With the new hiring of head basketball coach Jeff Bzdelik, I examine his first month at the helm of the program and offer my take on the state of Wake Forest Basketball.
It has been just over a month since Jeff Bzdelik was hired by Wake Forest to be the next men's head basketball coach. During this time period there have been speculations, opinions, facts, tirades, window-dressings, criticisms, defenses and general concerns by nearly every Wake Forest fan who can find an open ear to talk to.
Fuel was thrust upon the open flames within the past couple of weeks when the first 2011 and Bzdelik-era signing was announced as two (soon to be three) star Chase Fischer from West Virginia. Fischer, a former Marshall commit, is an undersized two guard who to put it bluntly is well, white. This only further advanced both defenses and attacks of Bzdelik as it provided additional ammo for both sides. Those critical of the new coach have remarked that "this is the kind of recruiting we can get used to now that Dino is gone." Those quick to rush to the defense of Bzdelik have countered with "this is the kind of shooter we can use to get back to fundamental basketball." Neither side is wrong nor right quite yet, and it will be some time before we know for sure whether or not this was a poor or brilliant move by AD Ron Wellman.
The one thing we do all know for sure is that next year we are in for a treat on the hardwood. Despite losing a valued senior class and sophomore All-ACC performer Al-Farouq Aminu to the NBA draft, the Deacs return a wealth of untapped potential and youth. Rising sophomores Ari Stewart and CJ Harris will more than likely be slotted into starting at the beginning of the season and rising juniors Tony Woods and Ty Walker will be looked upon to provide a spark inside and live up to their hype coming out of high school.
Perhaps the most promising point of emphasis for the Deacons is the fact that Bzdelik was able to keep the five man recruiting class which is generally considered to be one of the top 10 classes in the nation. With a recruit at each position on the court, the incoming class of 2010 promises to be a joy to watch over the next few years as they develop. They will look like freshman, they will look like all-americans, we will yell, we will jump for joy, all in the same game. Thus is the nature of youth and inexperience.
The firing of Dino Gaudio has left the Wake Forest basketball program at a crossroads. The outrage presented by a large majority of the fan base following the initial leaks of Jeff Bzdelik's name was primarily based around the fact that Deacon fans thought that we as a program could have done better. This criticism was not and is not generally thought of to be an indictment of Coach Buzz, but rather a simple cry of "we do not stand for being little old Wake Forest." I constantly find myself torn between the two camps when looking back upon the hiring and looking forward to what next year will bring.
The freshman class will be thrilling to watch mature, yet next year's schedule presents a daunting challenge. Most sources acknowledge that Wake is going to be a participant in the NIT Tip-Off next year, along with other hosts Tennessee, Villanova, and UCLA. This will be a huge learning experience for our freshman, that is if we can get out of our home regional which features VCU or Winthrop in the second round (the first round matchup has not yet been announced). This gives our young team a chance to develop early and test out our talent against other top teams in the nation, something which could prove to be invaluable down the road as the ACC season begins. The team is picked and projected by many sources to be finish 10th or worse in the conference, which helps out the youth-laden squad as there will be nearly no expectations. This lies in stark contrast with the previous couple of years where there Deacon fans and national media have expected something out of the team.
I still do not know where my opinion lies with regards to Bzdelik as a coach. He has proven to be an X's and O's coach throughout his career, yet he has not had a lot of experience recruiting-wise. If players like Fischer are the recruits he is going to continue to get, I don't have high expectations for the team. We will need to see him fill out an entire recruiting class before we jump into him just yet on that front though, as we have no idea what he has up his sleeve for the remaining 2011 scholarships. Beyond that, I do not know if he is the long-term solution for the basketball program. I do not think that his age is a concern, but rather the length of time and the regularity at which he has jumped from program to program and from team to team. Will he stay in 3 years when his daughter graduates from Wake, or when the NBA comes calling? We do not know, but history has indicated that no he will not.
It is an exciting time to be a Wake Forest basketball fan and we are indeed at a crossroads. We can go left, or we can go right, but we cannot continue on the path which we are currently on. We departed that path when Gaudio was fired, and we are left to blaze a new trail. Regardless of what it yields, I will be there watching and supporting the team and I urge all true Deacons to do the same. It is indeed an exciting time to be a Demon Deacon.