Deacons hope to soar with new attitude
Last week, Wake Forest basketball coach Jeff Bzdelik and his staff went to the Air Force Academy and spent time with the San Antonio Spurs for a couple of days as guests of coach Gregg Popovich and former Deacon standout Tim Duncan.
“It was a great experience for the whole staff until we went to P.F. Chang’s and Tim convinced us to try the Great Wall of Chocolate,” Bzdelik said Tuesday during Wake’s media day. “That’s Tim’s favorite desert there and we ate and it was a mess.”
The trip to Colorado was part of Bzdelik’s efforts since the end of last season to pick up points on how to be a better coach and gaining insights on the finer points on different things the Deacons may do on offense and defense this season as he tries to avoid a repeat of the messes of the three straight losing seasons the program has logged since he became coach.
“There’s always room for growth,” Bzdelik said. “Once you stop learning, that’s not a good thing. There’s always something to learn.”
He wanted to learn something to get the Deacons back on the winning track after posting seasons of 8-24, 13-18 and 13-18. He wanted pointers trying to reclaim some of the success he enjoyed in leading Air Force to a 50-16 record in two seasons and moving Colorado from a seven-win program to 15 wins in three seasons.
“You have success, you just keep going and everything is cool,” Bzdelik said. “When you get knocked down (as he made boxing motions toward his jaws), you get up and examine yourself and say ‘it’s my team and I’ve got to find a way.”
He tries to find a way because he admits that “we need to win. That’s what I get paid to do and that’s what we need to do.”
Some of the others from whom Bzdelik tried to gain pointers included former Denver Nuggets coach George Karl, current Kansas coach Bill Self, Florida coach Billy Donovan, Miami Heat coach Erik Spolestra, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni and former Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy.
Because of the discussions, Bzdelik says that he is “relaxed, I’m positive. I feel great and am really looking forward to this season and practice this afternoon. That’s the way I’ve been for several months.”
The players have noticed the difference. They said part of the reason that Bzdelik was stressed last year was he became frustrated at times working with seven freshman.
“There was so much pressure on him to teach us everything,” said Codi Miller-McIntyre, who is expected to hold a key to the Deacons’ success at guard. “We messed up a lot. I think it was frustrating that we kept messing up the same thing over and over. I think it’s a bit of a relief that he can sit back and let us play a little bit more.”
The seven freshmen are now sophomores and make up the bulk of a roster that lost one key player — guard C.J. Harris. The Deacons will likely start senior wing Travis McKie (the top returning scorer), and four sophomores — Madison Jones and Miller-NcIntyre at guard, leading returning rebounder Devin Thomas at center and Arnaud William Adala Moto at power forward.
Coron Williams, a 3-point shooting graduate transfer from Robert Morris, was brought in to provide leadership and offset the loss of Harris’ outside shooting. Tyler Cavanaugh, Aaron Rountree III and Andre Washington, all sophomores, are expected to add depth in the frontcourt.
Bzdelik declares that the Deacons will play with a different style this season.
“We’re going to speed up the game,” Bzdelik said. “We’re going to play zone, play some man-to-man. You better be better or you better be different, and we’re going to be different. We’re going to utilize our depth so everyone knows they have a piece in this. We’re involving everybody. You might play only five or six minutes but they better be the most energetic five or six minutes you’ve ever played because that can make a difference in the game.”