Wake Forest looks for turnaround after rough 2 years
At least this Wake Forest team has something its predecessors have lacked — experience.
It's not experience at winning, but it's a start.
The Demon Deacons hope their struggles of the past few seasons have molded them into a team that can compete in the tough Atlantic Coast Conference.
Wake Forest returns six of its top seven scorers, more than 75% of its minutes played and 77% of the scoring from a team that finished 11-20 for the second straight season.
"We do have some young men that have been battle tested in the ACC, and we have three senior guards that have played minutes in college and understand what it takes to be somewhat successful, understanding scouting report, understanding going into each game that you're going to have to make adjustments," coach Danny Manning said.
Media members making preseason predictions don't seem to share Manning's optimism: The Demon Deacons were picked to finish last in the conference.
"This is probably the first year in some time where we haven't had to throw our freshmen to the fire and depend on them night in and night out, but there certainly will be times throughout the course of the year that they're going to have their moments," Manning added. "But for us we can always fall back on the veterans that we have on our team and their experiences."
Four of five starters from last season return, but they certainly will miss the one they lost — forward Jaylen Hoard, who last year was the program's highest-rated recruit in a decade. Hoard turned pro after averaging 13.1 points and 7.6 rebounds during his lone college season, went undrafted and signed a two-way contract with the Portland Trail Blazers.
The unquestioned leader of this year's team is guard Brandon Childress, the son of former star guard Randolph Childress who averaged a team-best 14.7 points as the only player to start every game of last season.
The only current player to appear in an NCAA Tournament game with Wake Forest, Childress was a freshman on the John Collins-led team that lost in the First Four in 2017.
"Just understanding that this is my last year ... just knowing what's at stake, just understanding and taking my time and just embracing all the little things that's going on now because I won't get this next year," Childress said.
Manning was brought back for a sixth year after his first five included three 20-loss seasons and only one NCAA Tournament berth. The decision to retain Manning was made by athletic director Ron Wellman shortly before he retired last spring, with an expectation of improvement this year.
Junior guard Chaundee Brown (11.9 ppg) was the team's only other double-figure scorer a year ago. Big man Olivier Sarr (5.5 rpg) is its top returning rebounder, and Sharone Wright Jr. and Isaiah Mucius showed promise last season while Torry Johnson is back for a second season as a graduate transfer from Northern Arizona.
Wake Forest hopes transfer Andrien White can provide some instant offense from the perimeter. White, who sat out last season after transferring from Charlotte, is unafraid to put it up from 3-point range — more than 55% of his shot attempts came from beyond the arc. His career 37.9% shooting percentage from long range is better than any scholarship player on the team last year. "I'm prepared. I feel as prepared as I've ever been in my career, and I'm ready to come out and make an impact for this school and this university," White said.
The ACC's switch to a 20-game schedule means the Demon Deacons — who open Nov. 6 at Boston College — don't have the luxury of easing into things. Wake Forest will play Duke and North Carolina — the top two teams in the league's preseason poll — twice, along with Notre Dame, Clemson and BC. The key nonconference games are a visit to Penn State as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and a home game against Xavier in the Skip Prosser Classic.