New Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik passes first test since taking job
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- They left Wake Forest at 7 a.m. on April 16 with a modest goal: secure commitments from five elite recruits in 36 hours. Technically, new Demon Deacons coach
The coaches made a triangular drive through North Carolina on the 16th. Their first stop, 90 miles southwest, was at the Charlotte home of four-star shooting guard
At each stop Bzdelik asked the question, "Why did you choose Wake Forest?" The answers were along the same lines -- the basketball tradition, the academics, the fan support, the staff -- and so the former coach of the Denver Nuggets, Air Force and most recently Colorado, told all five players, "The only thing that's changed is me, and I'm not going to change any of those things."
Bzdelik, Battle and LaRue got their five pledges. They were back in Winston-Salem by the end of the night. Battle, who has a reputation as one of the country's best recruiting assistants and laid the groundwork for much of the 2010 class while working under Gaudio, remembers the overwhelming feeling of relief they had on the plane home -- because, he said, "You start to think about what would've happened if they didn't say yes, this late in the game."
After star forward
The Demon Deacons won't be an ACC contender this season, given how young their roster is and how much talent teams such as Duke and Virginia Tech have returning. What Bzdelik has, though, is a base of talent that should make Wake Forest powerful in 2-3 years. Beyond the well-balanced freshman class, which includes a top prospect at each position, he has two quality wing scorers in Harris (9.9 points per game in '09-10) and fellow sophomore
What Wake fans are most curious about is how, exactly, Bzdelik will make use of that personnel. Stewart said he was worried that the new coach would employ a Princeton-style offense like he ran at Air Force from 2005-07. "But when he met with us on his first week here," Stewart recalled, "He said, 'I'm not a dummy. I'm not going to run a Princeton offense when I have guys who can score the way you do. We're going to get out and run.' "
That was understandably what Wake players wanted to hear. Bzdelik feels that he has some strong open-court players at his disposal, and, he says, "The way you get to the open court well is start with your defense; get deflections or turnovers, and be rock-solid enough to force people into contested perimeter shots they don't want to take." Because of that, he says he's more likely to use his 2003-04 Denver Nuggets -- whom, he is quick to remind, led the NBA in fastbreak points and turnovers forced -- as a template for his first Wake team than he is to borrow stylistically from Air Force or Colorado. The fact that the Deacons have no
Bzdelik learned under one of the better personnel-adaptors in the NBA,
Bzdelik jumped to Boulder in the spring, and began to rebuild the Big 12's worst program, improving its record to 15-16 by '09-10 with a roster that included one of the league's best rookies, two-guard
The differences between Colorado and Wake Forest are immense. The Buffaloes don't have the tradition, the facilities, the financial support, the crowds or the recruiting base that the Demon Deacons have. The circumstances of Bzdelik's hiring aren't the same, either. At Colorado there were no overwhelming expectations, whereas at Wake, he gets the tradition, the facilities, the support and the recruits, and is replacing someone who wasn't run off because of scandal or extreme failure. Gaudio was a 20-game winner who was fired simply because his teams slumped late in the season and didn't make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. That's the only thing, really, that Bzdelik is expected to change about Wake Forest.