WINSTON-SALEM Because of the way Renee Smith raised her son, Travis McKie was never one to quit.
McKie was ranked as the 10th best small forward in the class of 2010 and came to Wake Forest after the Deacons had gone to back-to-back NCAA tournaments.
But as new coach Jeff Bzdelik overhauled the roster, McKies experience at Wake was far different from what he committed to, and the Deacons endured three seasons of 8, 13 and 13 wins.
McKie is starting to see things turning in favor of the Deacons more than three years after he came to campus as a freshman. Wake Forest (14-7) has its best record since Dino Gaudio was the coach, and McKie has his eye on finishing the season strong and making his first NCAA tournament appearance.
You finish what you start, McKie said after Wakes 67-57 loss to No. 2 Syracuse on Wednesday. I made a decision to come here and it didnt go as well as anybody thought it would, but finish what you start, and I stayed the course. I love Wake and I hope it gets back to where it was, where I found it.
A former two-time All-ACC player, McKie is averaging his fewest minutes (28.1) and points (10.3) in his four-year career, but thats not necessarily a bad thing. McKies first two seasons demanded he play a major role in the Deacons offense after seven players left Wake Forest for various reasons.
He averaged 13 points per game his freshman season when the team finished 8-24 and McKie was embarrassed to be seen around school in Wake Forest basketball gear. The following season he posted a career-high 16.1 points per game.
My role is kind of the same on this team, but we have a lot more guys. We had carryover, McKie said. We had all our guys come back with the exception of C.J. (Harris), and we had never had that in my four years. So people are more comfortable in the offense. And fewer shots are going to come my way but were 14-7, were in a great place.
For Bzdelik, McKie is the epitome of what he wants in a Wake Forest player. Bzdelik and athletics director Ron Wellman have emphasized recruiting the right kind of players to the program and to protect the integrity of the university.
When asked what McKie means to the program, Bzdelik says McKie is a model citizen and commends the senior planning to graduate on time before he starts talking about McKies presence on the floor.
Hes always been workmanlike in his approach to the game, Bzdelik said. Hes represented this school with great class and hes been very consistent with how hes played the game, consistently well. So really proud of him and he should be proud of himself and weve got a lot of basketball left to be played.
McKie totaled 12 points in Wakes loss to Syracuse on Wednesday, and it was his third consecutive game in double figures. Prior to posting 14 against Notre Dame and 24 at Virginia Tech, McKie had only one double-digit scoring game since Dec. 17.
In that seven-game span he averaged 6.1 shots per game, and McKie realized he needed to get himself more involved in the offense if he wanted to help lead his team to an elusive NCAA tournament berth.
McKie knows what it will take in order to make it there. He talks like someone who has watched a number of Selection Sundays and researched bracketology without ever seeing his teams name in the mix.
I definitely want to at least experience it, but weve got a lot more work to do, he said. I think were pretty good right now in the RPI but weve got to get a signature win, and (Wednesday) could have been that night. But its over with now and weve got to keep pushing the ground and keep moving.
The Deacons are 63rd in the nation in ratings percentage index and have wins against then-No. 19 North Carolina and Notre Dame.
Wake Forest has 10 regular-season games left before the ACC tournament, where the Deacons have been bounced in the first round each of the past three years. The next two months will decide if McKie can have a strong finish to his career at a program thats had its share of struggles.
Weve made a lot of strides and I think were getting back to that place where Wake Forest basketball is a staple in North Carolina, and thats been lost over the last couple years, McKie said. Its just one step at a time.
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9
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