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Most Vital Problem? Can't Shoot Straight

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff




February 6, 2007

WINSTON-SALEM – Many in the media try to make sports very complex. There's a lot more to talk (and write) about that way.

But sometimes, the essence of sport is simple. For example, basketball is primarily about scoring points. No matter what else is going on, you've got to be able to put the ball in the basket.

With all the problems Wake has this year, shooting still rises to the top. Recently, coach Skip Prosser referenced Jimmy Breslin's 1969 Mafia novel, "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight," when talking about his team.

Good shooting can cover up a lot of other blemishes, but without it, all of the Demon Deacons' other problems are laid bare.

Through 21 games, Wake shot 46.3 percent, 42.9 in ACC play. Remove Wake's three inside players – Kyle Visser, David Weaver and Kevin Swinton – and those numbers fall to 41.7 and 38 percent.

From three-point range, Wake shot 34.9 percent overall, 32.7 in the league. Worst of all, the Deacons clunked their free throws. They shot 61.7 percent overall, 59.1 in ACC action. That overall percentage would be the program's lowest since 1952.

Interestingly, Prosser's teams have gotten worse from the line every year since 2003. That year, Wake shot 75.2 percent. Since then, it's been 71.2 in 2004, 68.4 in 2005 and 67.1 last year.

Looking ahead to next season, the situation may not improve significantly, although this year's players should get better. Neither of Wake's recruits, guard Jeff Teague and forward James Johnson, is known for his outside shot. Wake will lose senior Michael Drum, leaving the guards without much firepower.

In ACC play so far, point guards Ish Smith and Shamaine Dukes are shooting a combined 38 percent from the field, 26.5 percent from three-point range and an incredible 26.1 percent (not a misprint) from the foul line.

Wake's shooting guards have been extremely inconsistent. Prosser tries to go with the hot hand, but that hand always seems to get cold quickly. Sophomore Harvey Hale shoots himself into the lineup, then right back out. Prosser can't keep freshman Anthony Gurley on the floor, even though Gurley can get hot. Prosser's best hope has been freshman L.D. Williams, who at least shows promise from long range.

The only front-line player showing accuracy outside the lane has been forward Jamie Skeen, who is hitting more than 40 percent on three-pointers.

Of course, teams don't always have to shoot the lights out to win games. Prosser's 2003 team went 25-6 while shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 34.1 from three-point range. However, it also did other things, such as out-rebound opponents by 9.7 per game and shoot 75.2 percent from the line.

Prosser speaks a lot about not being able to stop the bleeding. He points out that one timely shot or hitting a better percentage from the line is all it takes, but that the Deacons haven't been able to come up with it.

The Georgia Tech win showed that, as Wake actually hit its free throws and cut off Tech's rallies. The Deacs hit 21 of 29 free throws in the second half.

"When things are hemorrhaging, as they have been often," Prosser said, "those tourniquets, if you will, are really, really important."

But then Wake went right back to normal, losing to Maryland by seven and missing 11 of 23 free throws. The Terps ran out to a big lead early in the second half, before Wake finally fought back.

"We don't make any free throws to stop the bleeding," Prosser said. "We miss wide-open shots to stop the bleeding. While we're not guarding at the rate we need to guard, we're not scoring at all, and hence what did it get out to – 20 (points), 23?"

Prosser said it's not a case of not putting in the work. He said the team has the right attitude about putting in time to improve. The scary thing? If it can't be fixed by work, then it might just be the talent level.

"We've actually, since we've been back from Miami, spent a lot of extra time doing individual improvement – above and beyond our actual practice time – just shooting the ball," Prosser said. "We're very aware of our numbers, as coaches. Rather than hoping they'll turn around, we've tried very hard to get our guys in the gym a couple of extra times a week."

QB PICTURE OK WITHOUT MAUK

For most, the idea that Ben Mauk had taken his last snap as a Wake Forest quarterback was not a shocking one. The Sports Journal and others have been mentioning it since midseason.

However, his recent announcement that he will transfer was a bit of a surprise. Most assumed that he would rehab and finish out his last season with the Demon Deacons, holding onto the slim hope that he could contribute.

Mauk's academic situation made it easier for him to start over, though. He'll graduate from Wake this spring, allowing him to concentrate for one year purely on football, if he so desires and his arm and shoulder heal correctly.

Frankly, Wake will not miss Mauk. Freshman Riley Skinner proved in 2006 to be everything coach Jim Grobe could want in a quarterback: accurate, mobile, confident and a good decision-maker.

In addition, Mauk had begun to wear out his welcome with some teammates over how he handled his benching in favor of Cory Randolph in 2005. The team rallied around and loves Skinner.

Behind Skinner is Brett Hodges. When Mauk went down in the season opener, Hodges was nursing his own injury or he might have been the one to get the call. Hodges will be a redshirt sophomore this fall, like Skinner, and Hodges was good enough to be ranked the No. 2 quarterback in Florida by the Orlando Sentinel when he was recruited.

"Those kids are going to go back and forth," Grobe said late in fall practice, referring to Skinner and Hodges. "They're both very talented."

In fact, Hodges is good enough that he might be the next one looking to transfer. Skinner could be locked in for the next three years, and Zach MacDowell, a redshirt freshman, has been impressive. The Wake coaches said MacDowell has the strongest arm of the group, and they'll be looking to get him some snaps if he's to take over when Skinner and Hodges leave.

"We're really excited about Zach," Grobe said. "He's a pretty good-sized kid, and he's got a big-time arm. All year long, he's been a challenge for our defense. He's done some really, really good things."

That might leave Hodges on the outside looking in. On the outside and coming in should be Skylar Jones, who committed to Wake this winter. Jones is 6-1 and 180 pounds, and he ran a sub-4.4 40 at a Nike Combine. If he can learn the intricacies of the position, he could be an outstanding playmaker at QB.

The Mauk situation also means that Grobe's two most-hyped recruits – Mauk and linebacker (now defensive end) Bryan Andrews – have been relative duds compared to some other less talked-about signees.

While it's very difficult to win if you don't consistently recruit top-rated players (as Wake's history demonstrates), it's a tribute to Grobe that he was able to go to a BCS bowl without getting much from his top-ranked recruits.