It would be hard to blame Wake Forest men’s basketball fans for wanting a change, as the Demon Deacons went from one of the best programs in the conference to an ACC bottom-feeder in less than a decade.
Since Chris Paul left Winston-Salem for the NBA after a 27-6 2004-05 season, the Demon Deacons have gone a combined 144-140, with just a pair of 20-plus-win seasons and NCAA Tournament bids.
Manning proved to be an incredible player in his college days, single-handedly willing the Kansas Jayhawks to the 1988 national championship on a team nicknamed “Danny and the Miracles.” But it might be difficult for Manning to pull off any feats of brilliance in his first year at the helm .
The Demon Deacons return their two leading scorers in guard Codi Miller-McIntyre and forward Devin Thomas. But aside from the two juniors, Wake Forest doesn’t have a single returning player who averaged more than 3.3 points per game last season.
Manning will have to deal with effects of the Bzdelik departure, as well. Experienced junior forwards Tyler Cavanaugh and Arnaud William Adala Moto both transferred, but the biggest blow might be losing highly recruited guard Shelton Mitchell, who was released from his letter of intent in late April before committing to Vanderbilt in May. Shelton was the only Wake Forest recruit ranked by Rivals or ESPN.
Manning made it clear about who he’s expecting to lead the Demon Deacons back to the top half of the ACC.
“Our junior class is the backbone of our team,” he said.
“We have five guys that have been in the ACC action for a while. They understand the rigors, they understand how tough it is to be successful in this league and they’re sharing that message with our newcomers and our young guys.”
From the sounds of Miller-McIntyre and fellow junior Aaron Rountree, it didn’t take suicides or wind sprints to get the players’ attention.
“He will get on us like no other, and that’s definitely a big difference for us because we never really had something like that,” Miller-McIntyre said.
“But the fact that he’s played in the NBA for the amount of time that he has and has succeeded there — great college player, obviously. When he tells us something, it’s almost like, okay, we have to listen.”
And if he needs to get his players’ attention, Manning isn’t afraid to pull out his secret weapon — substituting the basketball for a balled-up towel wrapped in duct tape. It’s something he says he picked up from Kansas coach Bill Self while Manning was a part of Self’s coaching staff.
“When they come to basketball practice and they don’t see any basketballs, you’re like, ‘It’s going to be a conditioning day if we don’t get this right,’” Manning said.
“It gives us a chance to really lock in and focus because, you know, you can’t dribble those.”
Wake Forest will have to find some proven scorers if they want to improve on last year’s 17-16 mark. But it seems like there might finally be some continuity in the locker room for the first time since the late Skip Prosser’s coaching tenure.
“For us, (Manning’s) just brought in a winning culture and just a new level of excitement,” Rountree said, “almost like a breath of fresh air.”