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?

Regard

There was a stretch there about 15 or so years ago when I was the envy of every beat guy in the ACC footprint.

From Syracuse down to Miami, I’d run into sportswriters who couldn’t believe how good I had it. In football season, I got to work with Jim Grobe, in basketball Skip Prosser.

Besides being smart men really good at what they did, there was another quality that set them apart from the rank-and-file coaches plying their trade in the ACC. Both Jim and Skip had a huge regard for the people they were around. They made sure they knew your name. They made you feel like you were somebody.

I can’t remember ever walking away from either Jim or Skip without a smile on my face, and another story to tell my friends.

And what would turn my sports writing brothers and sisters an even deeper shade of green was to remind them that before Skip came along in 2001, I had the unparalleled pleasure of covering Dave Odom for a dozen unforgettable seasons.

If there was ever a better basketball coach to deal with than Dave Odom, I didn’t come across them in my 45 years of chasing that bouncing ball.

And it wasn’t just that Dave, Skip and Jim would all allow me to attend practices in a time that most practices from Syracuse to Miami were shuttered and locked down. Not only was I invited, I was made most welcome. If I’d miss a day or two, they’d wonder where the hell I’d been.

And because of this arrangement I got to know Dave, Skip and Jim. Beyond that, I got to know their assistant coaches and their staff right on down to the managers.

Most important, I got to know their players.

To my mind, I never wrote better because I had so much to write. And I have to think that the real winners were the readers of the Winston-Salem Journal, as well as the football and basketball programs at Wake.

I always thought it was such a sensible approach at Wake, a small private school wedged in the shadow of larger and more prominent institutions that was always struggling for oxygen on the sports pages and sports casts from the Triad to the Triangle.

Which is why I once asked Ron Wellman, Wake’s director of athletics, if a coach’s ability to relate to the media and the fans was taken into account when he went searching for someone to lead his football and basketball programs.

“It’s not the first consideration,’’ Wellman replied. “The first consideration is that we find a coach who can win.

“But it is a consideration.’’

Watching Wake once again assume the fetal position at Florida State last night – while giving up baskets on 21 of the Seminoles’ final 29 possessions to get undressed 88-66 – reminded me for not the first time how right a man can be at one stage of his tenure and how wrong at another.

In his last two cracks at hiring a basketball coach, Wellman landed coaches who whiffed so wildly on both of his criteria. Neither Jeff Bzdelik nor Danny Manning could/can win, and neither showed any real regard for those around them.

The difference is I got to know Jeff, and actually got to like him. His inability to connect with the media and the fans, in my mind, had more to do with his innate awkwardness and conspicuous lack of social skills. But we had a number of really pleasant one-on-one conversations, particularly when talking about such subjects as music and family.

I wish I could say I got to know Danny in the three seasons I covered him, but, alas, I can’t. And in talking with others around the department, I’m convinced the problem was not mine.

The best word I can use to describe Danny Manning is private. I could go with aloof, or remote, or maybe even standoffish. But what I read most is indifference. He comes across as indifferent to the wants and needs of those around him.

The day he arrived he pulled the shutters down around his program and made it as clear as a sunny Valentine’s Day that there was a line that was not to be crossed.

Now don’t get me wrong. Dave and Jim and Skip had their lines that were not to be crossed as well. But theirs seemed to be established for the good of their programs while Danny’s line seems to be for the good of Danny Manning.

Most of you folks reading this are fans of Wake. You tell me. Do you feel any connection with Danny Manning, anything close to the connection you felt with Skip or Jim or Dave?

The results, as I see them, are at least three-fold.

The coverage of Wake is not as good as it was in my day. That’s not to say that today’s beat guys, Conor O’Neill of the Journal and Les Johns of Demon Deacon Digest, aren’t as good at what they do as I was. It’s just that they’ve not been given the same chance to cover Wake basketball that I was during my heyday.

The atmosphere at home games at Joel Coliseum is not anywhere near as festive, raucous and lively as it used to be. The crowds have actually been surprisingly generous for a program in such dire straits, but people who go regularly tell me there’s no real enthusiasm or energy in the place.

And if Danny had the ability to connect with people, do you really think the revolving door would be spinning from recruits leaving the program with eligibility remaining?

I burst out laughing every time I hear the default excuse of how Manning’s fifth team at Wake is so young – and that’s why the Deacons are currently 2-9 and sinking fast through the ACC standings. Well when eight of the first ten players you recruit either bail or get kicked off the team, well yeah, you’re going to be young.

In his five seasons as Wake, Danny has coached one senior that he recruited as a freshman, that being Mitchell Wilbekin. If he sticks around to play for his father, Randolph, Brandon Childress next season will be the second.

No one can blame Danny for John Collins leaving for NBA stardom after his sophomore year. I’ll give him that. And the argument can also be made that Dinos Mitoglou did all right for himself by returning to Greece to play pro ball after his junior season.

But that hardly explains the spinning turnstile of Cornelius Hudson, Doral Moore, Bryant Crawford, Donovan Mitchell, Samuel Japhet-Mathias and Rich Washington. Nor does it even take into account Melo Eggleston, a member of the 2018 class who left after one season, or Jamie Lewis, a 2019 recruit already gone.

Mike Brey is a coach so many ACC sportswriters got to know back in the day he was an assistant at Duke, and the universal opinion is that Mike is a good guy. He’s struggling this season, his 19th as head coach at Notre Dame. But in watching the Irish beat Georgia Tech 69-59 Sunday night, I was struck by how the two announcers calling the game, Anish Shroff and Cory Alexander, couldn’t say enough good things about Mike Brey – no matter how hard they tried.

They went on and on about how Mike had pulled struggling T.J. Gibbs aside for some personal time shooting baskets together in the gym in an effort to get Gibbs back on stride. They had all these wonderful things to say about a coach who entered the game with a 2-8 record.

You just know that when Anish and Cory showed up at South Bend, that Mike welcomed them with open arms and showed them the kind of regard he shows everybody. He made them feel like somebody. I can remember what a good feeling that is.

Notre Dame, like Wake, is going to be good in basketball only if it can recruit the right players and keep them around long enough for them to develop into top-tier ACC talent. And in the five years Danny Manning has coached one senior he recruited as a freshman, Mike Brey has coached four – Bonzie Colson, Matt Farrell, Martinas Geben and Rex Pflueger, all of whom got inexorably better during their careers at Notre Dame.

That’s not even counting Nikolo Djogo, a red-shirt junior who, like Pflueger, is in his fourth season in the program.

None of us should ever forget the Grand Caveat of Coaching. The coach who wins often enough can do no wrong and the coach who loses often enough can do no right. But when you’re at Wake, and even Notre Dame, you’re not going to win enough every season. No coach ever has.

That’s why it’s so important for the Wakes and Notre Dames of the sporting world to find a coach who can connect with the fans, the players and the media, the guy with a capacity to show regard for someone besides themselves.

The time will come when either Wellman or his replacement will be on the market looking for a new basketball coach.

If it is indeed Wellman, do you think he will remember a lesson once learned but forgotten? For the sake of the fans, for Conor O’Neill and Les Johns and for the players who sign at Wake hoping to play not just in the ACC but in the NCAA Tournament as well, I can only hope so.

Regard. It’s an important word in life. Those who show it benefit and thrive, those who don’t suffer the consequences of a world of one.

Living the Dream of Wall-to-Wall ACC Basketball

A problem with covering ACC basketball for a living is you don’t get to see all the ACC basketball you want to see.

The paradox has to do with the time required to cover an ACC basketball game. While others are watching all those great games on television, the beat guy is getting to his assigned game, preparing for the game, watching the game, and then conducting the interviews and gathering the material required to write about it.

So often I’d leave the hacienda at 9:30 for a noon home game, and when all was said and done, come dragging back in around dinner time. And if the game was on the road – say in Charlottesville or Atlanta or Tallahassee or Boston — then my entire weekend would be consumed with the logistics of getting there, covering the game and getting home.

To find out what transpired elsewhere in the footprint, I’d have to rely on reading the accounts written by others, or talking to friends fortunate enough to see the games.

All of which is why I’ve never watched as much ACC basketball as I have since retiring from the Winston-Salem Journal 18 months ago. That’s also why I’m loving pretty much every minute of it, especially on days such as we had this past Saturday.

I climb out of bed warning my bride Tybee that it’s going to be wall-to-wall basketball. How she puts up with me, I’ll never know.

Nor will I cease to be ever grateful.

But what a slice of heaven this past Saturday proved to be, watching ACC basketball from the tip of North Carolina’s noon game against Miami to the conclusion of Duke’s at Virginia at around 8. Retirement truly has its rewards.

Having spent my career in Chapel Hill and Winston-Salem, I’m drawn more to the Big Four schools. And on this occasion, I was actually happy that Wake had the day off. The Deacons of this day and time, sadly, are rarely worth watching.

But the three Big-Four games played Saturday were classics, with the Tar Heels outlasting in overtime an inspired Hurricanes team playing out of its mind, the Wolfpack gutting out a game at Pitt it absolutely could not afford to lose and the Blue Devils hitting enough 3-pointers to hold off the Hoos in what I always considered the ACC’s most fabulous show place, John Paul Jones Arena.

My only real chore of the day was figuring out what window to run out and procure dinner from a near-by restaurant. I chose the first half of the four o’clock Louisville at Florida State tilt and got back (with take-out lasagna in tow) in plenty of time to see the second half and overtime of the Seminoles’ hard-fought victory over Chris Mack’s high-flying Cardinals.

Conclusions drawn from this wall-to-wall ACC basketball were four-fold.

With Coby White playing like a 6-5 Phil Ford, the Tar Heels are one team no one wants to face come NCAA Tournament time.

State still appears to be running on fumes, though one has to give Jeff Capel and the Panthers plenty of credit for giving the Pack all it could handle.

The Duke freshmen, particularly R.J. Barrett, were highly inspired and motivated by the front-row presence of LeBron James and (to a lesser-degree) Rajon Rondo and wanted to give those guys a sneak peek of what to expect in the NBA come next season.

The best play-by-play/color man combo calling ACC basketball these days, by far, is that of Evan Lepler and Dave Odom.

Here’s where I admit I’m not the most objective critic to be found. Both Evan and Dave are good friends.

I’ve known Dave well since he became Wake’s head basketball coach in 1989 and he always treated me the way any beat guy would love to be treated. And I’ve known Evan since his under-graduate days at Wake going on 15 years ago, and have followed his career with great interest.

It’s been really cool this season to see Evan getting more and more high-profile games. He’s earned those opportunities, and, to my mind, he continues to make the most of them. He’s a bright guy quick to learn, and you can just sense him gaining confidence and polish with every game he calls.

I expect Evan Lepler to be on the ACC scene for years to come, and all of us ACC fans will continue to be all the more fortunate for it.

And Dave Odom has forgotten more basketball than most of us will ever know. He’s also the ultimate people-person, and his love and appreciation for the game he devoted a life to comes across so loud and so clear.

Dave, like Evan, is a bright guy quick to learn. And Dave’s great challenge as a commentator was not in knowing what to say, but learning when to not say anything.

Anyone who knows Dave knows he’s a talker. Any sportswriter who was ever around during Dave’s time will recount the time Dave took 10 minutes to answer a question that another coach would have dispensed with in 15 seconds.

And that’s why every sportswriter I ever met loved Dave Odom. He held us in high regard, and the feeling was mutual.

Dave is also a naturally funny guy prone to say things as only he can say him. To me, that’s a plus in this new pursuit of him.

There’s a natural rhythm in every good play-by-play/color man team, and Dave, as he gains experience, is learning not to step on the comments of his teammate. But I also noticed a natural rapport between Evan and Dave, which warms the heart of a good friend of both.

Like when Dave observed player taking a flop in an attempt to draw a charge and giving up a basket.

Odom: “A lingering question with contact is when do you fall back and give up a shot – not that time.’’

To which Evan responded: “And that’s a question that will linger forever.’’

But my favorite moment of the whole day was a line by Dave that had me laughing out loud. Now Dave is an old-school guy. So I was hardly surprised to find he’s not a fan of the infestation of the Euro-step in modern basketball – which would have been called walking during Dave’s days of coaching high school basketball in Goldsboro and Durham and would still be today if called correctly.

“That Euro-step all these guys are working on – that needs to be left in Europe.’’

What could be better than watching ACC basketball with two great friends like Evan Lepler and Dave Odom? If I find out, I’ll let you know.

But don’t expect an answer anytime soon.

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.