Ed. Note: This is another voice in a series taking a look at the present and future of Wake Forest basketball as a whole.
Often times, success requires sacrifice. Usually, that initial sacrifice leaves a lot of people unhappy. That is exactly what Wake Forest basketball is experiencing right now. The program is sacrificing short-term results for consistent and sustainable long-term success. It is a process that has a formula and requires time. The crucial components to this formula: patience and support.
The first step in the process is laying a foundation, and Wake is doing this as we speak. While the base clearly is still not as strong as we want or need it to be, it is getting there, and the plan for construction is in place. Everyone that is part of the Wake Forest community is part of this plan: a coaching staff, a TEAM of players, and a fan base that is fully invested and committed in Wake Forest basketball and its success on and off the court.
The coaching staff is in place. Coach Bzdelik has been criticized by pretty much everyone in the Wake Forest community, but what we all fail to realize is that Bzdelik and his staff have developed a foundation and plan for the future that will create a successful, sustainable program. He, personally, has sacrificed his own personal achievement for the future of a program that he is committed to. Coach Bzdelik did not have to bench a talented but troublesome player in Ari Stewart. He didn't have to leave a good and improving situation at Colorado to come to Wake. He didn't have to do a lot of things, but he did. He did despite the fact that it meant his current team would struggle and his own reputation would take a hit. He did these things because he knew they would benefit Wake in the future. Bzdelik, along with the rest of Wake's staff, is setting a precedent, one that values high character people and people who value Wake's past, present, and future.
This precedent starts with the players. Let's rewind a few years to the 2008-2009 season. If you remember correctly, Wake Forest's team that year started 16-0 and garnered a number one national ranking for only the second time in school history. Two months later, Wake was ousted by Cleveland State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Wake had what many called the most talented team in the country, yet they didn't even manage to get out of the round of sixty-four.
Why? The answer is simple. The players on their team didn't play as a team. Many of them concerned themselves only with their success as individuals and what pick Chad Ford had them going in the upcoming NBA draft. Basically, they were committed to Wake Forest in a sense that it was their stepping stone to the next level, but not in the sense that valued Wake's success. Consequently, the team never improved. They were good for most of the season due to talent alone, but the team that faced Cleveland State in the first round of the tournament was the same exact team that faced North Carolina Central the very first game of the season.
None of this is meant to downgrade the importance of talent and natural ability. Every good team needs talent to win, but this talent needs to be winning talent as I will call it, players who take pride in their team's successes, their relationships with each other, and their representation of their school, not just personal accolades and achievements. This is what past Wake teams have sometimes lacked.
Furthermore, it is the coaching staff's job and responsibility to recruit players who are committed to not only improving as individual players but who are also committed to Wake Forest's improvement as a team. Our current staff has already taken a step in the right direction. The 2012 recruiting class arriving in the fall is a group of talented players who want to be at Wake Forest because of what the school represents. They are humble guys who are committed to the success of the team as much as they are to themselves.
The class gives Wake a foundation of players who hold all the intangibles a coach wants in a player. They work hard and know how to win. Each and every one of them is coming from a winning background and as we all know, winners simply win. This is the mold of player that Wake Forest wants. It makes for a group that will continually improve and establish a precedent in doing so, and this revamped foundation gives the team and the staff something to build on moving forward.
The following year will show continued improvement, and initial sacrifices will start to pay off. With a group of guys that are committed to winning and improving, Wake will start to play its best come tournament time and yield the results that everyone wants to see.
With good results comes an improved reputation and attraction. Consequently, Wake will start consistently reeling in top fifty recruits, and again, guys who WANT to be here to win. From there, success in the following years becomes that much easier. Loftier goals can be set. Attaining these goals will become expected. Success on the court will be the usual at the start of the season all the way through the end of the season. Players will come here expecting to win, and that is when championships can be won.
The last part of the formula: the fan base. For this plan to succeed Wake Forest basketball needs support. It needs belief, and it needs positivity. It needs people who are optimistic about the future, people who attend the games no matter what, simply because of the school name on the front of those jerseys. Wake Forest has a proud basketball tradition, and we need to support that heritage during the good times and the bad.
I didn't write this article to tell you that Wake's performance the last couple seasons is acceptable, because it's not. But I did write this article to tell you that the staff has us headed in the right direction. Right now, we are simply experiencing the growing pains of a transition period that will change Wake Forest from a program that has very talented teams every couple of years into a program that has winning teams every year, and this is the sustainability that our program has wanted for a long time. I know it may be hard to see on the surface, but this is the plan, and they are committed to it. All it needs is time. The least we can do is to give them our support and believe in that plan.
Wake Forest basketball will be good again. That success isn't guaranteed to come in the next couple years like we all hope, but regardless, Wake will be good again. And my bet is that when they do return to prominence, they will stay there for a while.