Wake Forest looks to take step forward in Manning's 3rd year
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) There haven't been any quick fixes for Danny Manning at Wake Forest.
Bringing the Demon Deacons out of the Atlantic Coast Conference's lower tier has been a slow, deliberate, multiyear process - and more struggles could come this year with a young, talented core.
After that, though, the future certainly looks bright.
''We're a work in progress,'' Manning said.
Gone are program stalwarts Devin Thomas and Codi Miller-McIntyre. The current team's only fourth-year senior on scholarship used to be a walk-on, and eight of the 13 scholarship players are either freshmen or sophomores.
And with the exception of a graduate transfer, everybody figures to be back in 2017-18 - giving the Demon Deacons essentially a two-year window to win with this current crew of players.
''We like the skill set. We like the talent level,'' Manning said. ''We're young, but when you're building, that's how you have to build. ... We think we're going to have a chance to do some really big, really special things this year.''
Wake Forest returns three starters from a team that went 11-20 last season and won just two ACC games - and the Demon Deacons need each of them to take a step forward.
Guard Bryant Crawford needs to be ''a little bit more calculated'' with his sometimes reckless decisions, Manning said. Guard Mitchell Wilbekin, whose arm muscles have more size and definition, needs to keep shooting. And Dinos Mitoglou, who's also bulked up, needs to hit the glass harder, Manning said.
Some things to know about the 2016-17 Demon Deacons:
BETTER SHOOTERS: Manning says this is ''the best shooting team we've had in 3 years, without question.'' He says there are at least six players who are ''capable of making a shot,'' whereas in the past he could only rely on Wilbekin and Mitoglou. That list includes two graduate transfers - Keyshawn Woods and Austin Arians.
INSTANT EXPERIENCE: The Demon Deacons hope Arians, who transferred in from Milwaukee, can bring some leadership to this young group. Arians started all 33 games last season for the Panthers and hit 186 3-pointers during his three-season career. Woods sat out last season after transferring from Charlotte and led Conference USA by hitting 46 percent of his 3s as a freshman in 2014-15.
BIG MEN ON CAMPUS: Manning, a former No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, knows low-post basketball and this Wake Forest team has some significant size. Sophomores John Collins (6-foot-10) and Doral Moore (7-1) both showed flashes during their first seasons and look to take another step forward. Manning also brought in 6-11 Sam Japhet-Mathias from London to strengthen the interior. ''We still want to have paint touches,'' Manning said, ''and it doesn't matter who our post player is.''
BAHAMAS BENEFIT: This group got a jump start in learning to play with one another during a three-game exhibition excursion to the Bahamas in August and the extra practice time it allowed. Through three practices this preseason, Manning said, ''we are much further along ... than we were (through three practices) the last two years, solely due to that trip.''
NOT HOME VERY OFTEN: The Demon Deacons will have to grow up on the road because they only play five nonconference games at Joel Coliseum - including just three between Nov. 14 and Dec. 30. The schedule includes a midseason tournament in Charleston, South Carolina, a visit to Xavier on Dec. 17 and a home matchup with LSU five nights later.