Can the pesky Demon Deacons really be considered the kings of Tobacco Road?
Wake Forest coach Dave Odom has a slogan tacked up in his office: YOU CANNOT DISCOVER NEW OCEANS UNLESS YOU HAVE THE COURAGE TO LOSE SIGHT OF THE SHORE. No question the Deacons are traveling in uncharted waters lately. Last season Wake won more games (26) than ever before, equaled its highest ranking ever (No. 3) and for the first time earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. This year the Deacs have a good shot to become the first team in 21 years to repeat as both the ACC regular-season and tournament champion.
Do not adjust your television sets. The onetime bottom feeders of the conference, who before last season had not won an ACC tournament since Billy Packer was a Deacon in 1962, have a rare chance to once again torment the perennial conference bullies. Interestingly, if Wake pulls it off, the Deacons will do so with players from distant shores. The centerpiece is Player of the Year favorite Tim Duncan, a junior from the U.S. Virgin Islands, but perhaps the most pivotal player is Ricky Peral, a 6'10" junior from Spain. Peral's nifty package of passing, shooting and ball handling skills have fans wondering if he will someday be the next Toni Kukoc. He must contribute if the Deacons hope to replace guard Randolph Childress, the team's ticker, who was picked 19th in the NBA draft.
Look for the Deacons to repeat as champs and claim their unfamiliar place as the league's best—for now. Unfortunately, after the season Duncan is likely to follow Childress to the pros, and Odom will again be navigating Wake's ship through stormy oceans without the help of any stars.
The Wolverines are the team of the '90s, but where are their rings?
In maize block letters above the ramp that leads to the Michigan locker room in Crisler Arena, a sign reads 1989 NCAA CHAMPIONS. Between the NCAA and CHAMPIONS is a clock that marks the passing of every year that Michigan misses another opportunity for a ring. For all their panache, the Fab Five never won a national title, or even a Big Ten championship. Now the torch has been passed to the Fresh Five, last season's vaunted five recruits, and the Triple Threat, this year's three freshman studs, who will try to win the Wolverines' first conference title since '86, when Antoine (the Judge) Joubert passed for fab in Ann Arbor.
Michigan's talent may be second only to Kentucky's, but the best eight players are either sophomores or freshmen. Three players who would have been juniors this season—Bobby Crawford, Makhtar Ndiaye and Olivier Saint-Jean—all transferred out.
Maurice Taylor, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year last season, is one piece in the puzzle. Jerod Ward, who was one of the nation's top recruits last year but suffered a miserable freshman season, has improved. Dugan Fife, the team's senior captain, may not end up seeing much playing time because of freshman Louis Bullock, who won the three-point contest at the McDonald's All-America game. The key player, however, is 6'8" freshman Robert Traylor, who actually lost 30 pounds to reach his current 300. Traylor developed his remarkably agile feet and supple hands as a kid going one-on-one against his Aunt Lydia, who played pro ball with the St. Louis Streak, a Women's Basketball League team, in 1981 and for a decade overseas. Traylor, a behemoth who brings new meaning to the term "McDonald's All-America," must prove that he is more Charles Barkley than he is (Dinner Bell) Mel Turpin.
The clock is ticking....