ACC: Deacs play ‘D’ for Dino
By Joedy McCreary
WINSTON-SALEM ó At every Wake Forest basketball game, a student waddles into Joel Coliseum with a tie-dyed T-shirt over his full-body costume of Dino from “The Flintstones.”
“I was like, ‘What’s that all about?’ ” coach Dino Gaudio said, chuckling at his cartoon namesake.
Silly? Sure. But it’s a fitting symbol of how the school has blended its recent past under the late Skip Prosser ó who hatched the idea for a rowdy, tie-dye-clad student section nicknamed the “Screamin’ Demons” ó and the present under Gaudio.
Prosser recruited every player on the Wake Forest roster and, under Gaudio’s tutelage, the Demon Deacons have returned to national prominence.
Wake Forest has surged to the No. 2 ranking while winning its first 15 games to match the best start in school history. And these Deacs have done it with a tough, tenacious defense that reflects Gaudio’s Rust Belt roots.
“That’s really why we are where we are,” Gaudio said Thursday night. “We’ve come a long way. We have a long way yet to go.”
They enter this weekend’s visit to No. 10 Clemson ó the ACC’s only other unbeaten team ó hoping to prolong their stint near the top of the polls. Wake hasn’t been ranked this high since Prosser and Chris Paul led the 2004-05 team to the only No. 1 mark in school history.
But while guard Jeff Teague has done his best Paul impersonation ó until a few days ago, he led the ACC in scoring at 21.2 points per game ó and though blue-chip freshman Al-Farouq Aminu has been as good as advertised, it’s the Demon Deacons’ defense that has thrust them back into the spotlight.
No ACC team is tougher to shoot against than Wake, which is holding opponents to 36-percent shooting this season.
The Demon Deacons’ depth in the post ó three players in the rotation are at least 6-foot-11 ó played a major role in a 92-89 win over then-No. 3 North Carolina. The front line held reigning national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough without a field goal in the second half of the signature victory.
“We had two or three big bodies we could throw at him, and it kind of kept him out of a groove all night,” 6-11 freshman Tony Woods said.
After following the big win against UNC with a 20-point rout of Boston College, Gaudio hopes his young team can keep generating that effort on defense.
Guard L.D. Williams doesn’t think that will be a problem.
“Our defense is built to where we don’t have to adjust to other teams,” Williams said. “We can just play our defense and be OK.”
Gaudio adopted the “pack line” defense popularized by former Washington State and Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett, emphasizing one man pressuring the ball and the other four sagging back to help. The system seems to reflect the values Gaudio learned while growing up in Yorkville, Ohio, a steel-producing town of about 1,250 located along the Ohio River, roughly an hour’s drive from Pittsburgh.
“It’s really a blue-collar, hard-nosed way to play defense,” Gaudio said.
That’s the attitude he wanted to implement from the day in August 2007 that he was picked to succeed Prosser, his best friend.
During their 14-15 campaign in 2006-07, Prosser’s last season, the Demon Deacons allowed teams to shoot nearly 47 percent while surrendering an average of more than 76 points.
These days, they’re allowing 11 fewer points per game.
“We watched tons of film until we made sure that this is what we wanted to do,” Gaudio said. “It wasn’t something that you could go to the end of the pool, put your foot in and go, ‘Oh, it’s too cold.’ You either had to jump in or you didn’t, and we convinced them that this was the best way for us to play.
“They believed it, they bought into it and they’re the ones that are making our defense what it is.”