Bzdelik back for another year

As the 2012-13 men’s basketball season has come to a close, the Demon Deacons and their fans must watch the NCAA Tournament from home.

Clare Stanton/Old Gold & Black

Clare Stanton/Old Gold & Black

Over the past few months, many have analyzed the state of the Wake Forest program and wondered in what direction this youthful squad is heading. After finishing with a below .500 record, there are mixed feelings on the current track the program is on.

Athletic Director Ron Wellman is very involved with the situation, and revealed some of his thoughts on the program, players, coaches and the future. One of the biggest questions coming into the 2012-13 season was who would replace the multiple players that had been lost over the past few seasons.

In just the past two seasons, Wake saw eight players depart, many due to off-the-court issues. Wellman believes, however, that the group of young men they have assembled better epitomize what the university stands for.

“There are always issues, but generally we do our very best to recruit people with character and values that do reflect this institution,” Wellman said.

“This group of guys does exactly that. They have the values, they have the character, and I think our students and our fans in general recognize that they are good people and truly are student-athletes.”

One athlete that embodied these values was guard C.J. Harris. The Winston-Salem native, who led the Deacs in scoring, endured four tumultuous years at Wake, but always remained a class-act and will leave an enormous role to fill in the Deacon backcourt.

“He is a gentleman and such an honorable person,” Wellman said.

Clare Stanton/Old Gold & Black

Clare Stanton/Old Gold & Black

“He is loyal and will stand by you when times are difficult and he’s done that during his career at Wake Forest. We could not have been more blessed than to have C.J. Harris playing for Wake Forest basketball.”

Despite the Deacons’ record being identical to that of the year before, an obvious transformation was the surge in student attendance in the Joel Coliseum.

Many in the program including Jeff Nix, Director of Basketball Operations, made it a goal at the beginning of the season to regain student support, and enlisted players to help by visiting campus organizations, including fraternities and sororities.

“Our student attendance was up 55 percent this year, and I think there were a number of factors that played into that,” Wellman said.

“The team was better and more exciting. I think our students relate to the effort that the team is making on a daily basis and can visually see the effort, the hustle, the attitude and the coachability.”

The increase of students seemed to have an effect on the team’s play as well as they were 11-5 at home and upset two ranked conference opponents in Miami and N.C. State.

“This year we began to reclaim the atmosphere at the Joel,” Wellman said. “That has helped the team immeasurably with the home court advantage. Now we need to learn to win on the road obviously, and with maturity we’re going to do that.”

An apparent aspect of this year’s squad was the youth. With nine freshmen on the active roster, collegiate experience was at a minimal.

“This year, 60 percent of our minutes were played by freshman,” Wellman said. “No other team in the ACC or the Top 25 in the country even came close to that. Experience counts and experience is meaningful. Our players now have that experience. Even though they’re still going to be young next year, they’re going to be experienced sophomores, rather than sophomores who have never played before. We’ve got bright years ahead of us.”

Despite the optimism by some, others have pointed to head coach Jeff Bzdelik as the primary reason for the team’s woes. This season alone, there have been protests on the coach’s weekly radio show, a vigorous internet campaign for his firing and multiple local media advertisements doing the same, including one purchased in the Old Gold & Black March 7.

Photo courtesy of collegebasketball.ap.org

Photo courtesy of collegebasketball.ap.org

Wellman also announced March 26 that Bzdelik will be back as the head coach for next season and gave him his full support, despite many people disagreeing with his decision. Despite the negativity, Wellman welcomed their outcries.

“I love their passion,” Wellman said. “They want the same thing as we all want. They want to have a winning basketball program that is challenging for ACC Championships and going to the NCAA Tournament. We all want that. I look forward to the day when that passion they are currently using in this manner will be used in a very positive way. I have every confidence in our fanbase to do that.”

Bzdelik and the Deacons will undoubtedly have their hands full next season as the ACC will expand to include three strong teams, all of which made the 2013 NCAA Tournament, in Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. Louisville, the tournament’s No. 1 seed will also enter the ACC in 2014.

“The opportunity to have these schools all come to the ACC just makes our conference that much stronger,” Wellman said.

“There is no doubt that the strongest conference in the country in the future is going to be the ACC.  We have our rightful place in the college basketball world secured for the future and that’s exciting.”

Despite many challenges that lie ahead for the Deacs and a fanbase that is divided on its direction, Wellman is confident in the future of Wake Forest basketball.

“Next year we want to become historically competitive again,” Wellman said.

“If you look at the history of Wake Forest basketball, we’ve had successes, whether that be great players or championships. We may not get all the way back next year, but we will climb in the conference and do better. We will do better on the road. What will be important is that we dominate at home. If we dominate at home and do better on the road, then we’re looking at being and NCAA type of team. That’s the challenge we have in front of us.”