March 27, 2006

Style points don't count in college basketball. You either get two points or three points for a made field goal no matter how the ball is coaxed into the net. But style can create opportunities for more baskets, and that notion already has Wake Forest head basketball coach Skip Prosser looking anxiously for the start of the 2006-2007 season.

Two seasons ago, with Chris Paul running the point, Wake Forest's manner of play was markedly different than this past season. With his quickness and basketball IQ, Paul helped the Deacs average just under 85 points a game compared to an even 73 points per game without him in 2005-2006. Wake Forest spent time ranked first in the country and won a school record 27 games. Paul's basketball acumen was an asset for the Deacs on both offense and defense. He averaged fifteen points a game but also made 212 passes to teammates that led to baskets and stole the ball 76 times that led to who knows how many easy points. Paul had style and played with a swagger not seen in Winston-Salem since Randolph Childress, but more importantly he let Skip Prosser play the kind of basketball the coach hopes Wake can return to sooner rather than later.

The Demon Deacons' team will look completely different the next time Wake hits the parquet of Joel Coliseum. Gone will be a senior class of five that includes two of the best players ever to wear the Old Gold and Black - Justin Gray and Eric Williams. The most experienced players coming back will be juniors Michael Drum and Kyle Visser along with sophomore Harvey Hale.

So that means that the incoming freshman class, including jet-of-a-point guard Ishmael Smith of Concord, North Carolina, will be front and center to the challenge Prosser has of rebuilding his team and the style with which he wants to play.

"Given the fact we won't return a lot of experience will indeed be challenging," Prosser admitted recently. "It's not a challenge we're shying away from. It's actually one we're looking forward to."

As Prosser contemplates the coming season and the makeup of his team he seems to relish the chance to get back to playing the style of basketball he prefers.

"You never know until you start working and practicing with kids," said Prosser, who has coached the Deacs for five seasons. "But I'm real hopeful that will be a team that will be able to apply more pressure, offensively and defensively - a team that will be able to create offense from defense. We really didn't do that well [this season]. We rarely got anything easy in transition. The only way we really got many cheap baskets was either on an offensive rebound or a few out of bounds plays. But in the general flow of the game we had to grind it out so much and devise ways to get the ball inside to Eric."

"I almost felt like a football coach where you're calling a play every time down, and I hate that. I don't like to play that way. I'm hopeful that we'll be able to create more offense from our defense maybe since we've been here."

And that's where a lot of Deacon fans, and Prosser, too, are hopeful Ishmael Smith's nimble style will help immediately.

"He will have a lot to learn, as you would expect," Prosser said. "But the one thing he can do - he can put the ball on teams quickly. And we want that - we want that."

So don't be surprised if the Deacs to come are a blur compared to this past season's team. Skip Prosser is planning on style counting for something.

Spring Game