WINSTON-SALEM -- The history of Wake Forest basketball is literally written on the walls of Budd Gymnasium, where the Deacons practice on campus. Seven ACC players of the year. Five Elite Eight appearances. Six ACC championships. One Final Four. It’s all high enough on the walls that it literally hangs over Jeff Bzdelik’s head.
The time has come for Bzdelik’s program to start living up to those standards. If it’s going to work, if he’s going to build the kind of program that Wake Forest’s fans and alumni expect, it has to show some signs of progress now. This season.
The rebuilding started with an 8-24 season in 2011, which was reasonably well tolerated, and a 13-18 season last year, which was not. Bzdelik was brought in to change the culture, to make the basketball team more a part of campus life, to create leaders he said Wednesday the program had stopped creating, and he’s proud of the progress he’s seen. But he also knows it’s time to take the next step.
“I’m a big boy. I understand the nature of this business. We gotta win,” Bzdelik said. “We weren’t going to compromise our values. We were going to stick by our principles. OK. Hopefully, we’ve gotten through all that, and we should have, and now we’ve got to win.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean winning 20 games and making the NCAA tournament, even though that’s where the program stood in 2010 when Dino Gaudio was fired and Bzdelik was hired, but another 13-win season isn’t going to cut it. If it was difficult to counsel patience last spring, it would be impossible under similar circumstances this spring.
The decline of Wake Forest, from top-25 program under Dave Odom, Skip Prosser and Gaudio to inconsequential also-ran, has been as damaging to the ACC as it has to the school. The league needs its traditional powerhouses to be nationally competitive, a mandate that extends to Virginia and Georgia Tech as well. (N.C. State and Maryland, which lagged behind recently, appear to have picked up the pace.)
A deeper ACC means more competition and more NCAA tournament bids for everyone, so there’s more on the line here than merely Deacon pride, although Deacon pride is still a big part of it.
“It would mean a lot to get back to where Wake Forest basketball used to be,” said senior guard C.J. Harris, a Winston-Salem native and the last player left from the team that went to the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2010. “A lot of that is on us. We’ve got to start putting up some Ws.”
The good news: Harris and Travis McKie are legitimate ACC difference-makers, two constants amid the seemingly endless waves of transfers, arrests and dismissals that has prevented any kind of continuity within the basketball program.
But with only four players returning who saw significant minutes last season, a seven-man recruiting class that includes top-100 recruit Cody Miller-McIntyre, Ravenscroft’s Madison Jones and forward Devin Thomas -- whose sister Alyssa was the ACC women’s player of the year last season at Maryland -- will have to contribute immediately.
“We can’t think of you as freshmen,” Bzdelik said he told them. “We need you to perform now.”
Bzdelik knows he doesn’t have time to wait. For him and for them, it’s now or never.
DeCock: email@example.com, Twitter: @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947