Songaila scored in double figures in Wake Forest's final 14 games to end up as its leading scorer and then spent three months last summer as a member of the Lithuanian national team, earning a bronze medal at the Olympics. Songaila ranked fourth on that team in scoring and had 28 points and 10 rebounds in two games against the U.S. He's shooting 54.8% from the field this season and has even improved his foul shooting, making 19 of his 21 free throws so far.
Songaila almost didn't make it to America. After having been recruited by Odom's son, Lane, who at the time was an assistant coach at East Carolina, Darius was preparing to come to the U. S. when his father, Ignas, a builder, fell from the third story of a construction site. Ignas broke his back and is paralyzed from the waist down. Darius offered to remain in Lithuania, but Ignas told him, "Go take care of yourself, because I can't do it anymore." Then Songaila so improved his game while playing a year at New Hampton ( N.H.) School that the ACC came calling.
Songaila's emergence in the middle has helped create so many open looks for Wake Forest's perimeter players that the previously one-dimensional Demon Deacons entered the Kansas game with five men averaging in double figures. Wake's leading scorer is its sixth man, sharpshooting junior guard Craig Dawson, who honed his jumper playing against his uncle, Detroit Pistons guard Jerry Stackhouse, on his Grandma Minnie's backyard hoop in Kinston, N.C. Dawson wears jersey number 42 as a tribute to Uncle Jerry and prepared for this season by working out with several Pistons over the summer. Dawson, who's shooting 44.1% from three-point range and has scored 113 points in only 166 minutes, dreamed of following his uncle to North Carolina, but he was spurned by Tar Heels recruiters. Odom, whose only McDonald's All-America recruit in his 12 seasons at Wake was Rodney Rogers (now of the Phoenix Suns) in 1990, acknowledges that none of his players grew up as Wake Forest fans or considered the school their first choice. Even Howard, the hometown kid, would have chosen N.C. State or Virginia but signed with the Deacons after those two schools stopped recruiting him.
In the victory over Kansas, Dawson scored 20 points in 24 minutes, and O'Kelley chipped in with 11. Howard showed why he might be Wake Forest's best player with a variety of treys, slashing moves and dunks in transition. Songaila produced 10 points and eight rebounds despite suffering a bruised thigh early in the second half, and senior forward Josh Shoemaker led Wake with 12 boards as the Deacons outrebounded much taller Kansas 43-26. Finally, with Murray's steady hand at the controls, Wake committed only two turnovers in the opening half and shot 68.0% from the field in the second half. "I'm shocked," Kansas guard Jeff Boschee said. "It felt like every time we were on defense, the ball was going to go through the hoop. That's not a good feeling to have."
Despite playing without 6'9" senior center Rafael Vidaurreta, who's rehabbing a knee injury and could return to the lineup for Wake Forest's game on Saturday against Georgia, the Demon Deacons own a 12-game winning streak, the second longest in the nation behind defending national champion Michigan State's 18. They are also ranked No. 6 in the AP poll, their highest ranking since the Duncan era. "We don't have marquee stars like Duke and North Carolina—we're just a balanced team of players trying to exceed expectations," says Murray. "Hopefully, anybody who saw what we did to Kansas will believe that we're for real."
Late last Thursday night Wake Forest students celebrated the win over Kansas with a school tradition known as "rolling the quad," which involves tossing dozens of rolls of toilet paper into the limbs of the giant oak trees on campus. Meanwhile, Odom lingered inside Joel Coliseum, savoring one of his most impressive victories at Wake but keeping the Demon Deacons' success in perspective. "We're just a nice little school that ultimately poses no threat to anybody," Odom said. "The best programs are despised for their success, but even when we win, nobody really hates us. We don't even have a natural rival. We are what we are, and that's a challenge that I enjoy."
Odom invariably treats Wake Forest's underdog status with humor. With two minutes left in that evening's blowout, a group of students behind the Deacons' bench targeted the Kansas players and began the customary upset chant, "Overrated! Overrated!" Odom turned to them and said, "Hey, let's hope they're not overrated, because that means we're not this good."