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Gober On Wake Forest!

Here is Jim Gober's latest ACC preview - this time of Wake Forest

| B.C. | N.C.

The decision of 6-9 senior C Eric Williams (16.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.1 b/g, 1.2 s/g, 0.2 a/t, 63% fg, 56.9% ft, Second Team All-ACC, Honorable Mention AP All-American) to pull his name out of the NBA Draft after his declaration for the NBA Draft that followed his stellar junior season gives the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (+10.9 ppg, +7.0 rpg, +2.2 apg, 3.6 bpg, 49.1% fg, 39.9% 3-fg, 7.6 3-fg made/g, 68.4% ft, +259 ft attempts, -1 blocks, -0 bpg, +37 steals, +1.1 s/g, -0.3 to/g, 1.1 a/t, opponents: 43.6% fg, 37.0% 3-fg, 7.7 3-fg made/g, 0.9 a/t) the opportunity to emerge as one of the contenders for a finish in the upper third of the ACC standings and a bye in the first round of the ACC Tournament.

The combination of Williams and 6-2 senior PG Justin Gray (16.0 ppg, 2.2 apg, 1.0 a/t, 1.3 s/g, 43.3% fg, 40.5% 3-fg, 2.8 3-point fg/g, 78.8% ft, Second Team All-ACC, 2005 U21 National Select Team Invitation) gives Wake Forest the third best 2-player combination in the ACC, behind combinations at Duke and Boston College, and an experience and talent advantage over most other ACC teams at both C and, to a lesser extent, PG.

As good as Williams and Gray are on the offensive end of the court as scorers and high percentage shooters inside and outside respectively, they do have certain weaknesses that ACC teams might exploit. Williams is not a shot-blocker, passer or ball-handler, and he cannot shoot free-throws very well. Gray is Wake’s best returning ball-handler, but he had a turnover for each of his assists last season. Gray has never been called upon to be the primary PG and ball-handler for Wake, and there is no proven ball-handling support to make Gray’s transition to PG any easier. Moreover, the Demon Deacons have no other established ACC quality talents beyond Williams and Gray, Wake’s two 2nd Team All-ACC returning starters. Consequently, the success of Wake will depend upon the ability of solid role players to become solid starters.

Next to UNC and GA Tech, Wake was the team hit hardest by player losses to graduation and the NBA after last season. Among those players lost after Wake’s second place ACC finish in 2004-2005 were its best ball-handlers, 6-0 soph PG Chris Paul (15.3 ppg, 6.6 apg, 4.5 rpg, 2.4 spg, 2.4 a/t, 45.1% fg, 47.4% 3-fg, 83.4% ft, Consensus 1st Team All-American (AP, NABC, USBWA and Sporting News), 1st Team All-ACC, All-ACC Defensive Team, NBA Draft Lottery Pick # 4), who was also an especially clever ball-puncher, and 6-2 senior PG Taron Downey (9.9 ppg, 2.5 apg, 1.3 a/t, 46.6% fg, 41.9% 3-fg, 86.7% ft).

Not only did Wake lose its best ball-handlers, team leaders and perimeter defenders when these two guards departed, but Paul and Downey were simply amazing shooters from the field and the foul line. Paul especially gave Wake sensational ball-handling with his 2.4 assists-to-turnovers ratio.

The losses of 6-9 senior PF Jamal Levy (7.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.1 spg, 1.2 a/t, 48.8% fg, 32% 3-fg, 50.6% ft) and 6-9 senior PF Vytas Danelius (7.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 45.3% fg, 32.9% 3-fg, 68.6% ft) are significant, but those losses will not be felt as much by the Deacs because Wake has experienced and talented players with exceptional size to take their places in the frontcourt player rotation, as well as two solid freshman recruits who can provide inside depth.

Gray will probably be paired with 6-5 senior WF Trent Stickland (5.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 0.7 a/g, 0.7 a/t, 48.9% fg, 26.3% 3-fg, 59.2% ft) in the Wake starting backcourt, unless one of the Demon Deacons’ freshmen guards emerges as a valuable ball-handler and unexpected contributor in other ways.

Strickland is a superb athlete, but his shooting and ball-handling deficiencies do not make him a good option to play 2G instead of his natural WF position. Unless Strickland improves significantly, Wake will depend on Gray to stay healthy, avoid foul trouble, and do all of Wake’s ball-handling for the Deacs to have any real chance to utilize the huge Wake Forest frontcourt effectively.

The highest rated freshman guard for Wake is 6-4 2G Harvey Hale (Prep Stars # 111) from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Hale is known primarily as an athletic defender who needs to work on his shooting, ball-handling and strength, but he will be called upon to provide guard depth at the very least. His ability to guard players on the perimeter may be what Wake needs, since opponents shot 37% on 3-point shots last season.

Perhaps underrated and an even better option to provide immediate ball-handling and guard help for Wake will be 6-2 2G Shamaine Dukes (Prep Stars # 236, Georgia POY (Albany-Herald)). Dukes, who is a combination guard, played on a team in Cuthbert, Georgia, that won 61 straight games and two straight state championships with Dukes averaging 24 points, 8.4 assists and 7.7 rebounds per game his senior season.

The final guard option for Wake Forest is 6-5 senior 2G Richard Joyce (2.0 ppg, 0.4 a/t, 40% fg, 28.6% 3-fg, 50% ft, 60 min.), who has seen limited minutes in his previous three seasons at Wake.

Since Wake’s top returning WF, Trent Strickland, is likely to shift to 2G in 2005-2006, 6-7 redshirt-freshman WF Cameron Stanley (Prep Stars # 111) will have an opening to get minutes at the WF position. The only other player at the position is 6-6 junior WF Michael Drum, a transfer from Presbyterian College. Drum is not likely to get significant minutes, but he will provide depth.

Stanley is a highly-skilled and athletic player who spent last season in rehabilitation due to a serious knee injury suffered as a high school senior. If Stanley has recovered fully from his injury, he may start. Otherwise, Wake Forest may go large and use lineups with three players from among its centers and power forwards. Their scoring numbers may not suggest how ready they are to combine with C Eric Williams to give Wake the most powerful frontline in the ACC, but 6-9 senior PF Chris Ellis (3.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 55.6% fg, 61.1% 3-fg, 72.4% ft) and 6-11 junior C Kyle Visser (3.2 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 59.4% fg, 62.2% ft) have shown that they can play in the ACC, and they will give the Demon Deacons the toughest 3-player inside rotation in the conference.

Weighing in at 800 pounds of collective bulk and muscle, Williams, Ellis and Visser give Wake the chance to dominate teams that lack size, bulk, toughness or inside depth. All three players make a high percentage of their shots, and Ellis may even be encouraged to take more outside shots given his 61.1% 3-point shooting percentage last season and pedigree as the son of NBA 3-point shooting artist Dale Ellis.

6-9 freshman PF David Weaver (Prep Stars # 61) and 6-7 freshman PF Kevin Swinton (Prep Stars # 83) can provide excellent depth, with Swinton being an option at WF. Weaver weighs only 210 pounds, but he is a smart player with good skills for someone his size.

Like UNC’s Brad Daugherty, Weaver is from Black Mountain, NC, and is an outstanding student in the classroom and on the court.

Swinton, who is more in the mold of Wake’s upperclassmen on the inside, has tremendous
strength and is a skilled inside scorer who may be more physically ready to contribute right away than Weaver. Wake will have the toughest and one of the best inside games in the ACC and should be able to continue its domination of ACC opponents on the boards (+7.0 rebounds per game in 2004-2005).

In Wake’s only meeting with Maryland in 2004-2005, the Deacs abused the Terps on the boards by a 15-rebound margin and showed a much tougher inside game. In 2005-2006, Wake will be even more physical on the boards.

With outstanding Coach Skip Prosser and 2nd Team All-ACC players Eric Williams and Justin Gray leading the Demon Deacons, Wake Forest should remain in the upper half of the ACC standings in 2005-2006 and compete for one of the 2006 ACC Tournament opening day passes into the second round. Gray provides excellent outside shooting and experienced leadership, and Williams, together with Ellis, Visser and Swinton, gives the Deacs a bruising frontcourt that should hit a high percentage of its inside shots and continue Wake’s dominance on the boards.

Having lost the scoring, ball-handling and leadership of Chris Paul and Taron Downey, however, Wake Forest is likely to have some difficulty with ACC teams that have superior quality and depth at the guard positions. With six new players arriving since last season (a redshirt freshman, a transfer and four freshman recruits) and with Trent Strickland trying to make the transition to guard, there is a lot of uncertainty about who will start and get minutes for Wake next season.

Even so, Wake Forest should rise above the middle of the pack as one of the better teams in the talent-depleted ACC in 2005-2006.