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ACC Preview #1 - Wake Forest

We really had expected to wait a bit longer to start discussing ACC teams and
the upcoming season, but fact is, we want to talk hoops! So let's get
going. Since we forgot to include Wake Forest in the original notes on the
schedules, let's kick it off with them. As usual, we won't make predictions
until all nine teams are profiled.

The next year or two after this one could be tough for Wake, as they lose a lot of talent
soon: Ervin Murray, Antwan Scott, Craig Dawson and Darius Songaila are all
seniors. Our information has Broderick Hicks listed as a senior but for
some reason we're thinking he's a junior. In addition, the still-underrated Josh
Howard is a junior.

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But that's down the road. Having a rugged, experienced team won't hurt
at all this year. The great variable, of course, is Skip Prosser, who
replaces Dave Odom as head coach, and we'll need to stop and talk about him for
a minute before anything else.

Despite his supposed faults and shortcomings, Dave Odom kept Wake at a high
level longer than anyone else has. And yet there were questions. The
high transfer rate suggested that either he wasn't committed to his players, or
that he was a poor judge of talent, or that he just wouldn't let them stay
around if they weren't vital. Moreover, his team had periodic intellectual
brownouts. This occurred throughout his tenure, and whether it was Sam Ivy,
Robert Siler, Trelonnie Owens, Chris King, Ricky Peral, Scooter
Banks, Tony Rutland, Loren Woods, Niki Arinze, Robert O' Kelley, or Antwan
Scott, it was a recurring theme in his tenure. We're pretty sure King, Ivy
and Siler played for Odom, but we could be wrong, it's been awhile. But
the point still stands.

Really, when you look at his players, the guys who stand out in retrospect
are obviously Tim Duncan and Randolph Childress above everyone else, then Rodney
Rogers, and for our money, Rusty LaRue. The rest are lesser lights.
We're not Wake historians, so take that for what it's worth.

When you look at that list, though, and you can add some other guys to it
like William Stringfellow and Steve Goolsby and several others, the first thing
you have to think is: wait a minute. Those guys are pretty talented. Which kind
of shoots down the feel-sorry-for-ol'-Dave Odom school of thought, which found
him chasing Lithuanians and other internationals rather than developing
significant talent at home (side thought: had Makhtar been able to stay at Wake,
how would his career have turned out? Could Wake have survived him? Discuss
amongst yourselves!)

Our point here is pretty simple. We suspect that Dave Odom is a control
freak, and was not able to inspire enormous confidence. Guys like Tim
Duncan and Randolph Childress came with an aura of greatness. Odom really didn't
do much to build that mindset.

Enter Prosser. At Xavier, Prosser was a distinct second banana to Bob
Huggins of Cincinnati. Yet he managed to recruit well at an academically
challenging school, and he gave Huggins fits on the floor. He runs a more
open game, and apparently relates well to his players, who stuck together on the
court and in some cases made it to the NBA. Xavier is a basketball school
now, it's true, but like Duke and Wake, they have little room for slippage or
error.

If our theory is correct -- and let's put it down to be very clear:
Odom choked the life out of his teams and his own insecurities made it
impossible for them to reach their potentail without a superstar like Childress
or Duncan who could overcome Odom's weakness -- then Wake fans may be in for a
very pleasant surprise, because Skip Prosser doesn't seem to suffer from those
particular problems. He may have problems as a coach, but they aren't the ones
we think Odom has. He won't diddle with the starting lineup in late
February, for example, a destructive Odom tendency.

His players may not realize the difference until October, and if we are
correct, and a vague oppressiveness is gone from Reynolda, Antwan Scott
may be the main beneficiary. Odom said his defense kept him from playing
more, and maybe that's true. But in an open, up-and-down running game, a)
his offensive talent will be very significant, and b) he won't be playing the
same kind of defense anyway. And like all of Wake's players, we're betting
he won't be as scared to make a mistake. And since the rest of the big men
are totally unproven, it's his job to lose. We're betting he makes some noise.

For Broderick Hicks, who will likely split point duties with Ervin Murray,
but who may get more time in an up-tempo game, it could be a huge difference as
well. Hicks has at times shown some real guts, but he always holds
back. Was it the coach?

Anyway, that's a solid group of six players. Add to that Dshamal Schoetz, if
he can give them at least a few minutes a game, freshman Vytas Danielus,
reputed to be a pretty good player, Taron Downey, about whom we know little, and
Jamal Levy, by all accounts a good athlete, and you have a pretty reasonable
group. The keys are going to be confidence, which Prosser will have to
earn from his players, and then accepting whatever roles he assigns. For some,
it will be obvious, like Songaila, who will be a backbone of this team.
For others, their roles will likely be different, either diminished or
increased, but different. That can make or break a season.

Our guess is that Prosser pulls it off. He strikes us as a smart guy,
and he'll offer the seniors a chance to go out with some real glory. It's
a talented group, and the fresh approach will put them over the hump and make
them a very dangerous team by tournament time. The conference will be very
tough, but they should be able to compete with anyone.