Wake Forest has plenty of reasons to think big Print
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Monday, 13 October 2008 13:09
NCAAB Headline News


 WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) -The questions follow Harvey Hale everywhere he goes - to the movies, to the grocery store, to class. Everyone, it seems, wants to know just how good Wake Forest is going to be.
``I can't go anywhere, and everybody's saying, 'We're looking for a big year for you guys, Harvey,' or 'How's the freshmen?''' said Hale, who was the team's sixth-man last season.
Forgive the Screamin' Demons for their curiosity. Three long seasons have passed since Chris Paul left for NBA stardom, and since then nobody has really expected much of Wake Forest - until now.
With one of the nation's top freshman classes meshing with a group that returns every scorer of significance from last season, the Demon Deacons are embracing the national attention they've long sought to recapture since Paul's departure.
``Our whole community is just salivating at how good they want us to be,'' Hale said. ``They're salivating for us to show the world why Wake Forest has that tradition, show the world why Wake Forest is what it is. We really slacked on that (over the last) three to four years. Last year was a stepping stone. This year, it can really be that key year.''
Indeed, this may be the year Wake Forest has waited for since 2004-05, when the team led by Paul and coached by Skip Prosser guided the Demon Deacons to the first No. 1 ranking in school history and claimed a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
But those glory days were followed first by two underachieving seasons, then by something even more devastating: Prosser's death in July 2007 of an apparent heart attack. Instead of tearing the program apart, though, the tragedy galvanized the players with a sense of purpose and buoyed them to a better-than-expected 17-13 finish and a win-one-for-Skip upset of then-No. 2 Duke.
Now, those highly rated high school players Prosser was recruiting the day before his death are on campus. Big men Al-Farouq Aminu, Ty Walker and Tony Woods have reinvigorated the program - and seemingly the entire city of Winston-Salem - with the hope that the Demon Deacons will contend in the Atlantic Coast Conference and make it back to the tournament.
``I'd rather have those expectations than the other - I've been on the other side of that fence,'' coach Dino Gaudio said, referring to his four seasons at Army. ``We're just going to have to be a mature basketball team.''
turnees that returns nearly 99 percent of its scoring production from last season and lost only one player - swingman Cameron Stanley, who averaged 1 point per game and transferred to Winthrop.
Then again, nothing is guaranteed for Wake Forest just because Scout.com's recruiting gurus say it has the nation's third-best crop of freshmen. They said something similar about one of the Demon Deacons' ACC rivals last season - North Carolina State, which plummeted out of the preseason rankings perhaps because of chemistry issues and finished with a losing record.
``A lot of people come in Top 25. I look at N.C. State,'' Hale said. ``It's about chemistry. Now, with this team chemistry and how good we can play with each other, can we fit those new guys into our system? ... That'll determine how big a year we'll have.''
The returning players insist the newcomers have been model teammates. They've made offseason pickup games even more competitive, pushed each other in the weight room and carried themselves with the poise and confidence of veterans, the returnees said.
That has given Ishmael Smith even more reason for optimism as he meets and greets those interested fans, like the one he ran into recently while the point guard hobbled around a restaurant while on crutches with a broken left foot.
``A guy was like, 'You better get better with your foot. I've got season tickets,''' Smith said. ``I told him I'd be back in three weeks. He said, 'You better be.'''
 

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