College basketball: Wake Forest looks to keep climbing after strong 2016-17 season
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Wake Forest has come a long way in a relatively short time with Danny Manning.
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Now the challenge is to keep climbing in a tough Atlantic Coast Conference.
But for all the progress Wake Forest has made, the fourth-year coach knows there's so much more to do — and the successes of the past 12 months have made his players believers that they're on the right path.
"We got a taste last year," Manning said Wednesday. "We've got to want more than a taste. We've got to want the meal, and the dessert. That's what I think our guys understand."
Now that they've made one NCAA Tournament, they expect to reach another one — and this time, to stick around for a while longer. Wake Forest was knocked out by Kansas State last March in a play-in game in Dayton, Ohio.
"The overall culture from when I came in here as a freshman has changed for the better," senior guard Mitchell Wilbekin said. "The guys are coming in to work every day in practice, competing, having a high level of energy and really just trying to win every day. That was something that wasn't here all the time my freshman year like it is now."
The biggest challenges the Demon Deacons face this season are finding capable replacements for a pair of forwards who left early — big man John Collins and wing Dinos Mitoglou.
As last season progressed, it became an inevitability that Collins would turn pro as he blossomed into an AP All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection, averaging 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds while stringing together 12 straight 20-point games late in the season.
Mitoglou's exit came as a surprise — and at a rather inopportune time for the program. The Greek player announced in July that he would not return to the United States, opting instead to remain in his home country and signing a four-year deal with club team Panathinaikos.
Manning brought in Marshall graduate transfer Terrence Thompson to help replace Mitoglou, and could look to 7-foot freshman Olivier Sarr to fill the void inside left by Collins, who the Atlanta Hawks drafted with the No. 19 overall pick. Manning says another 7-footer, junior Doral Moore, has had the best offseason of his college career.
"We have a lot of guys with opportunities in front of them," Manning said.
That includes wing player Chaundee Brown — one of the program's most highly-regarded freshman since Al-Farouq Aminu in 2008.
"It's a great feeling to know coaches and a lot of people expect big things from me," Brown said. "I'm just going to continue to do the same things I did in high school, working hard every day."
Brown can play either small forward or shooting guard in a backcourt that is unquestionably the strength of this team with veterans Bryant Crawford, Keyshawn Woods, Brandon Childress and Wilbekin.
Manning — a former All-American at Kansas, No. 1 draft pick and NBA All-Star in the low post — says he's comfortable with a small lineup.
"We have plenty of guys that can seize those minutes (inside), but at the end of the day, I've got four really good guards and we're going to end up playing small a lot of the time, because that is the way of our league," Manning said. "We'll try to dictate matchups by going small, and ... having teams match up with us."