Wake Forest guard Ish Smith is hopeful he will be able to play basketball again Nov. 1 after undergoing surgery to insert a pin into a broken bone in his left foot in September.
Smith, the former Central Cabarrus High star, suffered the injury during a pick-up game and as the Deacons prepare to start preseason practice. He is relegated to the sideline and limited therapy work.
The first step, Smith said, was getting out of the cast, which he wore for two weeks. Now in a boot, Smith expects to be off crutches soon. And, if all goes well, Smith should be available when the Deacons open the regular season Nov. 14 against North Carolina Central.
“With injuries like this, you don't want to rush it,” Smith said. “If it's not feeling good, we'll slow it up.”
Smith and sophomore Jeff Teague are considered among the best backcourts in the ACC, giving the Deacons exceptional quickness along with two effective scorers.
In addition to overcoming his injury, Smith, a junior, must deal with the fact he's among the poorest free-throw shooters in college basketball. Smith just shot 29 percent last year, down from 46 percent as a freshman.
“It gets mental,” Smith said. “It becomes, ‘I don't want to get fouled.' You have to be mentally tough.
“I'm not going to be scared to go to the line. I love proving people wrong. I need to make the biggest increase in NCAA history.”
THE HYPE: It's no secret Wake Forest's freshman class – centers Tony Woods and Ty Walker and forward Al-Farouq Aminu – has been ranked at or near the top of every national list, adding to increased expectations around the Deacons this season.
Coach Dino Gaudio has seen the rankings. He also remembers how few people took note of the Deacons' class last season, which included Jeff Teague, James Johnson and Gary Clark, each of whom played key roles.
“This class is much ballyhooed,” Gaudio said, “but what you need to do is, one year later, evaluate that class. James, Jeff and Gary weren't in the top 30 last year but, a year later, they may be in the top five classes.
“This class is No. 1. Who knows, at the end of the year, it may not be in the top 30. It remains to be seen.”
THE THREE DEGREES: Given the expectations swirling around the freshman class and the notion the Deacons will make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2005, Gaudio's approach is built on three elements – eliminate distractions, develop leadership and have team chemistry.
“If we get one leader, we have a chance to be good,” Gaudio said. “If we get two or three leaders, we could be very good. We also need to get them to play together.”
THE EARLY RETURNS: Having spent the past few weeks playing pick-up games with his teammates, senior Harvey Hale has a good sense of what the Deacons freshmen can do. The most impressive, Hale said, has been 7-foot Ty Walker from New Hanover High in Wilmington.
“I believe (Walker) will be the (biggest) impact player on this team once he gets stronger,” Hale said. “He blocks everything and he finishes everything. He can be that guy who can dominate the game. He can be that Shelden Williams guy, that big-time center.”