ACC Preview: Wake Forest’s Burning Question

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 27th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

How fast can Danny Manning turn around this program?

With nowhere to go but up, Wake Forest hopes to have hit a home run with the hiring of former NBA star and Tulsa head coach Danny Manning after a miserable stretch under Jeff Bzdelik. Hired to fix a program that was winning on the court but losing off of it (multiple player arrests), Bzdelik flipped the script. His players generally stayed out of trouble, but his teams never sniffed postseason play. The four-year period included a weak overall record (51-76), bad ACC performance (17-51), one of the nations’ worst road records (6-38), and a single ACC Tournament win. No wonder the fan base demanded a change. Assuming Manning will improve from the depths that Bzdelik took this program, how long will it take him to lead Wake Forest back to the role of an ACC contender?

After Four Miserable Years, Wake Forest turns to Danny Manning to Turn Things Around. (

After Four Miserable Years, Wake Forest turns to Danny Manning.

Danny Manning had one on the most storied collegiate careers in history, leading Kansas to the 1988 National Championship and earning National Player of the Year honors along the way. After a long NBA career, Manning decided to pursue a life in coaching. But unlike many former stars who make the move to coaching, Manning went the college route — starting at the ground floor as the director of student-athlete development/team manager, followed by five years as an assistant coach, all at his alma mater — rather than joining an NBA staff.  He deserves credit for not taking a short cut and using his name recognition to land a head coaching job before he was prepared for one. He spent the last two seasons as Tulsa’s head man, which not only gave him excellent experience in the role but also prepared Manning for coaching at a small private school that values academics but also wants to compete athletically with the big public schools. Another interesting thing about Tulsa is that it has historically served as something of a breeding ground for coaches, several of whom have gone on to great success at the high-major level. Look at the chart below. Can Manning become the fourth former Tulsa head coach to reach the pinnacle of the sport, and can he do it at Wake Forest?

Tulsa Coaches

The Deacons suffered some personnel losses, including the transfers of two key frontcourt players, Tyler Cavanaugh and Arnaud Moto, but the cupboard isn’t completely bare. Manning inherits at least one proven ACC talent in both the frontcourt and the backcourt. Center Devin Thomas has established himself as one of the league’s better post scorers (11.1 PPG) and rebounders (7.5 RPG) heading into his third year. Fellow junior Codi Miller-McIntyre led the team in both scoring (12.6 PPG) and assists (4.2 APG) and may be ready for a breakout year. Another junior, Madison Jones, provides decent game experience in the backcourt and is a potential lockdown perimeter defender. But that’s it for proven players on this roster. Newcomers include four freshmen and an eligible senior transfer from Campbell, 6’9″ Darius Leonard. While Leonard will inject some much-needed experience, it’s worth noting that last year he scored 10 PPG at a Big South school that finished with a losing record (12-20). It remains to be seen how that will translate given the huge jump in competition. The freshman expected to be most ready to play for the Deacons is point guard Mitchell Wilbekin, whose brother Scottie led Florida to the Final Four last season. Another newcomer to watch may be redshirt freshman 6’7″ Greg McClinton, who hopes to earn some of those plentiful available minutes at both forward spots.

Devin Thomas is one of the ACC's top returning Big Men.

Devin Thomas Should be One of the ACC’s Top Big Men for the Next Two Years.

Even if the Deacons don’t make much of a jump in the standings, the future appears bright in many ways, most noticeably with the palpable optimism surrounding the program after the decaying stench of the Bzdelik era. The next step forward will be in on-court performance. With only one senior on the team, next year’s squad, led by all-ACC caliber players Thomas and Miller-McIntyre, should be much improved. Manning knows that the program needs a huge upgrade in talent long-term, and he and his staff have been recruiting with that in mind. The Deacs already have four commitments in the class of 2015, including Thomas’ potential replacement in 7’0″ Doral Moore (ESPN #60). Manning’s approach indicates he will swing for the fences, too, going after many of the top 50 players in the following year’s Class of 2016.  If the talent in Winston-Salem improves, the subsequent question will by necessity be whether Manning has the coaching chops to get it done in the powerful ACC?

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

Share this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *