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AS THEY PREPARE FOR THE 2011--12 SEASON, THE DEMON DEACONS will not invoke slogans or wear T-shirts peppered with catchy turns of phrase to help inspire their team's revival. Instead the players will simply recite some lopsided numbers: 8--24, 1--15. "You hear that," says sophomore forward Travis McKie, "and that should be enough right there."
The numbers represent Wake's overall and ACC records last season, coach Jeff Bzdelik's first in Winston-Salem and a year that was marked by turnover throughout the program. The Deacons lost four starters to graduation or the NBA after 2009--10, and expected starting center Tony Woods was released from the program in October 2010 after being arrested for assault. The resulting roster had 10 scholarship players and just three upperclassmen, including senior guard Gary Clark (who had never averaged double-digit minutes) and junior forward Nikita Mescheriakov (who was not eligible until mid-December due to NCAA transfer rules). "It was like a perfect storm," Bzdelik says.
Has the rough weather passed? Bzdelik seems to think so, his prediction based as much on patterns detected off the court as on it. He speaks of the team's loss of "characters," an allusion to not only Woods but also forward Melvin Tabb (conduct detrimental to the team), forward Ari Stewart (academic issues) and guard J.T. Terrell (DWI arrest in September), who all left Wake. Now Bzdelik says the team is full of character, the result of the remaining players not only meeting standards for behavior but also surviving both a tumultuous year and a two-day teamwork and leadership program run by a former Navy SEAL and a former Marine in early September.
Point guard Tony Chennault has shed 12 pounds since missing 17 games with a broken foot as a freshman in 2010--11, and his return will allow junior C.J. Harris to shift back to his natural spot at the two. Center Carson Desrosiers was an effective shot blocker as a freshman, but he was often too weak to bang with bigger bodies inside; he is now bench-pressing nearly 100 pounds more than when he first got to campus. Though the team's first-year players will see significant minutes, Bzdelik believes the results will be prettier this year. "I feel great about where we're headed," he says, seeing blue skies in his Demon Deacons' future.
COACH Jeff Bzdelik (2nd year) 8--24 (1--15 in ACC)
ASSISTANTS Jeff Battle, Walt Corbean, Rusty LaRue
2010--11 RECORD 8--24 (1--15, 12th in ACC)
FINAL AP RANK NR