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Put Me In, Coach

Jeff Bzdelik has been criticized for many things during his Wake Forest tenure, but what he did (or failed to do) on Saturday against North Carolina was perhaps his worst offense yet.

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Wake Forest has now lost seven straight games and is currently 14-13 (4-10 ACC) after starting the season 14-6 (4-3). In a column following a 105-72 dismantling at the hands of in-state rival North Carolina Tar Heels, you might think I would focus on things like the 33-point margin of victory, allowing 1.44 points/possession, getting outrebounded by 12, or Jeff Bzdelik's 2-31 ACC road record. I'm not here to talk about that. I'm here to talk about the players who should be playing in games like this, but who unfortunately did not; I'm talking about the Wake Forest walk-ons.

Roy Williams, head coach of North Carolina, put in walk-on Wade Moody with 5 minutes to go in the game and to his credit he nailed two 3-pointers and finished with six points. I can imagine it was a special moment for him. Fellow walk-ons James Manor and Denzel Robinson each played three minutes but did not score. Jeff Bzdelik, who only has 562 less career NCAA victories than Roy Williams, has a total of five walk-ons on his squad and they combined for 0 minutes and 0 seconds of play against North Carolina. Bzdelik chose to keep in three starters, one of whom was senior Travis McKie, who has started every game of his Wake Forest career. That's a disservice to our scholarship players who are on the court and it's a slap in the face to our walk-ons. In a 33-point defeat that is an unacceptable coaching decision.

Unfortunately this is not the first time this has happened. On February 11th, North Carolina State defeated Wake Forest 82-67 and head coach Mark Gottfried played all five of his walk-ons during the final minute of play. Jeff Bzdelik played just Trent VanHorn, who scored 3 points, in what has to be a memorable moment for him. On January 11th, Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon, played two walk-ons a total of five minutes and Bzdelik apparently forgot he had any. Against Virginia, head coach Tony Bennett and his ACC-leading Virginia Cavaliers played his five walk-ons a total of 16 minutes, while Bzdelik played three of his walk-ons a total of four minutes. But give Bzdelik credit, in games against The Citadel, Presbyterian and V.M.I., which we won by a combined 76 points, he played the walk-ons a total of 15 minutes out of a possible 600.

I'm not going to sit here and advocate that Bzdelik start the five walk-ons, but what he is doing is embarrassing. These players work very hard in practice to help our scholarship players prepare for opponents and stay unbelievably engaged throughout the games. They should  absolutely be put in when appropriate, yet Jeff Bzdelik does not buy into this philosophy like his ACC peers do. I hope the only scenario moving forward in which the walk-ons are put in is when the Deacs are blowing a team out, but if Wake is on the wrong end of a blowout, then Bzdelik should do the right thing and put the walk-ons in. I'd like to personally thank Stephen Pendergrast, Duke Antonelli, Trent VanHorn, Grant O'Brien, and Doug Niedrich for all of their outstanding work this season, and I'm sorry you haven't gotten all of the playing time that you deserve.