This was intended to be a much longer post explaining why, to a large degree, the talent drain that has occurred at Wake in recent memory has not been Bzdelik's fault. But after writing 2000 words and not even getting to the crux of the argument, I realized that no one in their right mind would read that. So instead, here's the research that I did regarding the lack of talent currently playing at Wake.
I would like to reiterate that I do not intend for this to be an indictment of anyone. These are simply numbers, with a little bit of my opinion mixed in.
There are four general college basketball recruiting strategies which coaches may follow: (1) recruit as much raw talent as you can, and allow your players to play with a minimal pre-defined system in the hope that talent wins out (the Roy Williams approach); (2) recruit as much raw talent as you can, and impose a pre-defined system as a method of adopting consistency over time (the Ben Howland pre-2009 approach); (3) recruit as much raw talent as you can, and then tailor your system to that talent (the Mike Krzyzewski approach); (4) recruit lesser talent with the goal of fitting that talent into a pre-defined system (the Bo Ryan approach). Any of the four methods can be successful, as each coaching example indicates, but the dutiful observer will note that the key to three of the four is assembling the best talent possible. It should come as no surprise then that, typically speaking, more talented teams win more games.
Since 2005, Wake has signed 13 top 100 recruits, as ranked by Rivals (Kevin Swinton, Anthony Gurley, Jamie Skeen, Jeff Teague, James Johnson, Al-Farouq Aminu, Ty Walker, Tony Woods, Ari Stewart, J.T. Terrell, Travis McKie, Melvin Tabb, Carson Desrosiers). Of these 13, exactly three have the opportunity to play all four years at Wake Forest (Walker, McKie, and Desrosiers, and Walker has not exactly lived up to his recruiting hype). The rest either transferred (Swinton, Gurley, Skeen, Woods, Stewart, Terrell), left for the NBA (Teague, Johnson, Aminu), or were kicked out of school (Tabb).
With little to no overall talent (three top 100 recruits in the last four recruiting classes still here - with one largely unproductive until recently), it's no wonder we're lagging behind the rest of the ACC. Over the same time period, Clemson, Maryland, Miami, and NC State each also have three such recruits still on the roster, while the two Techs each check in with four such recruits each. Meanwhile, the three ACC leaders have the most, as you would expect: Florida State has seven, Duke has eight (excluding Andre Dawkins, an early enrollee who otherwise would count), and North Carolina has a whopping nine such players (which would explain how they can lose a McDonald's all-American shooting guard and start playing better of all things). Virginia has no such recruits on the roster but has a coach who preaches a set system (as well as a number of recruits just out of the top 100 cut off point, and four top 100 recruits who have transferred out or left for the NBA). And poor Boston College has no such players, which explains why they're arguably the worst team in ACC history.
Based on roster construction, then, we should be middle of the ACC in terms of talent (let's say that Ty Walker actually lives up to his five-star recruiting billing). What separates the other teams with similar amounts of talent from Wake? The most glaring difference is experience. Look at the top recruits of the other teams:
Most of the other teams with comparable talent have experience to go with that talent. The exception to this is Virginia Tech, who, not coincidentally, has largely struggled in conference play. Wake has two sophomores and a senior who did not play for two years (essentially: a sophomore). Now, with the caveat that correlation does not equal causation (and that these rankings do not account for a good number of quality ACC players, such as ACC Player of the Year favorite Mike Scott), there certainly does appear to be a high correlation between these lists and position in the league standings.
Of the 13 Wake recruits in question, how many can we actually say are Bzdelik's fault. I would argue one. We can immediately rule out the players that departed prior to Bzdelik's arrival: Swinton, Gurley, Skeen, Teague, Johnson, and Aminu. That leaves seven recruits for which Bzdelik is potentially responsible: Walker, Woods, Stewart, Terrell, McKie, Tabb, Desrosiers. Three of these players either were outright booted from the team or transferred as a direct result of non-coaching disciplinary actions (Woods for the unfortunate incident with his girlfriend, Terrell for his DUI, and Tabb for what is rumored to be theft). One can argue that these transfers came about as a result of Bzdelik as a stricter coach when compared to Gaudio, but I personally would like to believe that we would have released these players regardless of coach. I take great pride in my alma mater, and sometimes doing the right thing trumps on-court success.
That leaves only Ari Stewart plus our three current players. Stewart, I feel, is the only casualty that can be directly related to Bzdelik: he was unhappy with the new system and decided to transfer as a result. While this should not be ignored, it's also unfair to say that Bzdelik's completely at fault regarding the current lack of talent on the roster.
So what's being done to fix this?
Much has been made about the incoming class, but to me, there have already been some (albeit limited) signs of improvement. You can't really teach talent. However, players can choose to work hard and improve, and the current roster of players certainly illustrates that concept. There have been noticeable strides made in the individual games of numerous current Deacons (C.J. Harris has developed an extremely consistent jump shot from both mid-range and out as well as a knack for drawing contact on drives; Travis McKie has improved his post game considerably; Ty Walker has finally started playing like an ACC caliber player after three years of no production; Carson Desrosiers has increased his strength and his shot-blocking timing). This is itself a promising sign, as it bodes well that the current staff can groom future players given time.
From a recruiting standpoint, the first full recruiting class a coach has to put together is always the most difficult. Bzdelik got credit for keeping together Gaudio's final recruiting class (although it was mainly Jeff Battle), but of the recruits in that class, only three of the five are still with the program. Bzdelik's first full class was underwhelming - no top 150 recruits. However, due to the time consuming nature of recruiting (it takes years to develop the relationships with players and their support circles), it is usually difficult to get an accurate reading of a coach's recruiting chops based on the fact that other, more established coaches will have had years head starts. Bzdelik's second recruiting class, as has been noted on many an occasion, consists of one or two top 100 recruits (depending on which site you use), including one that could be Wake's first top 50 recruit since the Aminu-Walker-Woods triumvirate of 2008. This is, to say the least, a step in the right direction to remedying the talent shortage that currently represents Wake's largest problem.
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