PG Smith looks to keep Wake among ACC's elite

BY foxsports • October 27, 2009

Ishmael Smith always seems to have a smile on his face. Except when he talks about how Wake Forest's historic season ended. "I've always been a joking, nice guy, and I always will be," Smith said. "But I don't think I've had that fine line when it comes to seriousness and joking around. I'll still smile and laugh and do all that, but I want to bring more of a serious approach to the team." There certainly wasn't much to grin about during the end of an otherwise memorable season for the Demon Deacons, who reached No. 1 for just the second time in school history but ultimately became the biggest upset victim of the first round of the NCAA tournament. The happy-go-lucky Smith still can't bring himself to watch the game film of that 15-point loss to 13th-seeded Cleveland State. Besides, there's no point looking backward when so many of the program's goals dangle in the future - even without a pair of underclassmen who left early for the NBA. "I sat back this summer, just kind of tried to look at the year, and I got a bitter, bitter taste about the ending," Smith said. "I haven't looked at the tape - that's one of those archives you don't look at for a while. ... It's a hunger, wanting to make this a successful program. "What I mean by that is, each and every year, Wake Forest is top three, top four in the ACC each year. Not when we lose a couple guys to the NBA and then we drop down again. No. We want to be in the (mix) with North Carolina and Duke every year, and I think we have the talent to do that. We really do. It's probably talent you've never heard of." And it starts with Smith. He's never averaged double figures for a season and his assist numbers have gone down every year since he led the ACC as a freshman. But the speedy senior point guard might be the key to the season for a Wake Forest team that returns only one double-figure scorer - forward Al-Farouq Aminu (12.9 points per game) - from the group that had a school-record 16-0 start, held the top spot in the polls for a week and finished 24-7. High-scoring backcourt mate Jeff Teague, who averaged nearly 19 points, was the breakout star on that team while Smith, who started each of his first two seasons, was relegated to the role of sixth man, at least partly because he began last year with a broken foot. With Teague now on the Atlanta Hawks, Smith has emerged as the unquestioned leader. "It's comforting for me as a head coach to have somebody like Ish Smith to be the engine that drives this machine," coach Dino Gaudio said. "I think he can be the best point guard in the ACC. I really believe that. And as long as he stays healthy, I think we have a chance to be very, very good." His main job will be to keep everyone involved by distributing the ball to a roster full of players who have a clear understanding of their roles. Aminu, who has added a jump shot to his offensive repertoire, will be the top option to score with forward James Johnson also gone to the NBA. Guard L.D. Williams might be one of the ACC's premier lockdown defenders. Gaudio is counting on guard Gary Clark to come off the bench and deliver some long-range punch. And underneath, 6-foot-11 center Tony Woods and 7-foot Ty Walker are shot-blocking forces while fellow 7-footer Chas McFarland is content to do the dirty work. If the Demon Deacons can figure out a way to replace Teague's outside scoring stroke and Johnson's touch from inside the arc, they could keep themselves among the ACC's elite. "Someone's going to step up," Smith said. "Jeff did it last year. No one knew what Jeff was going to do last year, and that's why we were as good as we were. Somebody will step up this year, and I expect all of us to step up. And we will."

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