Manning to return to Wake despite 3rd 20-loss season

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              Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning looks up at a video scoreboard during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Miami in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, March 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — Danny Manning will return for a sixth season at Wake Forest despite his third 20-loss season in five years.

Retiring athletic director Ron Wellman announced the decision Friday, 10 days after the Demon Deacons ended an 11-20 season with a loss to Miami in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

Wellman said in a statement the two had an “extensive set of meetings” about the program’s future. He added that he expects Manning will “take the steps needed to show improvement on the court next season.”

The 52-year-old former Kansas star and No. 1 NBA draft pick is 65-93 with one NCAA Tournament appearance in five seasons with the Demon Deacons.

He has lost 71 of 96 games against ACC opponents in the regular season and league tournament combined and has yet to finish above .500 in conference play or better than 10th in the standings.

His Wake Forest teams have lost 44 games by double figures, and finished this season with nine losses by at least 20 points — including the worst loss in the three-decade history of the Joel Coliseum — 95-57 to North Carolina in January. This year’s group also took head-scratching home defeats against Houston Baptist and Gardner-Webb.

Wake Forest has had six 20-loss seasons in the program’s 113-year history — and half of those belong to Manning.

But there were glimmers of progress late — the Demon Deacons lost by one point at then-No. 4 Duke when Chaundee Brown’s jumper rimmed out at the buzzer, then lost to No. 14 Florida State by eight before also falling to the Hurricanes by the same margin in the league tournament. Four of the top five scorers this season were freshmen or sophomores.

“Even though it took longer than we wanted, I believe we have the foundation for future success,” Manning said. “We didn’t have the record we wanted last season, but our team showed its potential, especially toward the end of the season. This group of players kept fighting and improved throughout the year.”

The school’s only NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010 came two years ago. That team lost to Kansas State in the First Four, and only one player on this season’s team — Brandon Childress, son of former Wake Forest great and current assistant Randolph Childress — played in that game.

After that season, Manning received a contract extension but, as is customary at the private school, the terms and length were never made public.

The decision to keep Manning comes with the athletic department in transition. Wellman, the school’s AD since 1992, is retiring May 1 and former Kansas State and Tennessee athletic director John Currie is taking over.

When that move was announced two weeks ago, Wellman said any personnel decisions would fall to him “if there are major decisions to be made,” and Currie said he would be “clued in when I need to be.”