Can Wake Forest Ever Become an ACC Contender Again?

By Jeff Kelly

It probably sounds a little far fetched to the casual basketball fan based on their recent seasons, but for those with short memories we should remind you that there was a time when Wake Forest was not only a respectable basketball program, they bordered on elite.

Of course, over the past few seasons, the Demon Deacons have been at or near the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference, including finishing last year with a record of 13-18 overall and finishing tied for ninth in the ACC under head coach Jeff Bzdelik. It marked the third straight losing season for Wake, after a run of winning records in 18 of the previous 20 seasons from the 1990-91 season through 2009-10. During that stretch, there was a time when Wake was at or near the top of the ACC with Tim Duncan manning the post, and in 2002-03 the Deacs won 25 games under the late Skip Prosser.

That marked the second of four straight seasons in which Wake tallied at least 21 victories, with a program record 27 wins coming in 2004-05. That season, of course, the Deacs featured Chris Paul at the point, but ever since the NBA All-Star left the program has been descending slowly into the ACC basement. Dino Gaudio led the Deacs to 24 wins in the 2008-09 season and 20 more in 2009-10, but ever since then, under Bzdelik, the program has failed to surpass 13 victories, with a dismal record of 8-24 coming in the head man’s first season at the helm.

So, do the Demon Deacons have any hope of digging their way out of the hole they find themselves resting in? They certainly face a difficult task, particularly when you consider that in addition to their usual conference slate that includes Duke and North Carolina this season, they also have to travel to Pittsburgh, a notoriously difficult venue, and also take on additional conference newcomer Syracuse. Add in non-conference tilts with Kansas and Xavier, and things are not looking good in terms of schedule.

That is, not for this season anyway. The future, however, could soon see the Demon Deacons beginning to turn things around, as the current roster includes only one senior (along with one graduate student), along with a mind boggling 10 sophomores, a junior and a pair of freshmen. The graduate student is Coron Williams, a transfer from Robert Morris who should contribute at the very least as a three-point specialist, and lone senior Travis McKie looks poised for a good final season after averaging 13.5 points last year.

While this year’s freshman duo, Greg McClinton and Miles Overton, are rated as just three-star players by ESPN, the Deacs already have three commitments in the class of 2014 led by ESPN Top-100 recruit Isaac Haas, a 7-footer from Alabama ranked as the ninth best center in the nation. Also look for fellow 2014-class point guard Shelton Mitchell to be a sleeper prospect after running the point guard position high school powerhouse Oak Hill Academy.

With the plethora of young talent combined with a couple solid recruiting classes, it’s certainly conceivable that Wake Forest could find itself re-entering the top half of the ACC in a year or two.

Still, if they want to challenge Duke, Carolina and Syracuse for the conference title, they’ll need to find a way to convince another recruit of Chris Paul’s caliber to decide Winston-Salem is the place for him in the very near future.

Jeff is an ACC basketball writer on Follow him on Twitter @jekelish and “Like” him on Facebook.

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