I decided to go with the next-best thing.

One of my many close friends from our Thursday night gatherings for Open Mic at Muddy Creek Cafe is a wise soul named Nancy Burney Douglass. And in this case, NBD knew me better than I knew myself.

“Most people blog their way into a career in journalism,’’ she observed. “Well, you’re blogging your way out.’’

Bingo.

No singer-songwriter has been covered more than John Prine over our 4 ½ years of making music the way it’s meant to be made among friends down at Open Mic at Muddy Creek. And that’s a good thing. No complaints here.

On Prine’s latest offering, Tree of Forgiveness, there was a couplet that really hit home, off the tune Lonesome Friends of Science.

I live way down inside my head,

Well, long ago I made my bed.’’

John Prine and I share the same address, but I’m not so deep inside my head not to know what has driven so many of you my way. That would be the anguish and utter despair over the demise of a once-proud basketball program at Wake.

And some of you might even know I was on hand to chronicle so many of the golden moments in the history of Wake basketball, from the time I was assigned to the beat in 1992 until my retirement in August of 2017. There was a time when I was known to brag to anyone who would listen about having the best college basketball beat in America.

Sadly, those times are long gone, buried beneath the rubble of losses to Stetson, Winthrop, UNC Wilmington, Presbyterian, Wofford, Delaware State, Georgia Southern, Liberty, Houston Baptist and – as recently as last night – a Richmond team so bad that Chris Mooney will have to hustle like hell to survive his 14th season as the Spiders’ head coach.

Losing at Richmond wouldn’t be so devastating except for three reasons. One, this is, again, a really, really bad Richmond team, bad enough to lose – AT HOME — to Longwood (63-58) and Hampton (86-66). Two, the loss was just so utterly predictable for a team so disjointed and hapless as to be a team in name only.

And three, and most important, the yet-one-more ignominious setback came in Danny Manning’s FIFTH season as head coach. Not his first, not his third, but his fifth, when he has had all the time any coach worth his mettle would need to rectify whatever problems were left over from the program-crippling hire of Jeff Bzdelik on that fateful day in April of 2010.

Along the way the link to My Take on Whatever surfaced on enough sites on social media – Demon Deacons Sports Nation on Facebook, DemonDeaconDigest and that mother lode of all Wake sites, Old Gold & Black Boards — that my number of hits exploded exponentially.

The number exploded from the 50 or so hits I was lucky to get on a good day to where two recent posts have roared past 2,000. I recognize that’s small potatoes in the greater blogosphere of the Interweb, but it’s one big fat spud for this old grizzled retiree sitting on his ever-widening behind in his cluttered den out in Oldtown.

And, again, it’s greatly appreciated, as are the comments flowing in from one and all.

What I hate, for you as well as me, is that I couldn’t be writing about the stirring success of a Wake program battling back from the doldrums into ACC and national contention. I hate that the hire of Danny Manning hasn’t worked out. I really do. He was a great player, and seems to be a decent man – though I have to admit I was never really given the opportunity to get to know him.

But an explanation I always had for those who found fault with my coverage of Wake sports came in three words. Cause and effect.

If Manning was 7-0 right now instead of 4-3 against one of the weakest schedules in school history, if Manning were 52-20 in the ACC instead of 20-52, if Manning had ever finished better than 10th in the regular season, if Manning had really followed through with his promise of making defense the strength his program would hang its hat on, then my thesaurus wouldn’t have enough nice words for me to write about the man.

Which leaves me having to write what’s going on, and what’s going on is Wake keeps losing season after soul-crushing season in basketball and those who have a say in the matter have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they don’t care enough about their ever-dwindling core of fans to do anything about it.

And to me, that’s what’s really sad.

Lest you newbies get the wrong idea, my blog is not devoted exclusively to Wake sports. Again, I write about whatever interests me, and my interests are wide and varied.

My deepest passion is music, which has resulted in the aforementioned Open Mic sessions down at Muddy Creek Cafe. And although I have been writing sports forever – since my junior year of high school, going on 50 years ago — I’ve been writing songs even longer.

All my life I’ve threatened to record a CD of original songs, and I’m proud to say I am, at present, finally making good on that threat. I’ve enlisted a sharp young engineer, musician and recent graduate of Wake named Geoff Weber (He of the band Bad Cameo, hottest thing going) and we’re laying down tracks at his home studio that I’m increasingly excited about.

For those interested, I’ll keep you apprised of the progress, and make sure you have a chance to listen to how it comes out.

What I don’t want to do is spend all my retirement taking a metaphorical cudgel to Danny Manning’s kneecaps. Honest I don’t.

But if I didn’t write what was going on, what reason would anybody have to read anything I write? And if nobody read what I write, that would be sadder than Wake losing to Houston Baptist in basketball.

Well, almost.

Wake: A Program in Exile

By the time I retired from writing for daily newspapers in August of 2017, I had long since concluded that no story should ever be written about any coach in any sport at any time in the history of that sport without at least a fleeting reference the Grand Disclaimer of All-Time.

Which is:

A coach who wins often enough can do no wrong.

A coach who loses often enough can do no right.

If Wake was 75-58– and more to the point, 52-20 in ACC play – over Danny Manning’s four-plus seasons as head coach, it would matter little that Manning was hired after a run of six good weeks during his second season at Tulsa.

It would matter little that because of his guarded, some might say aloof nature, he has forged little to no connection with the media or fanbase.

It would matter little that he has yet to answer (that I’ve heard) any question asked him with any specificity or detail.

It would matter little that Manning at least appears to lack the fire in the belly of a Chris Mack or a Buzz Williams or a Jeff Capel or a Roy Williams or a Mike Kzyzewski or a Kevin Keatts or, for that matter, most any of his of his fellow coaching brethren.

And I don’t even think it would matter all that much that five players with eligibility remaining voted with their feet, by departing the program in search of greener pastures since last season.

But the cold hard facts of life for that ever-dwindling core of Wake fans who have yet to give up on the program are that Manning is not 74-56 and 20-52 in ACC play over his four-plus seasons as Wake’s head coach.

Manning, instead is, 58-75 and 20-52.

And because he loses and loses often, all the above questions and criticisms do matter, and they matter greatly.

And what matters even more is that in Manning’s fifth season as head coach his team is losing at home to one of the worst teams in all of college basketball, Houston Baptist. What matters even more is that in Manning’s fifth season as head coach, his team is extended into the final minute to beat another of the worst teams in college basketball, Western Carolina.

Again, at home.

What matters even more is that during a three-day period when the rest of the ACC is either coming off, playing or getting ready to play games in the vaunted ACC/Big Ten Challenge on packages televised across the globe, Wake is playing at home against Western Carolina in front of 3,500 gluttons for punishment.

As my man Evan Lepler mentioned during the play-by-play streaming on ACCN Extra, Wake was in exile from the ACC last night. Pitt, the only team picked to finish below Wake this season, was making a damn good showing in a 69-68 loss at 14th-ranked Iowa. N.C. State gave Wisconsin all it wanted at one of the toughest places to win in all of college basketball, the notorious Kohl Center. And Louisville was giving ACC foes a glimpse of what to expect under Mack by knocking off No. 9 Michigan State.

All while, once again, Wake is barely beating Western Carolina at home in front of 3,500 gluttons for punishment.

Has there ever been a time when Wake’s ties to the ACC – at least in the flagship sport of basketball – felt more tenuous?

Looking for some explanation, some reasonable alibi or justification for what I had just watched on ACCN streaming, I checked out Manning’s post-game address on Les Johns’ Demon Deacon Digest. Since retirement I’ve gotten really good at wasting time.

Asked if he was surprised to to find himself in a game late after leading 21-3 early, Manning’s answer was “that’s college basketball.’’

Well that’s not college basketball as played at SMU, which beat Western Carolina by 33. That’s not college basketball as played by Jacksonville State, which beat Western Carolina by 31. That’s not college basketball as played at Arizona, which beat Houston Baptist by 30. That’s not college basketball as played at Wisconsin, which beat Houston Baptist by 37.

But it is college basketball as played at Wake in Danny Manning’s fifth season as head coach.

The one rationalization Manning was quick to mention was the inexperience of his fifth team at Wake Forest.

“We’re a young team,’’ he said. And then he repeated it.

What he didn’t mention is that Bryant Crawford, Doral Moore and Keyshawn Woods had, among them, played a combined 247 games at Wake, and all had eligibility remaining. All were bragged on time and again by Manning during their career at Wake, and yet all chose to play this season elsewhere – Crawford in Israel, Moore in the G-Leage and Woods as a highly effective grad transfer at Ohio State.

Yes Wake is young, again. And there’s a reason Wake is young, again.

But is there any reason Danny Manning is still head basketball coach at Wake Forest?

If so, I’d love to hear it.