When you think of Wake Forest basketball, great players come to mind: Tim Duncan. Chris Paul. Randolph Childress. Rodney Rogers. Josh Howard. Skip Brown. Rod Griffin. Muggsy Bogues.
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It's Wake's misfortune to have neighbors who can respond: David Thompson. Michael Jordan. Grant Hill, and who can go on in that vein for a good long time.
Still, Wake basketball has always been fun and special. It's the smallest school in the ACC and one of the smallest in D-1. The fans have a pugnacity which is really great.
The problem is that lately the team hasn't had it as much.
Dino Gaudio's post-season record was abysmal and not just because he lost but because he got clobbered - a lot.
Jeff Bzdelik had a shot but his personality didn't fit well with the Demon Deacon fan base and his teams rarely hit high notes.
Bzdelik was a controversial hire, seen from the beginning, fairly or not, as a friend of A.D. Ron Wellman's who didn't deserve the job.
Danny Manning took over this spring, despite his thin head coaching record (two years at Tulsa).
One of the first things he did was to start changing expectations for Wake Forest, and let's face it: since Skip Prosser's shocking death, Wake basketball has lost its way.
When he was hired, we read the comments from Bill Self and Larry Brown and filed them away. Essentially both guys said that Manning was going to be a great coach because he had a rare understanding of the game.
That was evident for anyone who saw Manning the player, who had a subtle grasp of basketball because he was a 6-11 guy who could play almost every position.
Yet he wouldn't be the first guy who understood the game at a genius level who failed as a head coach. No one understood the game better than Magic Johnson, but he just couldn't take coaching guys who couldn't understand the game the same way as he did.
It's early, but that doesn't seem to be the case with Manning. His team has certainly struggled at times this year, and star big man Devin Thomas seemed to have some issues earlier.
But the game against Louisville changed things for Wake Forest.
Wake Forest played with passion, played with guts and played to win.
There will be some ups and downs and talent, as Rick Pitino pointed out after his team finally put Wake away, isn't at a high point.
But if Wake can play with Louisville, then Wake can play with most ACC teams.
Duke will be a load though.
Jahlil Okafor has put his stamp on this season in a big way. Other teams have tried to muscle him, double team him, throw shifting defenses at him, and anything else you can imagine.
He's proved impossible to guard one-on-one, and when he's double-teamed, he's passed out of it brilliantly.
Amile Jefferson has been a real beneficiary, but so have Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon and Matt Jones.
Tyus Jones has orchestrated the offense beautifully.
Justise Winslow has also proven to be difficult to contain. He's able to shoot outside or attack. And he's really defended well.
So what about this early ACC matchup between the ancient rivals? Duke and Wake Forest is not on the order of Duke and UNC or State and UNC, but there is a real passion at play here.
The fans will be very fired up - they weren't really that hyped for Louisville oddly - and that presents a situation that Duke's star freshmen have not yet seen: a full-throated ACC road game against a team which has shown that it can now compete with the most powerful teams in the conference.
Not necessarily every time out, but the message has been sent - and received.
- Defensive resurgence underway at Duke
- No College GameDay for U of L-Duke matchup
- MBB Game Notes: vs. Wake Forest (Jan. 7, 2015)
- Okafor Named ACC Player & Freshman of the Week
- Deacons get no time to relax with Blue Devils coming to town