February 20, 2007
WINSTON-SALEM Wake Forest's hopes and dreams for this basketball season faded away long ago. The attention of many of the program's fans has faded as well.
But the last month of action and the offseason likely will draw a lot of eyes back to this program. Among the issues:
- Will coach Skip Prosser be able to manufacture any energy, any momentum around the program?
Wake won consecutive home games against Clemson and Miami in mid-February, but neither opponent played very well. So was it a fluke, or a trend that Prosser can carry over into the last month and finish with some positive vibes?
- What personnel changes will happen in the offseason?
Prosser desperately needs to bring more impact talent into the program. He has two recruits currently, neither of whom projects to make a large, immediate impact. For any other additions to occur and the Wake coaches continue to pursue at least two high school seniors a current scholarship player would have to leave the program prematurely.
Possible transfers include Shamaine Dukes, who otherwise will be behind Ish Smith and probably recruit Jeff Teague next season; Cameron Stanley, who has been buried (intentionally?) on the bench; Kevin Swinton, who appears overmatched at the ACC level; and Casey Crawford, who has seen very little playing time as a freshman.
The highest-impact player Wake is involved with is West Virginia power forward Patrick Patterson, but Duke and Florida are among the competition for him. The Deacons also recently began chasing Florida guard Gary Clark.
- Will Prosser's job be on the line?
Even with a few more wins down the stretch, the program is still on shaky ground. It will have two bad years under its belt and will lose its best player. If Prosser gains some momentum and a good recruit or two, then the pressure will be less. If Wake looks bad down the stretch and Prosser is unable to impact his roster, then the pressure will be turned up significantly.
As written here previously, it is rare for a coach to right his own ship after at least two very bad seasons. In fact, if Prosser were to have three bad seasons in a row, then stay and revive the team, it would be truly historic.
Since 1975, ACC programs have had streaks of at least three seasons when they lost more than 60 percent of their ACC games 13 times. In 12 of those, the coach who started the streak was fired.
The lone exception was Maryland's Gary Williams, who went through three bad seasons from 1991-93, then righted the ship. Williams' problems were a direct result of Bob Wade and his NCAA trouble. However, Williams went 6-8 in the ACC in his first season (1990), so Wade technically didn't start the streak.
In all other cases, the pattern has been that a bad streak at least three seasons long has cost at least one coach his job, often two. Here's a look at the other 12 instances:
Clemson 1982-86: Bill Foster left in 1985, and Cliff Ellis was able to turn the program around, including winning Clemson's only ACC regular-season title.
Clemson 1991-95: Ellis' success faded, and he gave way to Rick Barnes in 1995. Barnes put Clemson in the NCAA Tournament in all three of his seasons before leaving for Texas.
Clemson 1999-2005: Larry Shyatt was fired after the 2003 season, giving way to Oliver Purnell.
Duke 1973-77: Bucky Waters was fired in 1973. Neil McGeachy lasted one season, and Bill Foster took over in 1975. Foster had the program in the NCAA title game by 1978.
Florida State 1994-2005: Steve Robinson replaced Pat Kennedy in 1998, and Leonard Hamilton replaced Robinson in 2003.
Georgia Tech 1980-83: Bobby Cremins took over for Dwayne Morrison in 1982 and built Tech into a power.
Georgia Tech 1997-2000: Cremins started to slide, and Paul Hewitt took over for him in 2001.
N.C. State 1992-2001: Les Robinson was fired after 1996, giving way to Herb Sendek.
Virginia 1973-77: Terry Holland took over for Bill Gibson in 1976 and built the program into a league power.
Virginia 2003-05: Pete Gillen was fired after 2005, and Dave Leitao has the program near the top of the league this year.
Wake Forest 1972-75: Carl Tacy took over from Jack McCloskey in 1973 and built the program into a winner by 1977.
Wake Forest 1985-1990: Tacy's last season was 1985, and Bob Staak's was 1990. Dave Odom rebuilt the program into a consistent winner.
So Prosser will be swimming upstream if he can't get it turned around next season. He would have to win at least seven ACC games to not fall into the above scenario. In the above examples, the only coaches who could recover from three bad seasons were those who had them at the start of their careers. They could blame the problems on the past coach and sell the "new" program.
All of the programs recovered, but it took at least one coaching change to do so. None of them was rebuilt by the same coach in the middle of his tenure.
VISSER-PROSSER PAIRING SENSITIVE
Over the last two seasons, the Sports Journal has written often about the troublesome saga of Prosser and Kyle Visser.
The two never could seem to get on the same page, and Prosser seemed to create a downward cycle. Visser would make a mistake, and Prosser would openly chastise Visser (the only player we remember seeing him do that to). Visser would shrink, usually making more mistakes and getting yanked.
While no one would talk about the situation in the past, Visser and his father spoke about it openly this season during Visser's success.
"There were a couple of down years," James Visser said. "Let's just leave it at that. He was very unhappy. He would text-message and say, When will the pain stop?'"
After showing a lot of potential as an active freshman, Visser averaged 7.6 minutes as a sophomore. He started the first 16 games as a junior, but the yo-yo treatment eventually killed his confidence. He landed on the bench in January and spent most of the rest of the season there.
"It's the ability to play without looking over your shoulder Will I be pulled any second?'" James Visser said. "The last couple of years, if you make a mistake you were out. And you knew it. It's tough to play that way. You've got to play your game."
The question is: If people outside the program could see it, why couldn't Prosser see it and deal with it?
Visser said he considered transferring (although he didn't contact other schools) and talked with Prosser often about the situation.
When asked about yo-yoing his young players this season, Prosser has brushed it aside, saying that he does what he needs to do. Prosser's advice to Visser apparently followed that same blunt tact: Play better, you'll be more confident, and you'll play more.
"It's a lot easier said than done," Visser said.
When asked about Visser, Prosser did admit that the big man could have caused problems by looking over his shoulder.
"I'm sure there's a lot to that," Prosser said. "It's hard to play if you're looking over your shoulder. I don't dispute that."
But Prosser wouldn't say anything about his own role in Visser's confidence, choosing only to praise his development.