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December 14, 2007
Around the Rim
Wake Forest Recovers From a Tragedy

by John Perrotto

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Dino Gaudio admits it is difficult to look at the big picture during the heat of battle.

Thus, the Wake Forest coach has a hard time answering when asked if he is happy with where his Demon Deacons are at this point in the season.

Wake Forest is 5-3 after back-to-back road losses to Vanderbilt and Georgia. While 5-3 isn't great for an Atlantic Coast Conference school that had played a rather soft non-conference schedule prior to the two-game road swing through the Southeastern Conference, Wake Forest has reason to feel pretty good after a most turbulent summer.

Coach Skip Prosser died of a heart attack July 26 while jogging on the track outside his office. He was one of the most beloved figures in college basketball with his quick wit and a personality that put people at ease.

"It's affected so many people," Gaudio said of Prosser's death. "I don't know if you could ever say things will be completely back to normal. Now that the season has started, though, we've gotten into a routine. We're caught up in preparing for and playing games. You put so much focus on that aspect that is does bring back a sense of normalcy. Still, it makes it hard to really analyze where we're at as a team or a program right now because you're just concentrating on the next game."

Gaudio, Prosser's top assistant and a former head coach at Army and Loyola of Maryland, was promoted to the head coaching job a week after the tragedy. Gaudio was also given a five-year contract to remove any doubt that he was a quick fix until Wake Forest had time to find a permanent successor.

"Dino has proved himself to be an outstanding recruiter, tactician and overall coach," Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman said when announcing Gaudio as head coach. "His track record of developing student-athletes for success, both on and off the court and in life, is remarkable. I am confident that Dino will continue to move our basketball program forward, just as Skip Prosser did."

Gaudio took on quite a rebuilding job when he was tabbed to be Prosser's replacement.

Wake Forest went 15-16 last season for its first sub-.500 finish since 1990. Center Kyle Visser, the Deacons' only player with a scoring average in double figures, graduated and four other players transferred.

That has left Gaudio with a starting lineup comprised of one junior, three sophomores and one freshman. The inexperience has shown at times, particularly in the 80-77 loss at Vanderbilt on Dec. 5.

"We had so many chances to pull out a big win on the road and we just didn't get it done," Gaudio said. "It was inexperience. Our guys just didn't handle some situations properly at the end of the game and it killed us. It hurts to lose a game like that, it really does, but you also hope the players learn from it and perform better the next time they are in that situation." Wake Forest has two more non-conference games, hosting Bucknell on Sunday and South Florida next Wednesday, before opening ACC play on Dec. 23 at home against another school that has experienced tragedy, Virginia Tech.

The Deacons do have talent, though, most notably freshman forward James Johnson. He is averaging 13.3 points and 9.4 rebounds a game, both team-leading figures. Sophomore guard L.D. Williams is scoring 10.8 points and grabbing 5.0 rebounds a game while sophomore Ish Smith, who Gaudio believes can develop into an All-ACC point guard, is averaging 8.0 points, 4.4 assists and 4.3 rebounds.

While Prosser is no longer there to guide this young team, his presence is felt in Joel Coliseum each day. A banner honoring his memory hangs behind the Wake Forest bench.

"We know he's watching us and he's still coaching us," Williams said. "We know day in and day out, when we go on and off the court, that Coach Prosser's in heaven, looking down upon us, telling Coach Gaudio to tell those guys to rebound better."

#500, Take Two

Rick Pitino will take his second crack at becoming the 126th coach in college basketball history to reach 500 wins when Louisville visits Purdue on Saturday. He missed on his first chance last Saturday when the Cardinals were upset by Dayton.

Though the 55-year-old Pitino is in just his 22nd college season--he spent time in the NBA with the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics--he insists having the chance to become the sixth-fastest to 500 wins means little. Instead, he is most proud of being the only coach ever to lead three different schools to the Final Four: Providence, Kentucky and Louisville.

"Every ball I've been given for 100, 200, 300, 400 wins, I can't tell you where they are today," Pitino told the Louisville Courier-Journal. "They're somewhere but I don't know where. But if you go into my office or my home, you'll see every Final Four ball on display.

"To me, that's the most important thing: championships and Final Fours. All the 500 thing means is I'm getting old. That's the only significance to it. It's probably really a sad day." One can't help but wonder how many college victories Pitino would have without spending eight years in the pros. If you take the 23.5 wins he averaged in his first 21 college seasons, he would be approaching 700 now. Texas Tech's Bob Knight holds the record with 896.

Big 13 in the Big Five

There are some who would say Philadelphia's Big Five isn't what it used to be. However, don't tell that to Villanova. Or Temple, La Salle, Pennsylvania or Saint Joseph's.

Villanova ran its streak of victories inside the Big Five to a record 13 in a row on Sunday night by downing host Temple 101-93. Wildcats coach Jay Wright was thrilled about breaking the record set by Penn from 1972-75.

"Growing up watching those Penn teams, I loved those teams," said Wright, who grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs. "To be mentioned with them is awesome. These games still mean so much. I try to tell our guys that anything can happen in these games.

Villanova sophomore Scottie Reynolds is starting to understand that. The Herndon, Va., native was the star of the Wildcats' record-breaking win with 27 points and nine assists.

"I'm kind of used to it and I understand it, and value it, and I appreciate it a lot more," Reynolds said. "The 13 wins--something we always say is that we want to carry on the tradition."

Team to Watch

The Team To Watch is Notre Dame, which has risen to No. 16 in the Pomeroy Ratings with five straight victories to raise its record to 7-2.

The Fighting Irish have beaten up on its usual menu of non-conference creampuffs with victories over Long Island, Monmouth, Colgate, Youngstown State, Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois. However, Notre Dame had a quality win over Kansas State, 68-59, last Tuesday in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Sophomore forward Luke Harangody is averaging 17.1 points and 9.2 rebounds, both team highs, while shooting 56 percent from the field. Junior guard Kyle McAlarney, who missed most of last season after being charged with marijuana possession, has come back strong and made a smooth transition from point to shooting guard with a 14.9 scoring average and is connecting on 49 percent of his shots from three-point range. Senior forward Rob Kurz is averaging 13.3 points and 6.8 rebounds.

"If you've got a feel for the game, this is a fun team to watch because they really know how to play," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey told the South Bend Tribune. "It's really a fun group to work with."

Games of the Week

Top five games of the next week, according to the Pomeroy Ratings:

No. 23 Florida State at No. 15 Butler, Saturday, December 15
No. 6 Xavier at No. 55 Arizona State, Saturday, December 15
No. 58 Oklahoma State at No. 10 Pittsburgh, Saturday, December 15
No. 2 Duke vs. No. 10 Pittsburgh at New York, Thursday, December 20
No. 11 Gonzaga vs. No. 48 Oklahoma at Oklahoma City, Thursday, December 20

John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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