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October 26, 2008
"It's different," said Williams, the Demon Deacons' best defender, at ACC Media Day. "We're going from people not expecting much to people expecting the world."
OK, maybe not the world. Those expectations are reserved for Wake's ACC rival North Carolina. But with a recruiting class ranked No. 3 in the nation by Rivals.com and all five starters returning from last year's 17-win team, you don't have to look very far down in any preseason top 25 to find coach Dino Gaudio's Deacons.
They were picked to finish third in the ACC by the league's media on Sunday, behind only the Tar Heels and Duke.
"I don't feel the weight of the expectations," Gaudio said. "We're gonna do our job the same way we always have. Our approach will be no different.
"Sometimes you have to knock the young kids down a notch, but I don't think that's too hard. There are a lot of examples of teams with big expectations that fell flat on their faces."
There are plenty of good reasons to believe the Deacons can live up to expectations. They have two point guards who are excellent ballhandlers and who shared the backcourt last season in sophomore Jeff Teague and junior Ishmael Smith. Teague was named to the ACC All-Freshman team after averaging 13.9 points and 1.8 steals. Smith averaged 8.6 points and 4.7 assists (fourth in the league).
Then there is Williams, the defensive whiz and high-flying finisher on the other end. Up front, James Johnson (14.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg) not only joined Teague on the All-Freshman team but also was named third-team All-ACC, just the third Wake freshman to make an all-conference team. The other two were Rodney Rogers and Chris Paul, which is nice company.
"The thing about James is he can get better," Gaudio said. "He's a tremendous competitor. When we do drills in practice where the winner gets to stay and the losers run, even if it's just one up and down, he doesn't wanna do it. He hates to lose."
The fifth starter last season, center Chas McFarland, is under the most heat in practice. That's because the three-man recruiting class includes two centers, Ty Walker and Tony Woods, who were five-star players ranked in the top 20 overall by Rivals.com.
The man at the head of the recruiting class is Al-Farouq Aminu, the No. 7 overall prospect and No. 1 among small forwards. He was a runaway pick in the media poll as preseason ACC Freshman of the Year, garnering 18 first-place votes. No other freshman got more than four votes.
"Al-Farouq is a very talented, multidimensional player who can play inside or outside," Gaudio said. "I don't want to canonize anyone in this class, but he's a pleasure to coach. He's well-prepared and attentive. He had really good coaches in high school.
"Tony Woods has been the most pleasant surprise so far, not just among the freshmen but out of everyone. He's a hard-nosed, tough kid. You don't always find that in freshmen. He brings the same physicality to games and to practice. Ty is 7 feet and 215 pounds. It's not a matter of if for him, but when. He's an unbelievable shot blocker with great timing."
Williams said the freshmen are fitting in nicely. They played with most of the veterans in the Rusty LaRue Summer League. Williams said Aminu averaged about 30 points and 10 rebounds per game and Walker led the league in blocked shots.
He admitted there wasn't much defense in the summer games, but he still came away impressed.
"Those guys can hold their own," Williams said.
Preseason media poll
There were few surprises in the media vote taken Sunday. North Carolina was a unanimous pick to win the league by all 40 people who cast votes. Duke was a strong pick to finish second, while Wake Forest edged Miami for third.
Tar Heels forward Tyler Hansbrough also was a unanimous choice for ACC Player of the Year. He was joined on the preseason All-ACC team by teammate Ty Lawson, Boston College guard Tyrese Rice (the only other unanimous pick), Miami guard Jack McClinton and Duke forward Gerald Henderson.
Duke's Henderson ready to go
Henderson says he's completely healthy after surgery in April to repair a torn ligament in his right wrist.
"I was home for six weeks and got the wrist right then came back in the summer to school, but I couldn't play until second session," Henderson said. "I feel like the wrist is strong enough now that I don't need to wear any protection on it."
Henderson said he was cleared to play in mid-July.
He has received plenty of advice ? from coming back from an injury, to his shooting stroke - from former teammate DeMarcus Nelson, now a rookie with the Golden State Warriors. Nelson suffered a hand injury that greatly affected his shooting stroke and ball-handling ability.
"DeMarcus said get a lot of shots and do a lot of ballhandling drills because your touch and feel is gone," Henderson said. "It's tough because that stuff doesn't come back right away when you've been off for a few months."
Henderson expects to assume Nelson's role as the leader of the Blue Devils. He was the only Duke player at ACC Media Day.
"I've talked to DeMarcus a couple of times about it," Henderson said. "He said to be aggressive and be a leader. He did a heckuva job with that. I looked up to him since I came to Duke. You watched him and he wasn't drafted and had to work hard and now he has accomplished his biggest goal (Nelson is expected to start for the Warriors). He didn't play a lot of point guard for us but obviously has adjusted well. I'm real proud of him."
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said he believes Henderson is ready for the job.
"He was playing his best ball in February right before the wrist injury," Krzyzewski said. "If healthy he'll be one of the best players in the United States.
"We're going to put more on 'G.' He can do it, and we have to put him in that role."
Purnell's shocking proclamation
"It wouldn't surprise me at all if he leaves here as the all-time leading scorer," said Purnell, who was unaware of the school's scoring record or its holder when he made the proclamation. "He'll make a lot of 3s, and he'll round out his game. We had a guy at Radford, Doug Day, he came in as a shooter but he learned to put the ball on the floor and expand his game and he wound up the all-time leading scorer."
Informed the Clemson record is 1,880 points by 6-11 post player Elden Campbell, Purnell said he still believed Oglesby could get there.
"He has to take the ball to the hole because people will be flying at him," Purnell said. "He has to understand flow and shot selection. But he could be a big-time player."
Oglesby scored 356 points last season and shot the ball better from 3-point range (40.3 percent) than 2-point range (27.5 percent).
BC's Rice reflects on season gone awry
Rice (21.0 ppg, 5.0 apg) has the respect of his ACC peers. The Boston College guard and North Carolina's Hansbrough were the only players unanimously selected to the preseason All-ACC team.
Every player in the ACC knows Rice can light it up on any given night. The Tar Heels can tell you. He dropped a season-high 46 on them last season, including eight 3-pointers.
It's a game Rice says he's proud of, but it doesn't stick with him that much.
"I only think about it when people bring it up," Rice said. "I would think about it more if we had won the game."
Instead, Rice has had a whole offseason to stew in a lot of losing. The Eagles finished last in the ACC and went 14-17 overall. It was tough for Rice to take despite his individual accolades.
"We have to compete for a whole 40 minutes every time out this year," Rice said. "We didn't do that last year. We did it in spurts. When something went bad it didn't affect us for just one or two possessions, it was more like four or five. That mind-set has to change.
"You can't harp on it. It's not like football where if you get beat you can go to the sidelines and get a hug. You have to get right back on offense and then right back on defense."
Henderson said he always get the needle from assistant coach and former Blue Devils players Chris Collins. "He's always got something for me," Henderson said. "My favorite player is Kobe Bryant, and lately he's been calling me Nobe, as in Not Kobe." ? Krzyzewski was sharply critical of the practices of some others in the coaching profession. When asked if he'd ever hire a player's AAU coach to lure him to Durham, N.C., Coach K said, "I'd say, 'God bless you and we'll recruit someone else.' We'd never hire an AAU coach. That's not to say there aren't some good ones, but you should be hired on merit and not which players you coach. We also will not have anyone's parents speaking at our camps." ? K.C. Rivers, Clemson's leading scorer, says the guy to watch for on the Tigers is David Potter, a 6-6 junior. "The kid can play," Rivers said. ? Rivers said Wake's Williams is the scariest leaper in the league. "He's a straight high-flyer. We were talking and he was talking about someone who could jump, and I said, 'Man, are you kidding?' He can put you in the SportsCenter top 10 in a bad way." Williams returned the compliments to Rivers. "Everybody knows he's a dead-eye shooter. I played against him in AAU ball. We used to call his team K.C. and the Bums." ? UNC's Wayne Ellington enjoyed meeting Barack Obama when the presidential candidate was on campus in April. He didn't get to play against the Democratic hopeful because he had class. "It was pretty cool to meet him," Ellington said. "We've all registered to vote." ? Ellington said Hansbrough has worked hard on his perimeter game. "He's willing to show it this year," Ellington said. "It will help him and help this team. The guy never really takes a day off. He keeps me going." ? Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez said the Terrapins could employ a four-guard lineup with some frequency. "We've gotta play what we have. Our guards have plenty of experience." Terrapins coach Gary Williams said there are minutes to be had in the frontcourt for any player who steps up with the departures of James Gist and Bambale Osby. "Braxton Dupree has lost 17 pounds since last season and made some strides." ? Florida State senior guard Toney Douglas said he believes the Seminoles, who were picked 10th in the preseason media poll, will be better than that. "We're gonna be a surprise team. We have a lot of depth. There's no pressure on us. It's all on other people." Such a move up the standings is hardly unusual: Miami was picked 12th last year and responded by tying for fifth and making the NCAA tournament.