June 29, 2006
WINSTON-SALEM -- Wake Forest is not a school that's often hit by academic problems in its athletic department. The Demon Deacons are forced to recruit higher-level academic players than all but a few (Boston College, Duke, Georgia Tech) schools in the ACC, so they don't have many question marks in the classroom.
In general, football is about the only program that ever gets hit, and even that's only rarely. The most noteworthy recent case was the early end of running back Fred Staton's career.
But Wake got bad news at the end of the spring semester, when sophomore receiver Demir Boldin and redshirt freshman cornerback Brandon Ghee were declared academically ineligible for the upcoming season.
To most outside observers, those names probably don't mean much of anything, so it doesn't sound like big news. But for the Deacons, the two losses could mean a lot.
Wake's wide receivers were horrible in 2005. Not just bad -- horrible.
The Deacons finished next-to-last in the ACC in passing last year, and most of it could be attributed to not having receivers who could separate from defenders and make plays. As a redshirt freshman, Boldin fought his way through a slew of other receivers to get into the starting lineup midway through the season.
In some ways, you could attribute that to merely the weakness of the rest of the group -- there was not a complete receiver in the bunch -- but Boldin showed something.
While he doesn't have the speed of his older brother, Anquan, who's now in the NFL after a successful career at Florida State, Demir Boldin showed that he could be a reliable route-runner and pass-catcher. At 5-11 and 220 pounds, he could be a physical presence as well. Other than Nate Morton, those qualities are missing in Wake's receiving corps. Boldin caught 15 passes for 224 yards in his limited duty last fall.
Wake will be left with only two seniors, Morton and Willie Idlette, who can be counted on at all. And sometimes that's stretching it with Idlette. After that, it falls to Kenneth Moore, who has shown a flash or two at best. That's not a great scenario for quarterback Ben Mauk and the passing game.
Ghee could be a big loss in the defensive backfield, too.
After the spring, Ghee was not listed on the first or second team, but many felt he could pass some of those ahead of him in the fall. Wake's starting cornerbacks are pretty strong, with Alphonso Smith and Kevin Patterson. But Riley Swanson struggled some last year, and Kerry Major is unproven. The talented Ghee appeared to have the speed and skill to be a valuable part of the defensive backfield, as well as a standout on special teams.
The other issue with the two academic problems is why they happened at all. First, Ghee was not considered an academic risk as a recruit. Plus, he has an older brother on the team, which you think would help him. Second, in these days of academic monitoring and tutoring, it's difficult to believe that any players could get to the point of ineligibility.
But it happened, and Wake may have to deal with more fallout during the 2006 season than most would expect.
BASKETBALL CALLS ON LOCAL MUSE
Wake Forest basketball coach Skip Prosser made an interesting hire to replace Tim Fuller, the director of basketball operations. Fuller moved from a position that's mostly administrative to become a full-time assistant at Fairfield.
Prosser hired a Winston-Salem local with no college experience to take Fuller's position: Mike Muse, the boys basketball coach at nearby North Forsyth High School.
Although he lacks college experience, Muse is no newcomer to coaching. He grew up as a student of his father, Tom, a local legend at Parkland High. His brother, Andy, coaches boys basketball at Mount Tabor.
Muse, 44, coached softball for 15 years, girls basketball for nine years, football for two years and boys basketball for six years. He was the conference coach of the year 11 times (combined) in those sports.
Prosser has spent a lot of time working on his relationships with in-state programs and with Wake's image in Winston-Salem. This move should assist his efforts in both areas.
PROGRAM, TOWN MISSED RARE TRIPLE
The Demon Deacons and Winston-Salem recently had a chance for an extremely rare triple, when USA Basketball asked Josh Howard, Tim Duncan and Chris Paul to be part of its next Olympic effort. If each had won a spot on the team, it would have marked something special for a small school and a small town.
But Howard will not be picked for the team, although several committee members made clear that they wanted him. Howard decided not to make the three-year commitment that was part of USA Basketball's request.
Howard did it with pretty good reasons, though, unlike Duncan, who essentially just said no. First, Howard said he had no interest in being part of the drama that unfolded last time. Second, he said he wanted to concentrate on his summer camps.
While some may have seen those as thinly veiled excuses to not spend the three years working for USA Basketball, those who know Howard appreciated the truth in his comments.
Howard grew up on the south side of Winston-Salem, and he still returns there when he can. He's down-to-earth and doesn't seek the spotlight. Howard runs a camp and summer leagues out of Reynolds Park Recreation Center, where he worked during his summers while he was at Wake Forest.
"(The kids) really don't have much to do," Howard said. "If I don't come home, they'll probably be doing nothing."
Those who remember a sullen Howard during early parts of his Wake Forest career might be surprised to hear about his impact on children or comments such as this, from Dallas Mavericks teammate Darrell Armstrong: "He's just a good guy. You see how he plays the game, how hard he plays the game. His spirit is so good."
Some recent quotes from his former coaches helped to reveal how Howard got from one point to the other. Both of his coaches at Wake, Dave Odom and then Prosser, said they questioned his work ethic, with Odom even saying it was a concern when they recruited him.
But Odom, the coach whose career at Wake ended with a game in which he clashed with Howard, said: "I don't know that Josh is one who naturally trusts people he doesn't know. But once you get through that shield, he will trust you unconditionally. Once we got through to him, you could say what you needed to say to him as a coach and have him receive it the way it was meant."
But considering the end of his relationship with Odom, things were not fixed. Prosser said that as a junior, Howard did only what was expected of him. He had to tell him that if he wanted to be great, he had to do more.
"Before his senior year," Prosser said, "I said, Listen, this is the way it's going to have to be. We have a very young team, and you're going to set one example or another.'
"We sort of had a sumo match about that. But we came to a meeting of the minds, and he was exemplary the rest of the way. I mean, what he did with that team, he just wouldn't let them lose."
So Howard finally harnessed his competitiveness, his skills and his fearlessness, and he learned how to translate it to others. He's never been the same since.
And although he and Paul (who accepted the USA Basketball tryout invitation) won't be sharing the Olympic spotlight, the two are bringing the right kind of attention to their hometown and their college program.