ACC Basketball Preview: Wake Forest

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 6, 2008

By Joedy McCreary
Associated Press
WINSTON-SALEMó Harvey Hale ran down the list of his newest teammates at Wake Forest.
The senior guard considered Al-Farouq Aminu’s scoring touch, Tony Woods’ relentless desire to rebound and Ty Walker’s knack for altering shots when he isn’t swatting them away.
His conclusion: The three freshmen share a very important trait, one that could make Dino Gaudio’s Demon Deacons the best they’ve been in years.
“Farouq, I feel like he’s an NBA player,” Hale said. “Tony Woods could be an NBA player. Ty Walker could be an NBA player. All of them have NBA potential. At this level, everybody’s good. You guys are in the ACC, you have to continually get better every practice, work on your game, and hopefully, good things will happen.”
That’s what they’re counting on at Wake Forest, which hasn’t been a formidable factor in the Atlantic Coast Conference in several seasons. If one of the nation’s top recruiting classes can successfully mesh with a roster that returns 99 percent of its scoring from last year, the Demon Deacons could have their best team since the Chris Paul-led 2004-05 group claimed the first No. 1 ranking in school history.
Wake Forest, which will begin the season at No. 21 in The Associated Press Top 25, was the preseason pick to finish third in the ACC behind North Carolina and Duke. With a lineup that includes three newcomers who are 6-foot-9 or taller and a rotation that could go 11 deep, the Demon Deacons appear better built to endure the night-in, night-out grind of the ACC.
“The three biggest factors coming into the season were, No. 1, eliminate distractions,” coach Dino Gaudio said. “For us, those distractions are things off the court. … (The) second thing is leadership ó if we get one guy leading us, we have a chance to be good. If we get two or three guys leading us, we could be very good. The third thing is ó when you have young, talented guys ó team chemistry.”
Wake Forest may have had plenty of shortcomings during last year’s 17-13 season and 7-9 ACC finish, but chemistry never was one of them.
Sure, the inexperienced Demon Deacons had trouble winning on the road ó they’ve lost 22 of 24 conference games away from Winston-Salem. And, yes, their lack of low-post depth cost them dearly on several occasions.
But last year’s team seemed remarkably united, playing with a season-long purpose to remember Skip Prosser, who died in July 2007 of an apparent heart attack.
More than a year later, they remain committed to honoring him ó even the incoming freshmen who never got a chance to play for the coach who recruited them up until the day before his death. Walker, who said he never wavered from his April 2007 commitment to Wake Forest, has “R.I.P. Coach Prosser” tattooed on the inside of his left forearm.
“I’ll never move on from the death of coach Prosser,” guard L.D. Williams said.
Gaudio admitted being worn down by some of the time demands and peripheral obligations that popped up during his first season replacing his late best friend. He enters his second year fully aware that people always will be concerned about how his program continues to come to grips with Prosser’s loss, but is looking to eventually bring the focus back to basketball.
With a team this talented, the Demon Deacons hope their return to the national consciousness will be marked by triumph, not tragedy.