Fair warning y'all, I know there are other recaps coming, so that's not what this is going to be. This is going to be the most opinionated piece I've written for BSD since the dark days of the infighting last year based around Coach Bzdelik. If you guys don't want to read an opinion piece by me, absolutely fine, skip this one, and I'll be back to the recaps in no time, have no fear.
Having said that, between the nature of the game last night, where we are in the season, and the fact that as I understand it, a more straight up recap is coming from one of my fine colleagues later today, I was inspired to write this piece on what I consider to be the "redemption-in-progress" of the Wake Forest men's basketball program. The real opinion begins after the jump, so...
If interested, read my feelings after the jump...Wow. What a difference a year makes. Sure, smart money (including mine) is on the fact that we'll finish in the bottom area of the ACC, but a team with 8 scholarship players with 75% freshmen or sophomores and no depth is winning games they should and, after last night, even some we shouldn't. Three more wins before we match last season's win total...about a third of the way through the season. The offense is crisper. The defense is stronger. Most notably, the hustle is off the charts compared to last year.
This team, with the exception of the ASU game (in which I believe the Deacs had a bad emotional hangover, contributing to their frankly atrocious play) is playing like they want to win. They're playing like they want to prove people wrong. They're playing like they want to win the fanbase back. And they're being coached to do a lot of this.
Now I'm not conclusively saying that Coach Bzdelik was the best hire we could've made, or even a hire that will work in the long term. But this isn't about that specifically. This is about the fact that whether or not you approve of Coach Bzdelik, whether or not you think he'll be the next great Deac coach (I too am thoroughly undecided), to deny that his outlook looks better than it did 6 months ago, along with the program's, is a truly impressive level of delusion or determination to convince oneself that their righteous indignation and smug assertions of knowing better are still justified.
Just being better isn't good enough to convince me. It needs to be night and day, considering it was a historically bad season last year. But we're getting somewhere. Coach Bzdelik and these players are showing me something. They're giving me a reason to believe in them and wait and see where things go. They're giving me a reason to smile and cheer and be proud.
More importantly, the important thing to remember is simple: IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT US. It's about us, the coaches, the players, hell, even the administration. Everybody suffered last year. Everybody came under fire. I'd argue nobody had it rougher than the players, because I guarantee you nobody wanted to win more badly than they did. But it just didn't click, until seemingly now. That was a huge part of the anti-"Bzzout" (or whatever the cool kids are calling the movement these days) arguments I was making last year.
The efforts you see out on that court are a collaboration between the players and their coaches, so when people so summarily nail Coach Bzdelik's coffin before they check for a pulse are, if you ask me, also throwing the players under the bus to some degree. Now obviously, if the bad performances the likes of which we saw last year rear their ugly heads again, then that's a different story. But just like Coach Bzdelik is a new coach, his roster was and still is extremely young, and last year they were trying to learn brand new things on the court while also (we know now) struggling with a litany of issues off the court as well.
I'm not asking everybody to replace their pitchforks with flowers. But if last night (and the season at large so far) isn't enough to at least make you hold the pitchfork at your side instead of in front of you, then I don't know what to tell you. I'll never cease to be amused by the type of fan that seems more determined to speculate failures and mistakes rather than enjoy successes. Last year, there was no speculation about it, things were terrible. But hey Thelma, tell Louise to ease off the gas for a second, you might not be going over that cliff after all.
Travis McKie, C.J. Harris, Tony Chennault, Carson Desrosiers, Nikita Mescheriakov, Chase Fischer, Anthony Fields, and Daniel Green. Those eight names are the names that, coaching discussions aside, are clearly working ceaselessly to bring the aura of prestige back to the Wake Forest program. And they're doing it under the tutelage of Coaches Jeff Bzdelik, Jeff Battle, Walt Corbean, and Rusty LaRue. It's not about any one of them, it's about all of them. It's about some more than others, and absolutely there are different levels of accountability. Having said that, the bottom line is they've failed together and at least for the time being, they're succeeding together.
I won't come out and say conclusively yet that I believe Jeff Bzdelik will take us where our fine athletic director seems to think he will. But I will say after last night that I think the current Wake Forest family hated the failure of last year as much as we did, and they ALL have made massive strides from where they were last year, and they're strides towards where I believe they need to be. In that sense, I believe in them, and I am proud almost beyond words of every single one of them at this moment in time.
I won't say I'm all in yet. But I'll call. Will you?
Rollin' Ronin out. Go Deacs.