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Unanswered Prayers

How missing on Harry Giles has led to an odd, yet successful set of circumstances for Wake Forest basketball.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

“She was the one that I’d wanted for all times; and each night I spend prayin’ that God would make her mine; and if He’d only grant me this wish I wished back then; I’d never ask for anything again. Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers. Remember when you’re talkin’ to the man upstairs. That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care. Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” - Garth Brooks, Unanswered Prayers

In a dark phase of my youth I was a country music fan, and while that isn’t a music phase that I particularly am fond of remembering, I do find that country music, particularly older country music, can often give great insight into the deeper questions of this life…and sometimes the not-so-deep questions of life, like college basketball recruiting.

Almost one year ago, local Winston-Salem resident Harry Giles, spurned his hometown university, Wake Forest, and chose Duke. Duke is 80 miles almost straight down Interstate 40, and is widely recognized as one of the top 3 college basketball programs. Wake and Duke have been competing against one another since 1906 and the little brother / big brother complex is real. Whether they admit it or not, (most do) Wake fans despise their older and more successful brother, and dream of unseating them from the basketball throne.

When Harry Giles, despite a lengthy recruitment and positive feedback throughout the process, chose to leave his hometown and pursue his basketball career (let’s be honest, academics were not a part of his decision) at Wake Forest’s hated rival, many basketball prayers were left unanswered. Many Deacon fans probably prayed “If we could just land Harry Giles, I’ll never ask for anything again!”. As it turns out, losing the Giles sweepstakes was one of the best unanswered prayers for which a Wake fan could ask.

The result of losing Giles, was that the Deacons became very thin in the post position. Devin Thomas had just graduated, and a huge void was present in the paint. All the Deacons had returning was a stretch power forward/center, Dinos Mitoglou, and two sophomores who had played extremely limited minutes the previous year in John Collins and Doral Moore.

As any Wake fan, or ACC basketball fan knows, John Collins did not allow his opportunity to go to waste. The work he had put in with Manning and the staff became evident early in the season, and in the end culminated in Collins being drafted by the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the 2017 NBA draft.

Around the same time as John Collins selection in the NBA Draft, Wake Forest was in the midst of a recruiting battle with Vanderbilt and California for a 2017 Forward/Center from France named Olivier Sarr. He was widely considered a top 50-75 recruit and was looking for immediate playing time, and a staff that could develop him into a first round talent. The departure of Collins, and the success of Collins played a massive role in convincing Sarr to choose Wake Forest as his destination school.

Like a well-placed course of dominoes, there also happened to be a 6’8” guard/forward who played with Sarr on the French national team. Additionally, this young man, Jaylen Hoard, was playing his high school basketball at Wesleyan Christian Academy in High Point, NC, a mere 25 minute drive from Wake Forest.

Without being privy to the details, I cannot say who influenced who with regards to signing with Wake Forest, but Hoard and Sarr definitely enjoyed playing with each other, and with Sarr in the Deacon fold, it seemed inevitable that Wake would end up signing his highly talented and younger teammate. In August of 2017 that inevitability became a reality, and Jaylen Hoard, 5-star 2018 recruit, committed to Wake Forest.

As the dominos begin to fall, piece by piece, there was another young man from the northeast who was taking notice. Manning and his staff had been recruiting a specific type of player the past two years, and had been placing a lot of emphasis on length and versatility. Oliver Sarr is 6’10” and very mobile. Jaylen Hoard is 6’8” and can play guard or forward. Isaiah Mucius, Brewster Academy, is another 6’8” guard/forward who the Deacons had placed a lot of emphasis on signing.

As it turns out, Hoard’s commitment played a key role in Mucius’ college decision. When Mucius made his decision to attend Wake Forest University he said: “I am trying to win an NCAA Championship, and I think having Jaylen {Hoard} on the wing with me {will help}, and we are trying to help get a point guard, and I think we can win a championship.”

It is clear that Mucius was influenced by Hoard, but the question for Deacon fans is why Mucius felt the need to mention he and Hoard’s intent to find a point guard.

At the time Wake Forest was heavily recruiting two excellent point guard prospects in Mike Devoe and Ayo Dosunmu. Devoe has recently committed to Georgia Tech and is no longer an option, by Ayo has not made a decision. Coincidentally Ayo played this past summer with Jaylen Hoard. Additionally, on Ayo’s official visit to Wake Forest last weekend Jaylen Hoard also decided to make the 20 mile drive over from Wesleyan to spend some time with his AAU buddy. It is not a far reach to conclude that while I am sure that Mucius would love to play with Devoe, it was Ayo that Mucius was referencing with his point guard comment.

I would be remiss to leave out Wake Forest’s other commitment for the 2018 class as well, even though the fall of the dominos does not seem to impact his recruitment and subsequent commitment. Sharone Wright Jr., son of former NBA player Sharone Wright, was the first 2018 commit for the Deacons. He is another long, athletic, versatile guard who can play and defend all over the court, and the Deacon fan base is extremely excited to see what he can do next year.

As a former player at West Florence High School, where up until this year Wright Jr. played high school basketball, I have particular interest in following his successes. He is currently measured as 6’4” or 6’5”, but many analysts have predicted he will grow to be more like his father who is 6’10”. Much like three star recruit John Collins, Manning targeted Wright Jr. early in the recruiting process as a priority commitment.

Deacon fans can already thank the basketball ‘gods’ for the unanswered prayer of Harry Giles. While Giles struggled to make any meaningful impact at Duke, and ultimately left millions on the table because of his particularly unproductive season, Collins thrived and ultimately was drafted one spot ahead of his previously more heralded counterpart.

The question for most Deacon basketball fans at this point is whether there is one more domino to fall this year. As we eagerly await Ayo Dosunmu's college choice, the hope of every Deacon fan is that this ‘prayer’ is answered.