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ACC Preview #2 - Wake Forest

N.C. State |
Wake Forest |

The ACC is so intense this year that it's really hard to
figure out who's the most interesting story, let alone who will finish
first. State, with a potentially powerful team? A still-young
Maryland team which dazzled at the end of the season? Tech, which returns pretty
much their whole team from the title game? Florida State, a team which has grown
stunningly athletic and menacing in a very short period of time? Or Wake,
traditionally tought but outmanned, suddenly as good as anyone anywhere? Tough
call, but we'll go with the Deacs next.

Here's what you need to understand about Wake Forest:
with the possible exceptions of Eric Williams and Vytas
Danelius, who in fairness has struggled through injuries, arguably every key player for Wake
Forest has exceeded expectations. That's really stunning if you think
about it, and there's only one explanation: Skip Prosser is a superb teacher and

Just look down the list:

No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Cl. Hometown (High School)
0 Chris
Forward 6-9 261 SO Marietta, Ga.
1 Justin
Guard 6-2 186 JR Charlotte, NC
(Oak Hill {Va.} Academy)
2 Jeremy
Guard 6-3 188 SO Kinston, NC
(Kinston HS)
3 Chris
Guard 6-0 175 SO Lewisville, NC
(West Forsyth HS)
4 Taron
Guard 6-2 190 SR Oxford, N.C.
(Oxford HS)
10 Jamaal
Forward 6-9 186 SR Panama City,
Panama (Berkshire {FL} Academy)
11 Cameron
Forward 6-7 204 FR Raleigh, NC
(Millbrook HS)
13 Vytas Danelius Forward 6-9 237 SR Kaunas,
Lithuania (Indianapolis {IN} Park Tudor)
23 Richard
Guard 6-5 218 JR Mount Airy, NC
(Oak Hill {Va.} Academy)
31 Eric
Center 6-9 291 JR Wake Forest, NC
(Wake Forest-Rolesville)
33 Trent
Forward 6-5 212 JR East Flat Rock,
NC (East Henderson HS)
55 Kyle
Center 6-11 250 SO Grand Rapids,
MI (Forest Hills Central HS)

Taron Downey? Justin Gray? Who saw those guys coming? Jamaal Levy? A
6-9,. 186 lb. rebounding force? Really? Kyle Visser? Think the midwest schools
wish they had another shot at him? And then there's Chris Paul.

Chris Paul had as good a freshman year as any ACC rookie point guard in
years. His last game in the NCAA Tournament was about the only time he
played like a rookie. A lot of the rest of the time he played like a
prodigy, and as basketball fans, we can only say: more please, unless you're
playing Duke.

But did anyone expect this out of him? UNC let him go because they
figured they had Raymond Felton, so who needed another point?

And when you pair him with Justin Gray, a kid who has the gift of
fearlessness, you have a backcourt which can win a national championship.
And it's not like Taron Downey is chopped liver, not least of all because he was
able to subordinate himself for the greater good, which is the essence of the

It's impossible not to appreciate the guts of Jamaal Levy, who is just
pitifully skinny, yet who manages to bang with guys who are just way bigger than
he is. He's the kind of guy who can fire a team up at precisely the right
time, because he is emotional and courageous.

Danelius would probably have done a lot
better last year had he not had to struggle with injuries. He's got a lot
of what we've come to admire about European players: solid all-around skills
plus good shooting, and he has a bit of a nasty streak as well.

Eric Williams hasn't worked out as well as Wake hoped,
primarily because he keeps getting into foul trouble. It's unfortunate, because
he's an immensely likable kid. He's also as big as a house. Physically, he
reminds one of Wes Unseld, though he has not shown anything approaching Unseld's

Though he's easy to pull for, because he's such a nice
guy (too nice?), Wake has to be able to move on if he can't get his problems
under control. With the play of Kyle Visser as a freshman, they have a
possible answer.

The big kid from Michigan played well above
expectations (sound familiar yet?), and could take the starting position.

Their top seven players are very solid. And
further down the bench is more talent than Wake often has.

It isn't entirely clearly how much Chris Ellis, son of
former NBA marksman Dale Ellis, will develop. He basically lost last year
to foot injuries, and we'll have to see how he does this year. But
consider: after being undersized last year, Wake gets Ellis back, and a healthy Danelius,
and a surging Visser - not to mention Williams and Levy. That's some
reasonable talent to work with up front.

Trent Strickland and Richard Joyce bring some
athleticism to the floor. Strickland made himself a bit of a problem at
one point last year, and was left home when the team went to Clemson. He
later apologized, basically saying he had been a jerk.

He's a good enough player to start, though on this
team, who knows?

Wake also brings in one freshman, Cameron Stanley of
Raleigh. Stanley blew out his knee in his senior year and may or may not be 100%
and could be a redshirt candidate, presumably, if he isn't fully fit. But
he's another athletic player, a guy who will eventually help the Deacs to apply
great pressure defensively.

Look, let's not beat around the bush: what Skip Prosser
has done at Wake, in a very short period of time, is remarkable. He has
turned the Deacons into a team which may be rated preseason #1. It's a
deep, strong team, one which prides itself on macho rebounding and rugged
defense. And he has brought in players like Paul, Downey, and Gray, who
play with the utmost confidence.

It's hard to argue with Mike Krzyzewski as the best
coach in the conference - 3 titles and 11 Final Fours will do that - but you can
make an argument now that Prosser is the second best coach in the ACC.
You'd get a strong argument out of Chapel Hill and College Park, and those
arguments can't be dismissed out of hand, but Prosser's performance since
arriving at Wake Forest is phenomenal.

This program is so post-Odom it's amazing.