Skip Prosser is a guy who clearly relishes being considered a teacher.
His press conferences at times are academic lectures. Good thing that he
likes it so much; he'll be doing a lot of it for a while.
Good news/bad news for Wake: five seniors depart. The good
news? They flamed out so badly last season that they won't be
Part of the problem was that they were all either complimentary players who
were asked to step up to larger roles, or to some extent, head cases.
Eric Williams was an immensely likable guy, but he never made the jump to
being a go-to player. He was loyal to his teammates even when some of them
emerged as horrible ball hogs or selfish jerks.
Enter Justin Gray and Trent Strickland. Justin Gray was a disaster at
point, and he wasn't much better when someone else was there. For his
first three years, he had the benefit of great running mates: Taron Downey and
Chris Paul made his life very, very easy.
When he had to do more, his flaws became glaring: his ball handling
skills were horrible, and his shot selection crippled his team. He is a
highly competitive guy and he tried to will his team to a higher level, but just
couldn't do it.
He ended up causing a fair amount of damage to his team, but not nearly
as much as Trent Strickland's emotions did.
Strickland personally blew at least two games, in our opinion: when
Wake had Duke on the ropes in Winston-Salem, his missed dunk (he went for a big
splash and missed badly) gave Duke new life, and his technical against Clemson
was a disaster.
You may remember that as a junior, he had a well-publicized argument with
Prosser and was left home for a game or two.
His athleticism was remarkable, but he was frequently more trouble than he
Chris Ellis was a useful player, but not a guy to carry a team.
And while he returns, Kyle Visser has grown worse, not better, since his
solid freshman year.
Wake may lose often this year, too, but they've got some very talented young
players. Just how well Prosser manages their growth will determine Wake's
Cameron Stanley, Harvey Hale, and Kevin Swinton are guys who should be able
to really get after it defensively. Shamaine Dukes had a rough freshman year,
but he can find a role on this team.
David Weaver redshirted last season, but he's a 6-10 guy who ran track in
high school, so you have to think he has some useful athleticism.
Wake adds six new players, with the most interesting two being Anthony Gurley
and Ishmael Smith.
Smith is a guy reputed to have extraordinary speed, although he will start
off as a physically slight player. Does this remind you superficially of
anyone? It does for us: Juan Dixon.
If he's a good defender and ballhandler, Wake is in great shape.
Gurley is a highly regarded guard, and he'll certainly play a lot.
Jamie Skeen is said to be a pretty good athlete, and he'll find a role,
especially if he can play defense and rebound.
Chas McFarland is supposed to be what is called a project, but we greatly
admired his attitude during AAU competition, when he went after teammate Greg
Oden with great passion and effort, correctly seeing every practice against Oden
as a chance to improve immensely.
We don't know a whole lot yet about Casey Crawford and L.D. Williams.
The biggest question, perhaps, and one that never found an answer last
season, is who leads this team?
It could turn out to be Harvey Hale, a guy with solid character, and someone
who showed it as a freshman, fighting through a tough beginning to become very
useful. Unlike a lot of Wake players during the Prosser era, he doesn't
mind playing some defense either.
Ideally, it would be Visser and possibly Michael Drum, who showed some real
heart last year, but Visser has really regressed the last two years, and Drum is
not as talented as his teammates.
With five sophomores and six freshmen, things are naturally going to be quite
different around Joel. But the differences may be quite pleasant: more
athleticism, less selfishness, and in some ways, more maturity. We'd much
rather have a kid like McFarland than Strickland any day, because while he may
or may not make himself into a player, he may make one or two of his teammates
The biggest questions for Wake should be, more or less, these: 1) can
Smith be an effective point guard? If not, who can run it? 2) can
this team rediscover how to play defense? 3) can such a young group get through
the brutal ACC winter without falling apart? 4) who will step up inside?
Our take is this: Wake certainly has more than enough talent to defend,
rebound and score in this conference. The question is going to be
leadership, which will partly come from Prosser, and partly from some as yet
unknown youngster(s). Prosser will have to get them ready for what they're
about to run into, as best he can; his young players, who will be instructed
quite competently, will have to find someone to rally around when opponents are
ready to rip their hearts out. No one accepted that challenge fully last
year. Who will have it now?