Amidst Transfers, Jeff Bzdelik And Wake Forest Struggling To Maintain Order

With Wake Forest down to four returning scholarship players after three players decided to leave the program last week, the program is at a crossroads.

Head coach Jeff Bzdelik is 21-42 with five ACC wins in two seasons as head coach and has now seen eight players walk out the door, either by transfer or dismissal.

Freshman Anthony Fields and sophomores Carson Desrosiers and Tony Chennault have defected, with Fields citing playing time and Chennault speculated to want to move close to home due to an illness in the family.

Senior C.J. Harris, fresh off being named third-team All-ACC, is committed to finishing his career with the Demon Deacons and is supportive of Bzdelik as head coach.

"C.J. is definitely behind Coach Bzdelik," one source said. "He wants to win at Wake Forest and is a little upset with those players who are leaving the program."

Sources close to the situation have said that Desrosiers was unhappy with the direction of the program and that a number of players have indicated as such to the administration. In all public communications, Wake Forest Athletic Director Ron Wellman is standing by Bzdelik, who was hired after Dino Gaudio was removed with a 61-31 record in three seasons.

At the time, Wellman said, "There was a significant decline in every statistical category from February on ... and even more significant in the postseason."

The Demon Deacons lost Tony Woods after the center pled guilty to a misdemeanor in September of 2010. He was suspended by Bzdelik and left the program to finish the school year at a community college before transferring to Oregon.

A loss to Stetson in the first game of the 2010 season was a glaring indication that the Wake Forest fans would be in for a rough ride, despite bringing in a five man recruiting class in 2010 that was ranked No. 6 by Rivals.com and No. 13 by Scout.com and returned talented sophomores Harris and Ari Stewart.

Wake dropped 72 spots in the KenPom ratings during conference play to 251 to end the year and won no games in February or March, dropping the first-round ACC Tournament game, 81-67, to Boston College.

The off-season saw Stewart leave the program to transfer to the University of Southern California. The sophomore was in Bzdelik's doghouse and was benched for attitude problems and a declining work ethic.

And then things got worse.

Melvin Tabb was dismissed from the team in August of 2011 after being charged with breaking-and-entering, possession of stolen goods and obtaining property by false pretense. J.T. Terrell withdrew from the school after a DWI charge in September of 2011. He will be joining Stewart at USC next season after spending a junior college season with Peninsula College.

Ty Walker was suspended for the fall semester during the 2011-12 season and never made a significant impact before ultimately being dismissed from the program after Senior Day due to a violation of departmental policy.

Wake Forest moved to 211 in the KenPom ratings this year, winning 13 games, including four conference games. While it wasn't the splash of improvement some hoped for, at least the team was returning four starters, including Chennault, Harris, Desrosiers and Travis McKie. The Demon Deacons were welcoming ESPN's 20th-ranked recruiting class this fall. The six players include: PG Codi Miller-McIntyre, F Arnaud Moto, F Devin Thomas, G/F Aaron Rountree, F Tyler Cavanaugh and C Andre Washington.

Things weren't ideal; but at least it seemed like rock bottom had finally been reached and that Bzdelik could focus 100 percent of his time on 100 percent of his players, rather than the 90 percent of the time on 10 percent of the players he indicated in September of 2011.

The team lost 10 of its last 12 games this season by an average of 15.9 points, including another first-round exit in the ACC Tournament at the hands of Maryland, but the excuses were finally gone.

Bzdelik seemed to have the personnel he wanted - his first recruiting class of Fields, Green and Chase Fischer all logged impact minutes in ACC play, the 2012 class was carefully scouted and recruited - and his vision could be put in place.

Then it all got thrown into upheaval again - with the transfers of Chennault, Desrosiers and Fields.

Wellman said that Bzdelik would be returning in late February.

"Oh heavens, yes," Wellman said. "You'd better believe it." [...] "When Jeff came, I asked him to build a great program that was sustainable, and every decision that he made (has been) for the long-term best interests of the program. He's been willing to do everything that we asked him to do when he came here."

In an article from the Charlotte Observer on Friday after the transfers of Fields and Desrosiers were announced, Bzdelik said:

"I am certain (we're making progress). No doubt. We all feel that way. We're excited about our future."

That future isn't certain, though. Plenty of questions still surround a program that climbed all the way to a No. 1 ranking in the country in 2009 and has seen more players leave the program than ACC wins since Bzdelik took over.

While a reasonable level of attrition is expected in college basketball - especially in today's landscape, which has seen an almost record number of transfers - it is still a sign that Bzdelik is operating on shaky ground, despite the public support of the man who hired him.

Jeff Bzdelik might survive to make it through next season, but the long-term viability of the Wake Forest program is on life-support.

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