2005-06 Wake Forest Men's Basketball Outlook

Sept. 28, 2005

Wake Forest will celebrate its 100th season of basketball this winter. How the 2005-06 version of the Demon Deacons stack up against the previous 99 Wake Forest teams is up in the air.

While much of the preseason talk will focus on what or who the Demon Deacons lost from last year's 27-6 team, the talent cupboard is far from bare.

Two second team All-ACC performers -- senior center Eric Williams and senior guard Justin Gray -- are back. That duo ranked one-two, respectively, on the team in scoring last season. Both are preseason candidates for the John R. Wooden Award.

The nucleus of Williams and Gray gives the Demon Deacons a presence on the inside and on the perimeter. In all, Wake Forest returns five players with a great deal of experience, including four seniors. Six newcomers will help in replacing four key losses.

Gone are seniors Taron Downey, Vytas Danelius and Jamaal Levy. That trio combined to help Wake Forest win 94 games over the last four seasons, win the ACC regular season title in 2003, earn a Sweet 16 berth in 2004 and rise to No. 1 for the first time in school history in 2005.

Also gone is All-American point guard Chris Paul, who bolted for the NBA after two seasons. Paul, a first round draft pick of the New Orleans Hornets, averaged 15.3 points per game last season and was on track to become one of the ACC's all-time leaders in assists and steals.

Guard Richard Joyce, who would have been a senior in 2005-06, decided in September to forego his senior season in an effort to graduate this December. Also gone is senior walk-on guard Scott Feather.

"Last season was great for Wake Forest and memorable for the ACC," head coach Skip Prosser said. "Both Wake Forest and the ACC lost significant contributors, but, as always, the ACC remains strong and we hope that Wake Forest once again is poised to challenge for an ACC championship."

Gray (16.0 ppg) is one of the top scorers and easily one of the best perimeter shooters in Wake Forest history. With 224 career three-point field goals, Gray is 106 treys away from breaking Randolph Childress' all-time school record. He also has 1,343 career points, which means he should finish his career among the top 10 scorers in Wake history.

A first team All-ACC selection in 2004 and a second team selection in 2005, Gray may move from shooting guard to point guard this season to help accommodate for the loss of Paul. Gray is not without point guard experience. He played the position in high school at Oak Hill Academy and saw brief action at the point as a freshman at Wake Forest.

"With Chris Paul's departure, the dynamics have changed because not only do you have to replace the point guard, but you also have to replace the wing guard if Justin plays the point," Prosser said.

Williams (16.1 ppg and 7.7 rpg) flirted with the NBA Draft after an outstanding junior season. If he improves the way he has done each previous season, Williams could be one of the best post players in college basketball this year.

Williams has improved in every facet of his game. He shot 63.0 percent last year and upped his rebound average (7.7 rpg) to one of the best in the ACC. Williams has developed a much-improved inside game and has emerged as a shot-blocking presence on defense.

Two other seniors will play important roles in 2005-06.

Swingman Trent Strickland (5.9 ppg and 3.5 rpg) gives the Deacons athleticism on the wing. A part-time starter the last two seasons, Strickland has the tools to be an outstanding defensive player.

Strickland has also demonstrated the ability to score (he has scored in double figures 18 times in his career) and he hopes his final season will be his most consistent. After making just 10 three-point field goals last season, Strickland could be a key if he continues to improve his perimeter shooting.

Forward Chris Ellis (3.8 ppg and 3.0 rpg) was one of the ACC's most improved players last season after playing sparingly as an injured sophomore in 2003-04. Ellis, 6-9 and 267 pounds, gives the Deacons great strength in the paint.

"The mantle of leadership has been passed on to our senior class," Prosser said. "Chris Ellis, Justin Gray, Trent Strickland and Eric Willilams are 24 wins away from being the winningest class in Wake Forest's storied basketball history."

The other veteran returnee is 6-11 junior center Kyle Visser (3.2 ppg and 1.5 rpg). Visser saw less action than expected last season because of the improvement of Williams, the emergence of Ellis and almost constant foul trouble. Look for Visser to not only back-up Williams at center, but for Visser and Williams to often be on the court at the same time.

Of the six newcomers, two practiced with the Deacons all of last season. Freshman forward Cameron Stanley redshirted last year to fully recuperate from a knee injury he suffered as a senior in high school. Stanley, a 6-6 southpaw, will be an important contributor in 2005-06.

Michael Drum, 6-6, is a junior transfer from Presbyterian College. Drum, who led the Blue Hose in scoring in 2003-04, gained much experience last year playing for the Deacon scout team.

Four talented freshmen will be counted on heavily.

Kevin Swinton, 6-7, is a powerful inside player who enjoyed an outstanding prep career at Greensboro Dudley High School. The North Carolina High School Player of the Year's athleticism and strength make him a candidate to crack the starting lineup.

David Weaver, 6-10, has potential to be an outstanding player in the ACC. A Black Mountain (NC) product, Weaver also ran track in high school and he should develop quickly learning from Williams, Visser and Ellis in the post.

Harvey Hale, 6-2, is an energetic player who can play either guard position. An Albuquerque (NM) native, Hale will help accommodate for the loss of Paul at point guard and he can play shooting guard when Gray is at the point.

Shamaine Dukes, 6-1, signed with the Deacons late after a remarkable high school career. His prep team won the final 61 games -- including two state titles -- of his career. If he can adjust to the ACC level of play, Dukes will help right away at point guard.

"We need to improve in all areas, but we are anxious to retain Wake's position in both the ACC and on the national stage," Prosser said.



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