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Wake Forest young, confident in Danny Manning’s 3rd year
By Joedy McCreary
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) When Danny Manning took his Wake Forest team to the Bahamas for three exhibition games, he didn’t bother on some nights to set a curfew.
”And the legal age is 18” there, Manning quipped Monday.
Consider that an indication of how much trust he has in a young team that has only two fourth-year players on scholarship.
While the Demon Deacons are once again a popular pick to finish near the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference standings, they’re confident that a three-year, patience-testing rebuilding process will pay off – if not now, then soon.
”It’s always tough to lose like we did last year, but then again, I’m very understanding that we play in the ACC and Coach Manning is a new coach, rebuilding the team, rebuilding Wake, so I understand the fact that it’s going to take time,” sophomore big man John Collins said. ”No one likes losing, but it comes with an understanding that it’s all for the future. Coach Manning has a plan. We’ve stuck to it.
”I think it’s going to take time to pull everything together,” he added, ”but when it pulls together, it’s going to be big-time.”
It hasn’t come easy thus far for Manning, who knew almost nothing but winning – both as one of the best players in college basketball history in the 1980s at Kansas, and as an assistant coach with the Jayhawks and a head coach at Tulsa. His record is 24-39 in two sub-.500 seasons at Wake Forest, with just seven ACC victories.
But in those two seasons, the roster has almost entirely turned over, and now is almost exclusively populated by players he recruited.
Redshirt junior Greg McClinton and senior Trent VanHorn, a former walk-on, are the only holdovers from the Jeff Bzdelik era. Eight of the 13 players on scholarship are either freshmen or sophomores.
To give the team a jolt of experience, Manning brought in one graduate transfer – forward Austin Arians of Milwaukee – and had announced the addition of another one – Matt Williams of Central Florida, who opted to return to the Knights. Another transfer, guard Keyshawn Woods, sat out last season after coming in from Charlotte.
A three-game run in the Bahamas in August gave the young players a jump-start on learning both Manning’s system and each other, and Manning said before the team’s fourth preseason practice that this team is ”much further along” than it was at this stage of the last two preseasons.
”So we’re young, but when you’re building, that’s how you have to build,” Manning said. ”We think we’re going to have a chance to do some really big, really special things this year.”
Next year, too. While nobody’s writing off the upcoming season by any means, Manning acknowledged that this team will be ”a work in progress.” But the future is certainly bright with the core – guards Mitchell Wilbekin and Bryant Crawford, and big men Doral Moore, Dinos Mitoglou and Collins – all in line to be back next year, too.
”It’s definitely good to know that the guys, we’re all building together,” Collins said.