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Right Place, Wrong Time: The Travis McKie Story

As senior basketball player Travis McKie's career at Wake winds down, Bart reflects upon Travis' impact upon Wake Forest and looks back over his time at Mother So Dear.

Streeter Lecka

Chasing Ivy

Former Wake Forest basketball player Sam Ivy was in attendance for Wake Forest’s 79-70 gut-wrenching home loss to bottom-feeder Georgia Tech last Saturday. Ivy, who played from 1986-1990 in Winston-Salem and is no stranger himself to experiencing a large volume of losses in his ACC career, was witness to senior Travis McKie scoring 26 points over 34 hard-fought minutes as McKie passed both Ivy and Lefty Davis to take over 18th place all-time in career points scored at Wake Forest University with 1,576. What Ivy saw McKie accomplish should have been similar to what Deacon fans watched Ivy do night-in and night-out in a Wake Forest uniform: stuff the stat sheet. The two players share eerily similar career statistics, general trajectories of their basketball career, as well as overall demeanor in life.

Ivy, a four-year starter at Wake, averaged double-digits in each of his four seasons in Winston-Salem while putting up career totals of 14.2 points per game, coupled with 6.3 rebounds per contest. Ivy currently ranks 20th in Wake history in scoring and 17th in rebounding. Similarly, McKie is a four-year starter at Wake and has started every single game in his Demon Deacon career (a whopping 117 total starts through the Duke game). McKie too has averaged double-digits in each of his four years at Wake Forest and has a career average of 13.6 points per game to go along with 6.7 rebounds per game. With the 99 rebounds so far in the 2013-14 season, McKie has moved into 16th place in the all-time Wake Forest rebounding total with 779 boards passing, you guessed it, Sam Ivy on the all-time list.

Even going beyond the statistical accomplishments, the two players hold an interesting part of Wake Forest history which both players would rather likely not talk about: the losing nature of the teams they were a part of. Ivy, who played his first three years in Winston-Salem under the tutelage of Bob Staak and then his final year under Dave Odom, never played in an NCAA Tournament game. Similarly, barring a miraculous run down the stretch for the current version of the Demon Deacons, McKie will not play a single minute in the NCAA tournament himself, becoming the first four-year Wake Forest player to fail to do so since Ivy’s class, which included fellow seniors Ralph Kitley and Antonio Johnson.


(Photo from Wake Forest Sports - Wake Forest's Sam Ivy)

This rather ignominious stat does not serve to reflect negatively upon these two individuals, but rather exists to show that these two players experienced a relatively tumultuous time throughout their four years at Wake. Bob Staak, by all accounts a great guy, is likely Wake Forest’s worst coach - a tale fleshed out relatively well by his 45-69 overall record in Winston-Salem.

McKie’s four years at Wake have been similarly poor as he has been the lone player to experience the full four years of the Jeff Bzdelik era and currently has a 48-69 record to show for  it. Unlike Ivy, who managed to snag one ACC Tournament win in the 1987 season, McKie has yet to record a post-season victory in a Wake Forest uniform. If the Demon Deacons lose their first game in the ACC Tournament in the 2014 season, McKie will be the only four-year Wake Forest player in the ACC era (dating back to 1953) to fail to record a postseason win of any kind.

McKie’s favorable comparisons to Ivy reflect the impact that Travis has had on the Wake Forest community. Throughout his four years in Winston, McKie has met the high standard of a true student-athlete. He is on pace to graduate in May with a degree in Communication and regardless of his future endeavors on the basketball court, he will certainly be qualified for life after basketball. McKie’s journey to Wake as well as his four years in a Demon Deacon jersey are a testament to his character and reflect a young man who has had a tremendously positive effect both on and off the basketball court.

"He's a good player - high character kid and outstanding student. It's a good match (for Wake) - Dave Telep on McKie, April 24, 2009.

Travis’ trip to Winston-Salem began in April of 2009 when he verbally committed to head coach Dino Gaudio. McKie, a Virginia native from Richmond, was ranked by scout as the 10th best small forward in 2010, was ranked the 11th best small forward by Rivals, and was ranked as the 49th best player in the RSCI 2010 overall rankings. McKie had a very successful high school career and was named the 2010 Virginia Central Region Player of the Year while also being named a nominee to the prestigious McDonald’s All-American team.

While McKie was arguably the top player in Dino’s 2010 class, the recruiting class affectionately  (and perhaps somewhat tongue-in-cheek) dubbed the "Fab Five" by many Wake fans featured three other RSCI top 100 players in J.T. Terrell (51st), Carson Desrosiers (66th), and Melvin Tabb (93rd). The fifth player, Tony Chennault, was regarded as a hard-nosed Philly point guard who honed his skills at well-regarded Neumann-Goretti. This class was honored as the eighth best in 2010 by ESPN and brought hope of a continued stay in the national spotlight for a Wake Forest basketball team which lost in the second round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament to Kentucky after winning in the first round over Texas on a walk-off buzzer beater by senior Ish Smith.


While McKie and company committed to Wake Forest and eventually signed their letters of intent, many questions arose in March and April of 2010 as Dino Gaudio was fired as the head coach at Wake. After a relatively short search, Colorado head coach Jeff Bzdelik was named the next head coach at Wake Forest the first week in April and the focus immediately turned to the highly-regarded incoming recruiting class. Ultimately Bzdelik was able to keep the "Fab Five" together and bring the entire 2010 recruiting class in, no doubt with the help of assistant Jeff Battle who spent endless hours on the road recruiting the five in the first place.

Despite the many questions surrounding the 2010 Wake Forest basketball team, there was reason to be hopeful after a strong 2009 campaign. While Al-Farouq Aminu turned pro after his sophomore year and the team lost four critical players in Chas McFarland, Ish Smith, L.D. Williams, and David Weaver to graduation, the Deacons brought back two former five-stars in juniors Tony Woods and Ty Walker as well as consistent performers in senior Gary Clark and sophomores C.J. Harris and Ari Stewart. The 2010 recruiting class brought in a lot of hope and Wake fans hoped they would eventually lead the Deacons back to the NCAA Tournament. However this was never destined to occur.

McKie, who earned the nickname "Twitter McKie" from the Wake fan base while he was in high school - due in large part to his prolific tweeting, was already a fan favorite along with Terrell when they first set foot on campus in August of 2010. Travis was known for being an athletic wing who could bring the crowd to their feet with his explosive moves frequently resulting in a strong finish around the basket. Hope springs eternal and never is hope far from any Wake fan’s mind who has experienced more than a few years of disappointments. The 2010 season was expected to be a bit of a down year by Wake standards, but what followed shocked even the most pessimistic of the Deacon fan base.

"I'm not going to say we've hit rock bottom." - Jeff Bzdelik on the 2010-11 season

The 2010-11 season opener against Stetson, a team who would ultimately finish the year 302nd in the nation by Ken Pomeroy’s rankings and was generally regarded to be a cupcake to kick off the Bzdelik Era at Wake Forest. The game had a bit of a laid-back feel as early season matchups tend to. There was a sense of excitement to see the new team as well as the new coach. A lot of the excitement surrounded the unveiling of the "Fab Five" who were supposed to electrify the Joel in similar fashion to Al-Farouq Aminu and company in 2008 when the Deacons vaulted to number one in the country on the back of an athletic bunch of future NBAers.

The celebration however was short-lived as Wake got off to a sloppy start in the first half to the Hatters and ultimately Travis McKie and the rest of the team fell to unheralded Stetson in a 89-79 game which Stetson lead by as much as 19 in the second half. McKie got the start, alongside fellow freshman J.T. Terrell, and contributed ten points to go along with five rebounds. Three days later, McKie and the rest of the class of 2010 recorded their first ever win in a 63-56 slop-fest in the opening round of the NIT Season Tip-off but fell the next night to a Virginia Commonwealth team who would ultimately make the Final Four under second-year head coach Shaka Smart.

By the Christmas Break in 2010, it was clear that Wake Forest was in the middle of one of their worst seasons ever. The Deacons were 6-6 with embarrassing losses to Stetson, Winthrop, UNC Wilmington and Presbyterian on the schedule. The lone bright spot was J.T. Terrell’s 30 footer to stun Iowa 76-73 in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge at the end of November. Through the first twelve games of his Wake Forest career, McKie was already having a notable impact having started each of the twelve games, scoring double digits in nine of those games. Perhaps more surprising though was his rebounding prowess. Regarded as an okay to slightly above average rebounder coming out of high school, McKie exhibited a high basketball IQ in being at the right place at the right time to gobble up boards left and right. In his most impressive game, Travis put up 22 points and 15 rebounds along with two blocks and two steals against Elon, becoming the first Wake freshman since 1998 to pull down at least 15 rebounds in a game.

If the 6-6 start to the season was a surprise for the young team and the fan base, the 2011 portion of the basketball calendar did not provide any respite for the squad. The Deacons did manage to wrap up the non-conference portion of their schedule with a 79-63 home win against local rival High Point, but would then drop their next five games before finally getting their first, and ultimately only, conference win of the year against Virginia.

Despite the series of poor performances by the team, McKie continued to flourish as one of the only consistent players on the team. The freshman ended the season with eleven double-digit performances in sixteen total conference games along with three double-doubles in conference play. Overall McKie recorded 24 double-digit games and finished the season with the sixth-most points ever for a Wake freshman with 417, one point above Jeff Teague’s 2007-2008 performance. McKie also snagged 247 rebounds, good enough for the fourth-most ever by a Wake freshman. Despite being part of a team that ultimately finished the year with the most losses in Wake Forest history with 24, McKie was named to the All-ACC Freshman Team with 74 of a possible 75 votes. He was also named a Freshman All-American by College Insider and was one of only two freshmen to be in the top 20 in the ACC in both scoring and rebounding.

"I'm thrilled with the direction (of the basketball program)." - Ron Wellman, September 15, 2011

Despite the 8-24 record, there was a reason for McKie to be optimistic. While the team limped to a 1-15 record in the ACC, the team appeared built to break through over the next couple seasons as the team matured and grew together. Fate however, had different plans. While McKie kept his nose to the ground and worked hard in the off-season, the same could not be said for each member of the team and suddenly Travis found himself one of the more experienced players on the team when his sophomore season kicked off.

While the 2010-11 squad had only one senior, the team that began the 2011-12 team bared hardly any resemblance to the team who took the court in the season finale against Boston College. Rising junior Ari Stewart, who had found himself on the bench more and more throughout the end of the 2011 year and did not even travel with the team to the ACC Tournament, decided to transfer to Southern California. To compound matters one of the centerpieces of the 2008 recruiting class, Tony Woods, transferred to Oregon after being charged with assault in the offseason. Woods was given the option to sit out a year and return to the team in 2012, but Woods opted instead to pursue his education elsewhere.

Another piece of the puzzle, fellow rising sophomore Melvin Tabb, was dismissed by the university before the 2011 season started after being arrested for felony breaking and entering charges. Finally, the electric J.T. Terrell withdrew from school after being arrested for a DUI and never again played a game for the Demon Deacons before ending up at Southern California with Stewart. With the class of 2010 down to three players, the 2011-12 team faced a lot of challenges and McKie was expected to shoulder a heavy load as far as scoring and crashing the boards was concerned. This would be a new role for Travis who was expected to be one of a number of role players his freshman year. With higher visibility comes higher expectations and McKie had to take the next step to keep Wake Forest from having another disastrous season.

The 2011-12 basketball season started off substantially better than the 2010-11 season and a large reason for this start was Travis McKie. McKie was plugged into the power forward spot a lot during his freshman year despite being slightly undersized and he remained there at times throughout the beginning of his sophomore year. In the first four games of the year, Travis put up 20-plus points three times, including 25 points against North Carolina Central which helped the Deacs out to a 3-0 record entering the Old Spice Classic.

After a very close loss against Dayton in the opener of the Old Spice, Wake laid a massive egg losing 84-56 to an Arizona State team which would finish the year 10-21 overall. McKie struggled and only put up eight points, but it would be the last time until the third conference game that he failed to reach double-digit points. Travis’ maturation throughout the first 40 games of his career was evident and he appeared to be a player poised to be a double-double machine in the conference.

While he was undersized for the four, he had an ability to be in the right place to snag rebounds on both sides, but particularly on the offensive end where he gobbled up an impressive 18.4% of all offensive rebounds when he was on the floor his freshman year. He continued to be a matchup nightmare for opposing offenses as fours on the other side were a step slow to guard him and threes were ill-equipped for his ability to get down the lane with ease. Following a one-point win over Yale right before 2012 began, the Deacs sat at 9-4 and were hoping to make some noise entering the ACC year. Unfortunately for Wake, C.J. Harris was unable to play in the last tune-up game before ACC play against Wofford and the Deacs suffered an embarrassing 56-52 home loss to the Terriers. McKie’s 25 points and six boards weren’t enough to propel Wake to victory, but it was more than obvious that Travis was an offensive force to be reckoned with.

The 2012 ACC slate was only somewhat kinder than the 2011 version where the Deacs were only able to snag one conference win. Wake opened the ACC season with an improbable 58-55 home victory over Virginia Tech to match their entire 2011 ACC win total, however they were unable to capitalize on the momentum of that victory and lost nine of their next ten games. Travis continued to play well in spurts, recording three double-doubles over that time period, but also had some down games, recording only two points in a loss to N.C. State and three points in a 23 point home loss to Florida State.

"Will Buzzy ever find success at Wake Forest? - No." Journalist Dave Ramsey, Colorado Springs Gazette, January 19, 2012 after a 76-40 loss to N.C. State


It was clear by the middle of February that the 2011-12 season was only going to be marginally better than the previous season. Wake did manage to win two of three games in the middle of the month against Georgia Tech and Boston College, largely fueled by McKie’s offensive efforts, putting up 23 and 11 against Tech and 21 and six against the Eagles. The season finally came to an end when the Deacs lost by 22 in the ACC Tournament despite McKie’s 22 points and eight rebounds.

Travis again started every single game over the course of the season and was undoubtedly one of the catalysts of the team on both sides of the floor as he was also named to the All-ACC Honorable Mention team for his efforts. McKie began playing a little bit more of the small forward position in addition to playing the four throughout the season. Travis frequently struggled to defend bigger guys at the four spot and did not have a great back-to-the-basket game. He made a living over the course of his sophomore year grabbing offensive rebounds and cleaning up the trash.

At the three he would struggle at times with his handle and was not always able to stay in front of the smaller, quicker guys who would play the three. McKie’s own ability to provide a mismatch for opposing defenses also proved to be a mismatch for himself. Additionally, Travis was asked to be a score-first player due to the poor offensive skill set of the rest of the team. While he was able to get down the lane on occasion, he was undoubtedly better suited to be a role player to compliment true volume scorers.

After two seasons, McKie was one of the most prominent scorers and rebounders in the ACC. While he padded his individual stats and was one of the only true threats on the roster, Wake basketball was in a remarkable lull. One season removed from an 8-24 record, the Bzdelik-led squad won only five more games in 2011-12 and finished the season 13-18. Furthermore the fan base was beginning to get more and more vocal about their distaste for Bzdelik and were starting to turn on the team. An average of 10.5 wins over two seasons did not sit well with a team accustomed to post-season appearances.

Wake received more bad news in the 2012 offseason when sophomores Tony Chennault and Carson Desrosiers both decided to leave the program. Chennault transferred to Villanova to be closer to home and Desrosiers departed for Providence after deciding that Wake was not the right fit for him. This left Travis as the lone member of the Fab Five still at Wake Forest for his remaining two years. Rumors were rampant in the offseason that McKie too would transfer. There was no question that McKie loved Wake Forest, but it was evident that the basketball team was nowhere close to a postseason bid and it was well-known that VCU coach Shaka Smart held McKie in high regards. Travis would have been a perfect fit in the Rams "Havoc" system and it was a natural fit as it would put McKie back in his hometown of Richmond.

On the other hand the incoming 2012 class was supposed to be one that potentially rivaled the Fab Five from two years earlier. The group was dubbed the "Sensational Seven" and featured guard Codi Miller-McIntyre, big man Devin Thomas, Arnaud "Bill" Adala Moto, plus four other players making it the 23rd best class in the country. Wake fans were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief when it became clear that Travis was not going to go anywhere for his final two years and would graduate a Demon Deacon. Although there may not have ever been any serious threat of McKie departing Winston-Salem, the VCU connection just made sense as McKie’s game would clearly be dominant at the mid-major level. With McKie coming back, senior C.J. Harris also returning, and the Sensational Seven coming in there was yet more reason to be optimistic about the upcoming year. Yet again though, Wake fans would be let down as the season unfolded.

"This is a seminar in mass alienation." Eammon Brennan on the Jeff Bzdelik situation,, December 17, 2012

Following the frustration of the 2011-12 season, the Wake fan base was extremely disgruntled. The Joel was a shell of its former self, Wake was unable to handle even the worst ACC teams away from the confines of Winston-Salem, and the Deacs were frequently losing in embarrassing manners. Wake opened the season with a solid performance over Radford at home before losing a tight neutral-court game against Connecticut. However in a relative toss-up game against Iona, Wake managed to fall behind by an incredible 41-5 score on the same day that the football team got obliterated in South Bend by Notre Dame. It’s rare that a 94-68 game fails to reflect what occurred in a game, but it does not do justice to the beat down that the Gaels delivered to the Wake team. Although the team bounced back to reel off back-to-back wins over Mercer and William & Mary, Wake entered conference play with just a 7-5 record.

McKie, who started out at the power forward position in his career, was playing almost exclusively at the three (small forward) position by this point. With the addition of Devin Thomas inside, McKie was able to move out to the wing rather than posting up inside. The move did not seem to bother Travis much as he continued to score with relative ease throughout the season. After three straight games of single-digit performances at the beginning of December, Travis scored in double-digits for two straight months, including three double-doubles.

While McKie continued his stellar play that the Deacon faithful had become use to, the team was unable to get much going again in over the course of ACC play, stumbling to a 6-12 conference record.  The brightest spot of the season, and perhaps of Travis’ entire career, was a methodical 80-65 beat down of second-ranked Miami, who entered the game in late February with an undefeated ACC record. McKie contributed 8 points and 10 rebounds in what was only Wake’s second win over a ranked opponent with Bzdelik as the head coach.

While the six wins exceeded the total number of ACC wins through McKie’s first two seasons, a 13-18 overall record indicated that the team was still quite a distance from post-season play. McKie finished the season averaging 13.5 points per game and 7 rebounds per contest. These numbers were closer to his freshman numbers, but were predominantly because of the addition of other offensive threats which decreased McKie’s usage as the season progressed. He again started every single game over the course of the season, continuing his remarkable three-year streak of starting each game and was again named to the All-ACC Honorable Mention team.

"Demand Accountability. Rewake the Nation." - Billboard in Winston-Salem calling for the firing of head coach Jeff Bzdelik and Athletic Director Ron Wellman, May 2013

As McKie’s senior season approached it was clear that when Travis hung up his sneakers, he would be one of the more acclaimed players in Wake history. By this point though, Travis’ accomplishments on the court were completely overshadowed by the previous three years. While Wake fans were somewhat appreciative of McKie, the majority of the focus on Wake Forest surrounded the tenuous nature of coach Jeff Bzdelik’s job status. With most Wake fans furious at the Athletic Department about the decision to retain Jeff Bzdelik for McKie’s senior year, Travis’ efforts had been almost an afterthought - a shame given his remarkable statistical achievements through three years in Winston-Salem.

Entering the 2013-14 season, Wake was hardly on anybody’s national radar. Picked to finish 11th in the expanded 15 team ACC, the Deacs were not picked by a single outlet to compete in the NCAA Tournament. Fighting an uphill battle, the Deacs opened the season with five very easy games and got off to a quick 5-0 start. Through these first five games though it was apparent that the offensive makeup of the team was different. While McKie was still starting, his usage rate was way down, although his statistics did not yet reflect it.

McKie averaged over 15 points and 5 rebounds over these first five games, but it was clear he was not crashing the boards with the same aggressiveness which Wake fans had come to expect. At the end of the non-conference season, while McKie’s offensive efficiency rating was better than ever, he had only four games of more than five rebounds. Travis’ greatest strength over his first three seasons were his ability to find the ball off the glass despite not always being the biggest, fastest, or most athletic player inside. There was obviously a major difference in the way McKie was getting after the ball. It is unclear still what this difference was, or is, but after a series of poor games to start ACC play, something clicked.

"You finish what you start. I made a decision to come here and it didn't go as well as anybody thought it would, but you finish what you start." - Travis McKie, January 31, 2014.

McKie had a four-game streak at the beginning of ACC play this year where he scored a total of 15 points and ten rebounds, a fairly typical performance from earlier in his career. However after this stretch he came alive, rattling off four straight double-digit performances to help Wake to a 14-6 overall record entering a critical game against Syracuse at home - inarguably the biggest of McKie’s career. The Orange entered the Joel undefeated and provided the Demon Deacons with a perfect opportunity to add a massive win to their NCAA resume and move one step closer to McKie’s dream of playing in the Big Dance come March. These were the types of games McKie expected to play in night-in and night-out when he committed to Wake and it was finally here.

While the Deacons ultimately fell to the Orange 67-57, McKie contributed 12 points and six boards, including a three right before the break to cut the Orange lead in half. McKie was upbeat in the game’s aftermath though, telling the Charlotte Observer prior to the Georgia Tech game that he wants to experience the NCAA Tournament and that you finish what you start. After a crippling loss at home to Georgia Tech followed by a twenty-point loss in Cameron, the Deacs need to either immediately right the ship or win the ACC Tournament in March for Travis to reach his goal of making the NCAA Tournament.

Travis is averaging a career low in both points and rebounds this year, but his efficiency on offense is the highest it has ever been. While fans have complained about his effort at times and wondered where the old Travis is, he has claimed full responsibility for what has gone on. After the Virginia Tech game, where McKie scored 24 points on seven of ten shooting and contributed six rebounds, he admitted that he had been standing around a bit and that he was looking to get after the ball a little bit more.

He has been forthcoming with his perception on both himself and the team around him and one of the worst-kept secrets surrounding the program is the contentious nature between the players and Jeff Bzdelik. While one can speculate that this contributes to his lack of movement early on in the season, the fact remains that Travis McKie has displayed tremendous accountability for the play of the team. After the loss to Georgia Tech, Travis appeared to be the lone member interviewed about the game to put the loss squarely on his own shoulders. Travis has never been one to pull punches and has always told it like it is. He has been a fantastic representative over the past three and a half years for Wake Forest University.

In an age of players bouncing around from school to school, or going pro prior to completing four years in college, Travis McKie has been a breath of fresh air. He is the true definition of a student-athlete and will graduate soon with a degree from a top 25 university. While things have not always been perfect on the basketball court throughout his time at Wake, Travis would be the first to say "that’s just life." McKie has just nine, maybe ten games left in a Wake Forest uniform and it will be sad to see him go. He will likely finish in the top 15 in Wake history in both points and rebounds and barring any strange circumstances will end with the second most starts for any Wake player ever, behind only Tim Duncan.

It has been an honor and a privilege to watch McKie play basketball and there is nothing I want more than for Travis to have at least one experience in the NCAA Tournament, but unfortunately that’s just not likely to occur. McKie, the lone player to stay in the Bzdelik system for four years at Wake Forest, has been a valuable part of a team in a tough time of Wake basketball history. I have no question that in fifteen or twenty years, Travis will be watching the Deacs in person as another young Deacon pours in point after point to move in front of McKie on the scoring list. Like Sam Ivy, Travis McKie is a Wake Forest Demon Deacon through and through.

"I love Wake and I hope it gets back to where it was, where I found it." Travis McKie, January 31, 2014

You and I both Travis, you and I both.