No. 1 Wake Forest stays grounded
Published 11:10 pm Wednesday, January 21, 2009
By By JOEDY McCREARY, AP Sports Writer
Wake Forest was riding the bus home after beating Clemson when a walk-on broke the news: Pittsburgh lost, clearing the way for the Demon Deacons to jump to No. 1.
The last remaining unbeaten team in Division I then greeted that update with a collective yawn.
Forgive their tunnel vision. Wake Forest may have returned to the top of college basketball after its school-record 16-0 start, but the Demon Deacons can’t stop to enjoy the view. Just down Tobacco Road are No. 2 Duke and No. 5 North Carolina in a concentration of big-time basketball power.
Through the years, it has been an occasional struggle for tiny Wake Forest — the smallest school in the ACC, with an enrollment of about 4,500 undergraduates — to claw its way past instate rivals Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State and claim the spotlight. Each of those three programs has won multiple national championships while combining for nine NCAA tournament titles.
The Demon Deacons have produced plenty of household names — Tim Duncan, Josh Howard, Muggsy Bogues — but they reached their only Final Four in 1962, when they were led by eventual TV analyst Billy Packer.
Their only previous appearance at No. 1 came four seasons ago when late coach Skip Prosser and guard Chris Paul guided them to the top spot for two weeks in November.
While the Demon Deacons may have slipped under the national radar for the past few years, the recruiting experts certainly never lost track.
Big men Al-Farouq Aminu and Tony Woods were part of a freshman class rated No. 3 nationally by Scout.com. They were among the high school stars being recruited in person by Prosser the day before he died in July 2007 of an apparent heart attack. They honored their nonbinding commitments to Wake Forest when the coach’s longtime right-hand man, Dino Gaudio, was tabbed two weeks later to succeed him.
Teague and forward James Johnson also stuck with the Demon Deacons and showed flashes of potential as freshmen last season, leading them to an upset of then-No. 2 Duke that marked Gaudio’s first big victory.
This season, the Demon Deacons have made a rapid climb from a preseason ranking of No. 21. They snapped BYU’s Division I-best 53-game home-court winning streak, beat the then-No. 3 Tar Heels and went on the road last week to knock Clemson from the ranks of the unbeatens.
Teague averages 21.4 points and is the ACC’s second-leading scorer, trailing only defending national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina while leading a run-and-gun offense that averages 85 points.
Wake Forest makes more of its shots (51 percent) than any other team in the ACC. It is tougher to shoot against than anyone else in the conference, allowing its opponents to shoot just 36 percent.
Johnson and Aminu rank among the league’s top rebounders. And 7-footer Chas McFarland is one of four players who stand 6-11 or taller — giving the defense-minded coach plenty of options for stopping Hansbrough and other dominant post players.
Along the way, they’re sure to draw plenty of comparisons to Paul’s final Wake Forest team — especially considering that, just as then, they have a high-scoring point guard leading the way.
There’s another tangible link between Wake Forest’s two No. 1 teams: Smith is the brother-in-law of Eric Williams, the starting center that season. As that team began its run and hung around the top 10 all season, Williams started dating Smith’s sister.
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.