Wake Forest has never won a national championship. It hasn’t reached the Final Four since 1962. Even when Tim Duncan was an All-American for them in the late 1990’s, they never made it past the Sweet 16. The Demon Deacons have also never been ranked No. 1 in preseason polls—until this year.
“We have to be aware that a lot of these same prognosticators are the same guys who picked us to be seventh in the league two years ago,” head coach Skip Prosser said. “We need to be aware as well that we don’t have a Tim Duncan-type guy—a seven-footer who can erase a lot of mistakes.... Collectively we have to become better in all different phases.”
Still by many regarded as the best team in the nation this year, the Demon Deacons have the talent, depth and experience to be a legitimate national title contender. With arguably the best backcourt in the nation and a formidable frontcourt to back it up, Wake has all the pieces it needs to puts its “nevers” in the past.
The Demon Deacons’ top talent lies with its guard duo of super sophomore Chris Paul and junior Justin Gray. Paul, a preseason All-American and possibly the most celebrated player in all of college basketball, was last season’s ACC Freshman of the Year and led the Demon Deacons to a Sweet 16 appearance with 21 points and seven assists per game in the NCAA Tournament. The point guard’s quickness and court vision, combined with his strong leadership, which Prosser “trusts implicitly,” make him Wake Forest’s deadliest weapon.
Although Gray may lie in the shadow of the hype surrounding Paul, it’s the other way around back home. “[Paul] is quite certain that he’s not the best player in his dorm room,” Prosser said of the roommates. Gray is Wake’s sharpshooter and was Wake Forest’s leading—and most consistent—scorer last year, averaging 17 points per game on 41-percent shooting. Already having earned a spot on last year’s All-ACC First Team for that offensive production, the team’s most experienced starter has shifted his focus to championship dreams.
The Demon Deacons’ duo, however, will not have to shoulder the burden of championship fantasies alone. A frontcourt led by 6-foot-9 center Eric Williams and forwards Jamaal Levy and Vytas Danelius is an experienced group that has shown signs of greatnes, but has been inconsistent over the past few years. Williams, Wake’s equivalent of Blue Devil Shelden Williams not only in name, but also in style of play and stature, has had several stat-stuffer games. But he has been criticized, however, for his mild-mannered post play and accumulation of petty fouls.
Seniors Levy, Danelius and shooting guard Taron Downey will serve as the team’s supporting cast and source of experience and leadership. Despite losing playing time to Paul, Downey provided solid scoring numbers on 49.2-percent shooting last season. Levy has primarily established himself as a tenacious defender and the team’s top rebounder. Danelius was plagued by lingering injuries last season that may continue to affect him, but he played with the Lithuanian junior national team during the off-season and will look to return to be the all-around impact player he was in his sophomore year.
“A lot of what we do this year is going to be about those three guys,” Prosser said of Levy, Danelius and Downey. “They’re the axis upon which this team will revolve. I think that they have done some wonderful things in terms of basketball in their three years here. They’re going to be determined to go out on a very high, positive note.”