Bzdelik shows different side at Rotary
In a setting well away from the basketball court, Wake Forest head coach Jeff Bzdelik showed a different side Thursday.
Usually even-keeled and straight-laced during and after games, Bzdelik spoke with passion and emotion while addressing the High Point Rotary Club at its weekly meeting.
Bzdelik not only showed passion, he used it as his theme as he made expected remarks thanking the group for their community effort, then spoke about the challenges of turning around a program that has been off the tracks from a wins-and-losses standpoint in all of his three seasons.
“I have passion and commitment, too,” Bzdelik said. “I have two responsibilities. We have to win and I know that. I’m a big boy and have been around, and we are going to win. My second responsibility is to protect the integrity of Wake Forest.”
Bzdelik spoke at the meeting at the request of Rotary member Doyle Early, who is on the Wake board of trustees, is a member of the Wake athletics council and has regularly gotten Demon Deacon coaches to speak at the club’s meetings.
“What I was most interested in is getting people to know who he is — what kind of guy he is and what kind of coach he is, what his vision is for the Wake Forest basketball team,” Early said.
Getting out and making a positive impression is something needed for a coach that in his three seasons is 34-60 overall and 11-39 in conference, a performance that has prompted a vocal part of the fan base to call for his ouster and that of athletics director Ron Wellman. The group, which goes by BuzzOut, has purchased ads in newspapers and space on billboards.
Early said Wake officials aren’t swayed by the BuzzOut effort and that having Bzdelik over to speak is in keeping with what he has done before. He also said the board is “very pleased with the direction the program is headed.”
He and Bzdelik repeated a theme that Wake wants to win while maintain athletic and academic integrity. Doyle, while introducing Bzdelik, brought out the fact that nine players have left during Bzdelik’s tenure. Some of those were holdovers from Bzdelik’s predecessor Dino Gaudio.
“Anybody can be negative and complain about the program,” Early said after the meeting in reference to the disgruntled fans. “What we are interested in, speaking for the board, is what can we do to support the program. As he said, the vision is to not only win but to win with moral and academic integrity. That makes it tougher but we’ve got some schools in our conference that do that and we have done that.
“But this was not in response to anything. It’s something I do for Rotary.”
Bzdelik some jokes, one relating to supporters of other schools, another referencing the need for more scoring from some of the returning players and another about how green some of his seven freshmen were playing on the road. He noted that his quad, which features returning senior Travis McKie and all of last year’s freshmen, is expected display more toughness and grit, especially on the road after losing all nine of its conference games away from Joel Coliseum. He also noted the Deacons lost six games by seven points or less.
“Last July when they came to school, they didn’t know what to expect,” Bzdelik said. “Now, they are tougher and grittier. They know what to expect.”
Bzdelik also took questions from the audience. None of the queries were contentious, the most pointed one asking why the Deacs did relatively well at home (6-3 in the conference with wins over Miami and N.C, State) and struggled on the road.
“The freshman said that if we were playing a game at night at home, they got up early, went to class, to tutoring, to lunch, to tutoring and to class, boom, boom, boom,” Bzdelik said. “They said if we were on the road, we got to eat in a nice restaurant, then might have a shootaround and then lay around. So we may have some activities and other things for them.”
Bzdelik said that Danny Green, who missed last season with a knee injury, should be ready to go July 1, and that incoming freshman Greg McClinton, who suffered a knee injury last winter, is projected to be ready to play around the first of November. He also explained the rule which allows grad student and 3-point specialist Coron Williams to transfer from Robert Morris and be automatically eligible to play instead of having to sit out a year.
He also said the team will take part in team building exercises at Fort Bragg in order to enhance cohesiveness and that he would rather not recruit a so-called “one and done” player, the terminology for players who play in college for one season because the NBA will not take them straight out of high school.
“I want to have a junior/senior team, veteran 5-star character guys who have worked their way to 4-plus star basketball players,” Bzdelik said.
“A strong committed group of guys that play with passion and teamwork and can overcome those one-and-done guys. Those one-and-done guys, they are hard to get, and they are not interested in going to class, and that’s not what Wake Forest stands for.
“It’s been painful the last couple of years. I know my responsibility is to win but it’s coming and it’s coming the right way.”
Bzdelik showed he passionately believes that is in the offing.