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Young Deacs provide tangible sign

The reason given by Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman when he announced his decision to retain basketball coach Jeff Bzdelik last spring was that the Deacons had shown enough progress for the embattled coach to earn another season at the helm of the struggling program.

It’s an assessment that was greeted with the obligatory skepticism from a certain segment of the school’s fan base – the one that resorted to putting up billboards on the interstate to voice their displeasure with the Deacons’ leadership.

In their defense, the progress of which Wellman spoke wasn’t the kind that hit you over the head like a stray elbow while battling for a loose ball under the basket. Wake’s 13-18 record last season was exactly the same as it was the year before. And the two extra ACC wins the Deacons recorded could easily be chalked up to the fact that the league schedule was increased by the same number of games.

But the progress that comes with a team dominated by seven first-year players was there.

Sunday night, with a national television audience watching, it finally manifested itself with a tangible result when Bzdelik’s young team gritted out a 73-67 victory against rival North Carolina at Joel Coliseum.

The upset of the 19th-ranked Tar Heels wasn’t as newsworthy from a national perspective as last year’s win against then-No. 2 Miami, especially since UNC has already lost to the likes of Belmont and UAB this season.

And yet, it’s hard to argue that slaying the big, bad (Carolina) blue giant isn’t exponentially more important because of the statement the victory provides to both Bzdelik’s players and their sometimes lukewarm fans.


It’s said that the best thing about freshmen is that they eventually become sophomores and that the greatest improvement in a college player comes between his first and second year.

Those adages would seem to be right on the money from watching the young Deacons play.

There are still plenty of rough edges to be smoothed, to be sure, but the seven freshmen that were so inconsistent and at times timid a year ago, have clearly grown more confident and assertive.

Some of that aggressiveness Sunday could possibly be attributed to the foul situation that had five Tar Heels – including starters James Michael McAdoo and J.P. Tokoto – in trouble for most of the game.

But to Wake’s credit, it was able to recognize the situation and take advantage of it.

Sophomores Codi Miller-McIntyre, Devin Thomas, Arnaud William Adala Moto and Madison Jones were all especially instrumental in sparking a 15-2 run early in the second half that turned a two-point Deacon advantage into a 53-40 lead with 10:06 remaining.

As impressive as Wake was in building the surprising advantage, the way it handled itself after the spurt ended – and the Tar Heels began the rally everyone in Joel Coliseum knew was coming – was even more significant.

UNC (10-4, 0-1) got as close as 64-61 with just under two minutes remaining. But instead of wilting and falling just short, as many underdogs do under such circumstances, Wake kept its composure.