Danny Manning is Making Progress at Wake Forest

Posted by Walker Carey on February 18th, 2015

During Sunday’s NBA All-Star game, there was a stretch of the game when Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague, Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul, and San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan were all on the court at the same time. This was notable because the three All-Stars — tied for the most of any single school — played their college basketball at Wake Forest. If you have just started following college hoops sometime in the last few seasons, that fact may seem strange to you, as from 2010-14, the Demon Deacons compiled an anemic 51-76 overall record with a ghastly 17-51 mark in ACC play. But once upon a time, Wake Forest was one of the premier programs in the ACC. Former head coaches Dave Odom followed by the late Skip Prosser routinely directed the Demon Deacons to the NCAA Tournament, and elite talent flocked to the tiny school in Winston-Salem, North Carolina to suit up in the old gold and black.

Danny Manning (USA Today Images)

Danny Manning’s Team Appears to Be Heading in the Right Direction (USA Today Images)

Following last year’s 17-16 season, athletic director Ron Wellman decided to make a coaching change. Jeff Bzdelik was out and former Kansas legend and Tulsa head coach Danny Manning was pegged to take over. Manning was an intriguing choice for the job given his terrific track record as an assistant coach to Bill Self at Kansas and two years as the head coach of the Golden Hurricane. During his nine-year stint at his alma mater, Manning oversaw the development of a star-studded pack of Jayhawks’ big men, including future pros Darrell Arthur, Cole Aldrich, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris and Thomas Robinson. He carried that success over to Tulsa, where he led his squad to a successful second season, winning both the regular season and Conference USA Tournament titles on its way to the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2003.

Manning’s first season at Wake Forest has expectedly been a bit of a struggle. The Demon Deacons entered Tuesday night’s game at Notre Dame with just a 12-14 overall record (4-9 ACC), but there have also been several positives during the first season of a new era. After a three-game losing streak in late November and December — which included an embarrassing home loss to Delaware State — the Demon Deacons rebounded to win four of their next five contests. They have also been anything but an easy out in conference play, as the team battled to single-digit losses against ranked foes Louisville, Duke and Virginia. Last night’s game exhibited a similar story. The Demon Deacons pushed the Fighting Irish throughout the first half, entering the break trailing by just two points. While Notre Dame eventually pulled away to win by 13, it was never a comfortable victory. Manning’s team is unlikely to see the postseason this March, but he has several pieces in place for the future. Junior big man Devin Thomas gave Notre Dame fits inside all evening, finishing with a game-high 26 points and 11 rebounds. Junior guard Codi Miller-McIntyre had an off night against Notre Dame with only 10 points, but he is still the team’s leading scorer. Freshmen Mitchell Wilbekin and Dinos Mitoglou have been strong contributors all year as well. Manning has also upped the ante on the recruiting trail, as he has signed Rivals.com‘s #21 recruiting class for the Class of the 2015 (and is a finalist for next year’s local product and uber-prospect, Harry Giles).

Climbing up the ranks of the ACC is an uphill battle given the programs at the top. Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, Syracuse, Virginia and Notre Dame are not going to drop far with their resources, coaching and talent. Having said that, it appears that Manning and his roster of talented underclassmen can certainly be right in the thick of the things sooner than later. It shouldn’t be terribly much longer before Wake Forest is once again known in college basketball circles for more than just being the surprising alma mater of several NBA All-Stars.

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