Look Who’s Back

Every day for the past few months I’ve awakened to the thought “You know I really should get back to my blog.’’

But then it didn’t take me all of my 67 years to realize that one of the most pointless words of the English language is should.

It’s at best a half-promise that may or may not be honored, at worst a reminder of what we really wanted to do but, for whatever reason, never got around to.

Well, today, Sept. 17, 2019, is the day that boredom finally drove me back to my laptop to pick up where I left off back in March, when insanity did indeed prevail and Danny Manning was retained to coach a sixth season at Wake Forest.

If anyone other than the man who made the announcement has publicly endorsed that decision, would someone please direct me to the statement or quote I obviously missed. And in that the man who did make the announcement, Ron Wellman, has now, like me, retired, the absence of any such bravery would mean that there’s no one currently at Wake Forest – other than maybe members of the basketball staff itself — who has voiced support for Manning remaining as head basketball coach.

The only conclusion I can reach is that no one wants to take the heat emitting from the dumpster fire Manning has kept ablaze. I wish Wellman’s successor, John Currie, luck. Even with Dave Clawson’s football team off to a 3-0 start replete with a stirring victory over arch-rival North Carolina , Currie is going to need all the luck he can get to survive the basketball season unscathed.

But I didn’t pick the blog back up to use as a cudgel to whack Wellman and Manning again, and I didn’t go on my hiatus simply because Wake didn’t heed my advice (as well as that of the rest of the known world) and hire a basketball coach who could possibly win in the ACC.

I feel good about myself, but not that good.

The prevailing reason I took a break is that this became a little bit too much like work. I got to feeling a bit compelled to keep the blog current, and I didn’t retire from 45 years spent as a working sportswriter (I know, I know, a contradiction of terms) just to chain myself to a commitment I wasn’t even getting paid to fulfill.

But I did miss it some because I do love to write. And I did really get off on the connection I made to many of you who found your way to My Take on Whatever.

So MTOW is back to catch everyone up on what’s been going on these past six months and alert folks to what’s in store for the foreseeable future.

The big news at the Collins Hacienda is that my bride, Tybee Leigh Terry Collins, finally in June joined her slug-a-bed husband in retirement. Guilt only begins to describe how I felt when she was still working after I wasn’t. An elementary school teacher these past 40 years, she was as done with what she had been doing as I was when I turned in my laptop to the Winston-Salem Journal in August of 2017. And dragging herself out of bed at 5:15 and out the door at 6:30 while her husband just snored away had to be purgatory.

We’ve made up for lost time, though, by reveling in retirement, enjoying our Thursday nights at Open Mic at Muddy Creek, taking afternoon naps when the mood arises, and getting the hacienda in at least some semblance of order. Then, a couple of weeks ago, we embarked with Tybee’s irrepressible sister Kim Hawks on an odyssey that included a memorable day spent in Memphis (Sun Studio, Stax Studio, Beale Street for drinks and dinner) and four unforgettable days in Dallas with our son Nate, his bride Laura and our three-and-a-half year-old angel of a grand-daughter, Isla.

We rented a car and I drove the entire two-thousand (and then some) miles. But I would – and will – do it again in a heartbeat to be able to reconnect with Nate and get to know better his beautiful (in every way) family.

My family.

Our family.

All that said, most of my last six months have been spent in a recording studio FINALLY putting down some of the songs I have spent a half-century writing. As I mentioned last spring, I’ve been working with a young (to me, almost everyone is young) Wake graduate named Geoff Weber arranging and recording 12 original songs for a CD to be titled CDC: A Lifetime in the Making.

Not only is Geoff a supremely talented engineer and musician, he plays in a band, Bad Cameo with some of the most talented musicians I’ve ever had the good fortune to know. So I enlisted guitarists Will Huesman and Lando Pieroni and drumer Dan Mead to back me on this project, while also drafting fast friends Jeff Shu (pedal steel), Dennis “Bubba” Speer (harmonica) and John “Hootie” Hoots (bass) to contribute their considerable talents to the project.

The CD should (there’s that word again) be out in early October, in plenty of time for the CD Release Show we have tentatively set for Sunday, Nov. 3, at the Muddy Creek Music Hall.

I’ll keep everyone apprised.

Thanks for remembering My Take on Whatever. The only thing worse than being gone is being forgotten.

Insanity Prevails

Thursday night, as many of you reading this know, is my night to howl at the moon.

It’s not that I stay down at Muddy Creek Cafe until the wee hours, making music the way it’s meant to be made among friends at our weekly Open Mic. At 66 I’m too old for that.

No, the problem – if you want to call it that – is that I return home from such joyful musical camaraderie so jacked up that it takes me hours to wind down. And if it wasn’t for good ol’ Bud Light, I’d probably see every Friday sunrise of the year.

Last night I was actually pretty good to myself. I settled in around 3, only to wake up around 10 this morning from the strangest dream, a dream in which the untenable was deemed tenable, the unfathomable was all too fathomable and the insane was being packaged and peddled as perfectly sane.

I woke up from a dream in which the Wake basketball coach nobody wants is still coaching basketball Wake – and will be for the foreseeable future.

Surely it was dream.

Only the barrage of messages on my cell phone proved otherwise.

All along I pondered just to how much would Ron Wellman and the powers that be at Wake be willing to subject anyone and everyone who ever cared one whit about Deacon basketball.

All along, I assured myself that surely Ron Wellman and the powers that be at Wake had seen what we all have seen over the past five years, that Danny Manning is hopelessly over-matched as a head ACC basketball coach.

All along, I assured myself that Ron Wellman would at least attempt to clean up the hot steaming mess he created with his last two basketball hires before he rides off into the sunset come May 1.

All along, I told myself time and again that surely Ron Wellman would not hang a 6-10 albatross around the neck of his successor John Currie, and ensure that Currie’s first basketball season would be chest deep in a raging river in rancor, bile and acrimony.

All along, I just knew in my heart, Wake would have to cut ties with Manning. All along I knew there was no way he could be retained.

And all along I was wrong.

Wellman, ducking the question about the buyout, had the brass to stand up before the assembled media and proclaim that the call to retain Danny Manning as head basketball coach at Wake was “strictly a basketball decision.’’

This was coming, lest we forget, from the man who stood before us all to say he was firing a coach with a 61-31 record because of his inability to win in late-season and post-season play. This was coming, lest we forget, from the man who told us that only weeks before hiring a coach who had never won an NCAA Tournament game.

As I once heard my friend Dave Odom say about a completely unrelated topic, I may have been born at night. But it wasn’t last night.

Don’t you get tired of being played for a fool?

No, there’s only one explanation that Danny Manning is still the basketball coach at Wake, and will be for the foreseeable future.

It’s certainly not Manning’s won-loss record of 65-93, and worse yet, 25-71 against the ACC coaches he was hired to beat.

It’s certainly not the ACC regular-season finishes of 11th, 13th, 10th, 14th and 13th.

It’s certainly not Manning’s record of 1-5 in the ACC Tournament.

It’s certainly not Manning’s 0-1 record in NCAA Tournament, or the way the team that beat Wake – Kansas State — set a season record for shooting percentage from the floor in a 95-88 First Four beat-down.

It’s certainly not any bond or connection the aloof Manning has established with the fan base or media over his first five seasons.

It’s certainly not the inability to graduate more than one player recruited by Manning over his first five years.

And it’s certainly not the mass exodus of 18 players voting with their feet by departing the program with eligibility remaining. (As an aside on this point, I find it particularly sidesplitting that Wellman, in today’s media conference, opined that something just has to be done about the attrition and how it takes seasoned, veteran players for a program such as Wake to win in ACC basketball. The lament was not unlike a person complaining of an ACL tear after his leg has been amputated at the thigh).

No, there’s one explanation and one explanation only that makes sense as to why Danny Manning is being retained as head basketball coach at Wake.

Ron Wellman, early in the 2017-18 season, signed Manning to a contract extension that contained a buyout so exorbitant that the school, two 20-loss seasons later, couldn’t see its way to pay. And this is not only on Wellman, but on anyone and everyone who approved the contract extension early in the 2017-18 season.

Think for just one second about what Manning had proven when the extension was offered and signed. At that point Manning was 83-86 as a head college basketball coach and had managed only two cameos in the NCAA Tournament. Yes, he had secured a recruiting class that some were saying would turn the program’s fortunes around, but, again, lest we forget, some were saying the same about the recruiting class of J.T. Terrell, Travis McKie, Tony Chenault, Carson Desrosiers and Melvin Tabb back in 2010 and the one of Devin Thomas, Codi Miller-McIntyre, Tyler Cavanaugh, Madison Jones, Aaron Rountree, Arnaud Adala Moto and Andre Washington in 2013.

No, on the day the contract extension was announced, Nov. 25, 2017, Manning was 2-4 in the new season having already lost to Georgia Southern, Liberty and Drake. He had proven nothing – other than he was hopelessly over-matched as an ACC coach. There was no college program in the country that wanted to hire Danny Manning away. And there were precious few people at Wake the least bit concerned that some school might.

And that’s when Ron Wellman locked Danny Manning to an extension that two 20-loss seasons later, the school couldn’t find a way to pay itself out from under. And because of that Wellman and the powers that be (and I’m talking here about Nathan Hatch and the board of trustees and one particular well-heeled alum who has his name on the brand-spanking new building) have resigned anyone and everyone who ever cared about Wake basketball to at least one more season of hopeless misery and rank despair.

I always thought the hiring of Jeff Bzdelik as head coach was the dumbest decision by a man I had always considered to be smart. No longer.

Retaining Danny Manning is the dumbest decision of my lifetime of covering basketball.

And I hate that for Ron, a man with whom I built a strong and at times really warm relationship during my days on the beat, and who now will be doomed to Wake basketball infamy.

I hate it for the new guy, John Currie, whose honeymoon as Wake’s new director of athletics is doomed before it even begins.

I hate it for any player playing basketball at Wake who still harbors the fantasy of ever playing in the NCAA Tournament or finishing better than 10th in the ACC standings.

I even hate it for Danny Manning, the coach nobody wants who will be coaching Wake next year. With every loss, of games and/or personnel, Manning will sink ever deeper in the pit of ignominy.

But most of all I hate it for you folks reading this, who apparently are the only people on the planet who still care a whit for basketball as played at Wake.

I woke up from last night’s revelry to a truly sad day at Wake, a day when insanity did indeed prevail.

Will Sanity Prevail at Wake?

If sanity prevails, and Danny Manning really did coach his last game at Wake yesterday, future generations might wonder how a chapter of Deacon history that began with such fanfare and promise ended in such utter despair and failure.

The raw numbers of Manning’s five years are pretty raw indeed.

Overall record: 65-93.

Record against ACC competition: 25-71.

Regular-season finishes: 11th, 13th, 10th, 14th, 13th.

Record in ACC Tournament: 1-5.

Record in NCAA Tournament: 0-1.

Freshmen recruited by Manning who graduated: 1.

Scholarship players who departed with eligibility remaining: 18 (so far).

As if all that wasn’t damning enough, a better, more graphic indication of the abysmal brand of basketball played under Manning could be gleaned from video of yesterday’s 79-71 loss to Miami in the first round of the ACC Tournament.

I would instruct the curious to roll the tape to the 12:35 mark of the first half. The Deacons have scored eight straight to lead 16-9. Miami is reeling, having turned the ball over on four of five previous possessions. The Hurricanes’ spark plug guard, Chris Lykes, has two fouls. What Wake following there is at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center is making its presence felt.

Miami’s Jim Larranaga, out of desperation, calls time.

Now that’s the moment a good team, or even a mediocre team playing well, takes the game by the throat. Everything is going its way. The opponent has been playing short-handed all season en route to a 5-13 conference record. Larranaga is debating on whether to bench Lykes or roll the dice. The Canes, who have lost four of their last six, are discombobulated.

Anyone who expected such a result knows nothing about Wake basketball as played for Danny Manning.

What actually happens is the Deacons come out of the timeout and spill their lead down the nearest drain. Isaiah Mucius, playing like the freshman he is, turns the ball over. Jaylen Hoard, playing like the freshman he is, turns the ball over. Hoard turns the ball over again.

It’s oft been said there are no freshmen in college basketball come March.

It’s also oft been said that there is an exception to every rule.

Down at the other end, D.J. Vasiljevic pours in five quick points, hitting a jumper off an offensive rebound and nailing a 3-pointer from the right corner when Hoard loses track of him in the Wake zone.

And like that, the moment is gone and Wake is in a dogfight the rest of the way – a dogfight it would lose in most familiar fashion.

Miami, a team that has worn down all season because of lack of numbers, crossed midcourt with the ball 35 times in the second half. The Canes scored on 22 of those possessions.

Danny Manning was schooled by experienced, accomplished ACC coaches from the day he arrived at Wake, and he was schooled by an experienced, accomplished ACC coach in his final game.

Larranaga, the guy who has won 645 games over 33 seasons as a Division I head coach, knew what his team had to do. He told the Canes to drive the ball to the hoop.

Manning, the guy who has won 168 games over seven seasons as a Division I head coach, had no idea how to stop Miami. The Canes gutted the Wake defense in the second half like so many teams have done before over Manning’s five seasons.

That hat that Manning proclaimed he would hang his program on was once again stomped into the hardwood. Looking back, maybe the hat Manning had in mind was a beanie, with a propeller on top.

A long-time compadre, Ed Hardin of the Greensboro New and Record, asked what is on the mind of everybody and anybody who ever cared about Wake basketball after yesterday’s loss.

Did Manning expect to be back for a sixth season?

“That’s my hope,’’ Manning replied. “That’s always the hope. You know, I feel I’ll be back.

“You know, I’ll look at the scorecard, the score sheet, and everyone that scored is an underclassman. We had some guys that grew a significant amount this year in terms of their growth from the start to the finish, and that’s how we want to build it.’’

And like that the great excuse for this season – youth – has been given as a reason for Manning to get another season.

Wellman told reporters he’ll will go through the standard evaluation process and meet with Manning now that the season has ended, like he does with every coach at Wake. I can’t imagine we’ll hear anything until after the ACC Tournament concludes on Saturday.

But as I’ve written before, and may even write again before next week, the retirement of Ron Wellman and hiring of John Currie makes absolutely no sense if Wake intends to retain Danny Manning as head basketball coach.

No sense whatsoever.

It was Wellman who made a mess of the Wake basketball program, and it’s up to him to clean it up.

If Manning is head basketball coach next season, John Currie’s first season as director of athletics will be miserable, one mired in vitriol, rancor and full-fledge rebellion.

Does Ron Wellman really have the nerve, much less the indecency, to hang a 6-10 albatross around his successor’s neck?

A Bright New Day for Wake Hoops

The position of head basketball coach at Wake became a better job Sunday than it was Saturday.

Overnight, with the announcement that John Currie is replacing a retiring Ron Wellman as director of athletics, it became a much different, much, much better job.

Let’s just imagine that you’re one of the nation’s hottest candidates for a Power Five Conference – no, go a step further and make it an ACC job – and you get a call from an athletics director to gauge your interest in coaching at his program.

And let’s just say the call comes from a 70-year-old A.D. who has over the past nine years been attempting – quite unsuccessfully, mind you – to quell a fan insurrection over the plummeting fortunes of his program resulting from two historically disastrous coaching hires.

You know you’re going to walk into the biggest mess said basketball program has ever seen and you have to wonder how long the man hiring you will even be on the job.

Thanks, but no thanks.

Now let’s say the call comes from a bright, charismatic 47-year-old A.D. who has just been hired to put his stamp on the program. And let’s say said A.D. has already displayed enough prescience to hire Bruce Pearl (who for all his baggage did average 24 victories a season at UT and coach his team into the NCAA Tournament all six seasons) at one school and Bruce Weber (currently 147-87 at Kansas State) at another.

You just have to know how hungry the school is to again have a winning basketball program and you know there are rich alumni willing to spend big bucks. If they have enough money to build a glittering 21st-century building, they have enough to finance a winning basketball program.

And you know just how important it is for the A.D. to make the right hire, and that he’s going to do whatever he can to give you the resources and support needed to get the job done right.

You know you and your A.D. are going to be in this thing together.

He’ll be your guy, and you’ll be his.

That’s a call I have to guess that pretty much everyone not named Krzyzewski, Williams, Boeheim or Bennett is going to at least return.

A new day dawned Sunday on Wake basketball, a bright, new day replete with all the hope that has been for the most part missing over the last long demoralizing nine seasons. And, personally, I’m so happy for a beleaguered fan base that has been subjected to so much heartbreak and humiliation since April of 2010 when Ron Wellman hired Jeff Bzdelik as head basketball coach at Wake.

All of this presupposes, of course, that Wake will have a new head basketball coach along with a new A.D. And I doubt much will be said about that at today’s media conference called to introduce the guy coming in, Currie, and say good things about the guy leaving Wellman.

And that’s entirely proper. Wellman, despite botching the last two basketball hires, did a laudable and in some ways amazing job during his 27 years as Wake’s director of athletics. That might be akin to saying that despite that little Vietnam issue, Lyndon Baines Johnson was a hell of a president. But being director of athletics at by far the smallest school in the ACC is a hard job, and over the first two-thirds of his run, Ron Wellman was a hell of an A.D.

He deserves his due. I say we all be big and remember Jim Grobe and Dave Clawson and NCAA titles in field hockey, soccer and tennis.

All that said, without a change in basketball, the hiring of John Currie as A.D. makes absolutely no sense. Surely Nathan Hatch and Mit Shah and Ben Sutton and the others calling the shots these days at Wake are too smart to even contemplate retaining Danny Manning as head basketball coach.

If John Currie accepted the job knowing he would be saddled with Danny Manning as his basketball coach, he’s not as smart as I’ve been told he is.

First off, Manning has been an abysmal failure. Anyone can see that the definition of failure is to be 4-12 in your conference (with eight of the 12 losses by at least 20 points) in your fifth season at the helm and being destined to finish in the bottom third of the league all five seasons.

To saddle the new guy with this kind of proven ineptitude would be the height of folly, almost as silly as replacing a coach with a 61-31 record with an infamously inarticulate career NBA assistant with a 111-105 record over seven seasons as a college head coach.

The one person who didn’t have cause to celebrate Sunday’s announcement was Danny Manning. The ground beneath him and his staff shook violently.

For human nature is such that any manager hired for any position is going to want to put their stamp on things. He or she are going to want their people in the most important positions.

I’ve seen it my whole life. I certainly saw it when Dave Odom preceded Ron Wellman at Wake.

The two co-existed for 10 years – during which Dave won two ACC championships and played in post-season every year — and I’m convinced that each respected the other.

But there was an uneasiness in the relationship. Ron wanted his guy to be the face of the department’s most high profile program, and Dave, who was hired by Gene Hooks, was never going to be Ron’s guy. Both men knew it.

And I’ll be forever convinced that was a prevailing reason contract negotiations broke down during the 2000-2001 season and Dave felt compelled to make the jump to safer ground in South Carolina.

Now instead of saddling Currie with Manning, let him make his mark. Wake hired him to call the shots. Let him start with what will almost certainly be the biggest decision of his entire tenure at the school.

This is not John Currie’s Super Bowl or World Series. Those games are played at the end of the season. This is John Currie’s Daytona 500, for NASCAR is the one sport that presents its biggest event at the start of a new season.

You don’t think John Currie knows how important it’s going to be to hire the right guy to coach at Wake starting next season? You don’t think he’s going to put all the knowledge, energy and contacts he’s accumulated in his 27 years in college athletics into hiring the right guy to coach at Wake next season?

A new day dawned on Wake basketball Sunday, a bright new day replete with all the hope that has been missing from the nightmare of the last nine seasons.

Good for Wake. Good for anyone who still cares about Wake basketball.

Zion: Could the Best Know What’s Best?

So the question being bandied about the blogosphere these days is whether Zion Williamson should return from a mild knee sprain to play again for Duke?

I’m seeing it here, and here and here.

It’s a question I’ll answer with a few questions of my own.

Question 1: Why should anyone other than Zion and his family even be asking the question?

Question 2: What’s it to those asking the question?

Question 3: Are they so certain they know what’s best for Zion that they’re telling him how to spend the next two months which could potentially be the best two months of his life?

Question 4: Are they so convinced that the NCAA is a corrupt body that exploits “student-athletes” for power and greed that they’re calling on Zion Williamson to expose that corruption and greed?

Question 5: And even if the NCAA is a corrupt body that exploits “student-athletes” for power and greed, why is it up to Zion Williamson to fight a fight he’d rather not fight?

Question 6: Just what do they know about Zion Williamson’s relationship with his teammates or the bonds they’ve formed over the past nine months?

Question 7: Is it possible that in Zion’s mind, the risk of injury is worth a solid crack at a national championship?

Question 8: Is it possible that Coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke training staff actually do have Zion Williamson’s best interests in mind?

Question 9: Would it not be folly for a man of Mike Kzyzewski’s accomplishments and stature to push his own self interests over those of a player with Zion Williamson’s promise and ability?

Question 10: Could Mike Krzyzewski — already a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and considered by many to be the greatest coach in the history of college basketball – really need a sixth national championship that badly?

Question 11: What will Zion Williamson do the next two months if he doesn’t play basketball for Duke?

Question 12: Is there any chance that Zion Williamson will not play basketball at any gym in the the world between now and the June 20th NBA draft?

Question 13: Could it be that playing pickup games in local gyms might be a bigger risk to Zion Williamson’s future NBA earnings than playing the next two months for Duke?

Question 14: Is there enough bubble wrap in the world to cover Zion Williamson’s 6-7, 284-pound frame between now and the June 20th NBA draft?

Question 15: Has the game of college basketball been so degraded that players with NBA potential should weigh throughout their freshman season whether to keep playing or not?

Question 16: Is there anyone remaining outside the NBA Player Association who thinks a player should be 19 to be eligible for the draft?

Question 17: Is Charles Barkley right for wondering when was it that everything in our society boiled down to how much money there might be to be made?

Question 18: Is Charles Barkley right for saying that a basketball player plays basketball because that what basketball players do?

Question 19: Is there anyone maintaining that Zion Williamson shouldn’t play again because they don’t want their own preferred team to have to play against him anymore?

Question 20: Why should anyone other than Zion Williamson and his family even be asking the question?

Gordianus The Finder

Besides being one of the most influential figures in the history of baseball, Bill Veeck was also one of the most fascinating.

Want a great read? Find, if you can, a copy of Veeck As in Wreck and dive in. There’s very little being done to promote the game of baseball that didn’t spring from the twisted, but oh so fertile and clever mind of one William Louis Veeck, Jr.

BV, or Before Veeck, the game and those who ran it took itself and themselves way too seriously. It needed a good goosing, and nobody was more up to the task than Veeck.

“I try not to break the rules,’’ Veeck once explained, “but merely test their elasticity.’’

One great regret is that I never met him. I know he was full of himself, and that enemies who described him as a huckster and a gadfly weren’t entirely wrong. But anybody who loses a leg fighting as a Marine in the South Pacific, and then carves an ashtray out of his wooden prosthetic to snuff his cigarettes in is OK by me.

He dropped out of Kenyon College when his father – a sportswriter hired as general manager of the Chicago Cubs – came down with leukemia, the same scourge that did in my own mother. But he never lost his love for the written word.

When he’d come across an author who caught his attention, he would do his diligence and read the writer’s output in the chronological order that it was written. He wanted to see what evolution, or perhaps devolution, the author had experienced and soak in everything that had been offered.

I’m drawn to Veeck for at least three reasons – his love of baseball, his love of the written word, and his love of stirring up the established order in the pursuit of pure unadulterated fun.

My own taste in literature runs toward historical fiction. I love reading those books where if you’re not careful you might learn something worth learning.

Favorites are Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden, Edward Rutherfurd and Ken Follett. If ever tortured to the point I’d have to name my favorite historical fiction work of all time, I’d probably scream out Follett’s Pillars of the Earth.

Whoever thought a tale about building a cathedral in 12th Century Britain could be so spell-binding?

But a writer who, in my mind, is giving them all a run for their money is one I came across a couple of years back named Steven Saylor. He writes about a period I find infinitely engrossing, Roman history in the final century BC, the time of Sulla, Cicero, Spartacus, Pompey and, of course the great one himself, Julius Caesar.

His hero is a Roman citizen named Gordianus the Finder, who over past couple of years has become one of my all-time favorite literary characters. If there’s anyone reading this who has any say in the development of television or cinematic entertainment, I’m going to give you the best advice of your career.

Take the character Gordianus the Finder and make a series out of him. You’d be rich and famous and I’d be happy and grateful to have something good to watch.

Gordianus was called The Finder because his powers of deduction were so uncanny that he – and ostensibly only he – could unlock the deepest, darkest secrets of the deep and dark Roman Empire. And everyone knew it, so they would hire him to glean the kind of information that could make a society rumble and an empire crumble.

He was, in short, a PI, a Private Investigator centuries before the term was coined.

So the series would have that element, and even those who have little interest in Roman history would have trouble resisting a good mystery. And Saylor, besides having researched his history to infinite detail, also writes a good mystery.

Best I can tell, Saylor has trotted out 16 tales of Gordianus The Finder so far in a series titled Roma Sub Rosa. In Latin, a matter deemed Sub Rosa meant it was confidential.

Unless I’m mistaken I’ve read six of the 16 Gordianus the Finder. Every one has been a page-turner.

Only I never read them in any particular order, just whenever I could find one on the shelves of a local library or second-hand book store. So by the closing chapters of The Judgment of Caesar, which I polished off over the holidays, I decided to take a Veeckian approach to the series and read them in order.

By The Judgment of Caesar, Gordianus was an old man riddled by the aches and pains and frustrations that I, at 66, know all too well. I could relate.

But it’s been fun starting back at the start, with The Seven Wonders, when Gordianus is a fresh-faced whippersnapper of 18 years old who had just donned his toga signifying adulthood. He travels the ancient world with a celebrated poet gone incognito named Antipeter of Sidon solving mysteries from Ephesus to Rhodes to Olympia to Babylon to Memphis.

I’ve already checked the local library’s catalog to find that most of the books are in one branch or another. And here in Winston-Salem, those running the library are great about transferring a book from a far-away branch to one much closer.

Another trick I’ve learned is to buy a book used on-line and have it sent to your house. You can usually find a decent copy for less than 10 dollars, postage included.

The Seven Wonders closes in Egypt where Gordianus finds and buys the love of his life, a slave named Bethesda. So obviously he remains there for the second book of the series Raiders of the Nile, which I’ve yet to read but am looking forward to with great anticipation.

What I’ve found is retirement is boring only to those who allow it to be.

Cardinals “Embarrass” Deacons

Embarrassed was a word we learned to tread carefully around, those of us who wrote sports for the Winston-Salem Journal while Terry Oberle was our editor.

Every time the word showed up in our copy, Terry would strike it out.

“To say a person was embarrassed assumes you know what they were thinking,’’ he explained. “You can’t assume you know what someone is thinking.’’

“But Terry,’’ we’d sputter, “they just got annihilated at home by the the worst team in the league. They were never in the game. The fans were booing. Even the cheerleaders were holding their noses. Of course they were embarrassed.’’

“I’m not saying they shouldn’t be embarrassed,’’ Terry would saying, sticking to his guns as he was known to do. “I would be embarrassed. You would be embarrassed. But that said, you still can’t assume you know what’s in someone else’s mind.’’

So bless Jaylen Hoard’s heart last night after Wake’s 82-54 blood-letting at the hands of Louisville. He came right out and said what everyone knew to be true.

“Obviously we lost – it was embarrassing,’’ Hoard said. “It was just an embarrassing loss.’’

There’s so little I find worth watching on television these days that I was chagrined to find out that Wake would be playing at the same time as the season finale of The Vikings. I’m a sucker for history – especially early British history for some reason — so I’ve really gotten into the tale of Ragnar Lothbrook and his sons on the History Channel.

It can get pretty gory at times, but nothing I saw when I watched the repeat at midnight matched the carnage I witnessed from Joel Coliseum. The Cardinals made the return of Chris Mack and Dino Gaudio one to long remember by scoring on 28 of the first 42 times they had the ball en route to a 64-29 lead.

You read that right. The Cardinals, picked to finish 11th in the ACC and playing for a first-year coach, led 64-29.

If Danny Manning was embarrassed by his team’s performance, he did his usual superb job of hiding it. Of course he’s had plenty of practice over his 147 games (62 wins and 85 losses) as Wake’s head coach.

He even kept his cool while fumbling with the microphones in front of him as he sat down to address the assembled media. The questions, you’ve probably noticed, have gotten sharper as the losses have mounted, as should be the case given the Deacons’ 1-7 record in ACC play.

But there was nothing Manning said that we haven’t heard so many times before.

We heard how the Deacons have to win each possession.

We heard how Manning played 15 years in the NBA, despite blowing out his knee three times.

And we heard how Wake has a young team. In fact, we heard the word young five different times. Young team. Young group. Young this. Young that.

I don’t know about you. But to me this stuff about how Wake is a young team has long since gotten old. There are plenty of young teams in this day of the fly-by-night player who are faring far better than the trainwreck know as Wake basketball.

Manning came up with a new spin last night, how his senior class is playing professional basketball. That’s a deft way of saying it, considering only one of them, John Collins, is living his dream of playing in the NBA.

Another, Doral Moore, is playing in the G-League, and yet another, Bryant Crawford, is playing in Egypt. Both chose highly uncertain prospects over another season of playing college ball for Danny Manning.

What Manning didn’t mention, mind you, were the six other players he and his staff recruited – Donovan Mitchell, Melo Eggleston, Rich Washington, Jamie Lewis, Samuel Japhet-Mathias and Keyshawn Woods – who would be on the roster if they hadn’t either transferred or been dismissed.

The best question, to my mind, was asked by Les Johns of Demon Deacon Digest concerning what Manning himself might do to get the team on track down the stretch.

“Yeah I’ve got to continue to – I’ve got to do a better job,’’ Manning said. “I think we all have to do a better job. It’s not – it’s everybody. Obviously I’m the head coach and it starts with me.’’

If he had stopped there, I wouldn’t have been as bothered as I shortly thereafter. What I heard next sounded mighty close to “Don’t blame me. Blame the players.’’

“But when we go into the games, we have an understanding of what the teams are going to do,’’ Manning said. “We just have to go out there and do a better job of executing it.’’

Sitting on the opposite bench were two coaches – head coach Mack and assistant coach Gaudio – I had the pleasure of getting to know fairly well during their times at Wake. It was good to see Dino back in the game after sitting out the eight seasons following his dismissal as the Deacons’ head coach..

I thought Dino handled the build-up to his return to Joel Coliseum well when Conor O’Neil caught up with him for the advance story. He took the high road, and came off looking all the better for it.

That said, I know there had to be some satisfaction for Dino to know what one person in the stands was suffering through as the Cardinals ran the Deacons out of their own building. That, of course, would be Ron Wellman, the director of athletics who extended Gaudio’s contract in the fall of 2009 and fired him in the spring of 2010.

Wellman never sufficiently explained the dismissal, leaving one to assume that Gaudio’s 61-31 record at Wake wasn’t good enough.

Sorry Terry. There I go assuming again.