December 2, 2002 WINSTON-SALEM One of Skip Prosser's priorities at Wake Forest has been improving the atmosphere surrounding the basketball program. Visitors to Joel Coliseum will see several changes to that end this season, most notably that Prosser has moved the students and band so they completely occupy the end of the court where the opponent will shoot in the second half. The students have been outfitted in identical yellow-and-black tie-dye shirts, presenting a swirling look to the eye. In addition, Wake Forest has provided the students with props a D with a fence, large bricks and some black-and-white swirls to twirl during free throws.
While many fans won't see them, big changes also have been made in the locker room area, finally giving Wake a little identity in its home arena. In the hall outside the locker room, large displays of some of the Deacons' NBA players have been placed on the wall.
Those who do get to wander into the innards of Joel Coliseum and see the new set-up may question the inclusion of Randolph Childress, who had only a cup of coffee in the NBA. While Childress was great at Wake, the displays clearly point to Wake's connection to the pros, and Childress doesn't quite fit. Perhaps jerseys and photos of Frank Johnson and Danny Young weren't available.
Inside, the locker room has been modernized. The new look includes several impressive wall displays of former Deacon greats and a TV wall that is every sports fan's dream. Recruits certainly will be more impressed with this than with the previous facilities.
Meanwhile, Prosser had to have mixed emotions when he saw his team's schedule this season. On one hand, with a young team, he loved playing eight of his first 10 games at home before opening ACC play. On the other hand, all eight games will take place while the Wake students are on either Thanksgiving or Christmas break.
The Deacons won't play a home game with a full student contingent until meeting Maryland on Jan. 15, in their ACC opener. (Perhaps the students will have a lot of pent-up energy by that time.) Meanwhile, the Joel may look more cavernous than intimidating.
Howard Needs More Help Soon
Three things were obvious in the early going of the basketball season.
First, as expected, the young players (see pages 14-17) have a lot to learn. While this group will provide a lot of highlights, they also will turn the ball over, take bad shots and look lost on defense. Everyone will just have to wait to see how quickly Prosser can pull them into shape.
Second, though, is a theme that represents a disturbing repeat from last season. The Deacons have problems feeding the ball to the post. Sometimes it's poor passes, but mostly, it's just a failure to even look there. Last year, Darius Songaila often came to the wing or free throw line to catch the ball, and the Deacons had problems finding him or others on the blocks. Early this season, the pattern has been much the same.
It reached a pinnacle against Yale, when the Deacons failed to pass the ball into the lane when Yale went to a zone. Instead of finding someone flashing inside, then having that player kick the ball back out or across the zone, the Deacs simply passed the ball around the perimeter, and the offense bogged down.
Third, Josh Howard is absolutely the key to this team. This also might sound like a given, but it's even more apparent after watching this team in action. The 2002-03 Demon Deacons don't have a lot of playmakers yet, and Howard can make something happen with his defense, his rebounding and his offense. The Deacs have no consistent second scoring threat, and how long it takes them to find one could dictate their record.
In the meantime, watch for two things: Howard pressing as he tries to take over, or teams pulling out all the stops to shut him down, hoping the rest of the Deacons can't beat them. If neither happens and Howard stays healthy, he'll be a very strong candidate for ACC player of the year.
Football: A Quick Peek At 2003
Whether Jim Grobe is the coach or not, fans still can look ahead to next season and dissect Wake's football prospects.
Most observers expect the Deacons to take a small dip, mainly because of their youth. The problem is not necessarily talent. Grobe has put two solid recruiting classes together, so some good young players will be available next year. But to avoid bumps, it's almost essential to bring football players along slowly, allowing them to build strength and speed, as well as get a feel for the game. Most coaches like to be working sophomores into the lineup as key reserves.
Instead, Grobe and his staff will rely on a number of players (including about seven starters) who will be playing in their first season of significant action in 2003. It appears that the key spots will be along the lines, as is often the case with Wake Forest football teams.
The Deacons lose the right side of their offensive line and, barring the move of one of their centers (Craig Jones or Blake Lingruen), probably will have two players seeing their first varsity action there. One likely will be Wesley Bryant, a Florida transfer. The rest of the line remains strong, including All-ACC possibility Tyson Clabo.
The skill positions should be fine. Cory Randolph likely will take over at quarterback, and though the Deacons will miss James MacPherson's calm leadership, Randolph offers more weapons. Though young, Damon McWhite may be able to replace Ovie Mughelli at fullback without much dropoff, and the rest of the backfield is full: Chris Barclay, Nick Burney and Cornelius Birgs.
Will Fred Staton, last year's second-leading rusher, be able to return from academic woes to contribute at either backfield spot? Right now, reports suggest it's doubtful, but not completely out of the question. Jason Anderson and Anthony Young return at wide receiver, joined by a young group, with speedster Willie Idlette probably taking over for senior Fabian Davis.
Defensive line will be the team's biggest question mark. All significant contributors, except reserve nose guard Goryal Scales, will be gone. The coaching staff has big hopes for redshirt freshmen Jamil Smith and Daniel Orlebar and prepster Jyles Tucker (Hargrave Military Academy), if he qualifies. Offseason improvement will have to be shown by others, such as John Finklea, Arthur Orlebar and Jerome Nichols, to prevent the front line from being a disaster.
The Deacons lose only Jamie Scott from a solid linebacker crew and add highly touted Bryan Andrews. Kellen Brantley will have a chance to make up for a very disappointing 2002.
The secondary will be loaded with experience, although how much talent it has may still be debatable. Wake returns eight players who've seen significant action, and it adds talented redshirt freshmen James Adams, Josh Gattis and Riley Swanson.
The special teams will remain the same, except Chris Davis and Derek Tharpe will become the kick returners.