A week or so before the deadline for college players to declare
their intent to enter last spring's NBA draft, nobody at Wake
Forest was certain what Tim Duncan, the Demon Deacons' 6'10"
superstar center, was going to do. Sports information director
John Justus prepared two press releases, one announcing that
Duncan was coming out, the other announcing that he was staying
in school. Duncan read over both statements, then told Justus to
trash the one about turning pro. Still, his coach, Dave Odom,
wasn't thoroughly convinced until a few days later when he had a
four-hour face-to-face talk with Duncan.
"I had just come from running, and I was really sweaty," says
Odom. "But Tim came into the office and initiated all the
questions. He asked me how I would use him and what our team's
chances would be. He asked me how I thought he needed to
improve. He asked some very pointed questions." Duncan must have
liked the answers.
Milliseconds after announcing that he would be returning to Wake
Forest, Duncan became not only the NCAA's poster boy in its
battle against greedy agents and the stampede of underclassmen
bolting for the NBA, but also the favorite for the 1996-97
national player of the year award.
Duncan's return ensures that Odom will continue his recent
success at Wake Forest. When the quiet, bespectacled Odom left
his assistant's job at Virginia to come to Winston-Salem in
1989, he inherited a program that had made only eight previous
appearances in the NCAA tournament, the most recent in 1984.
Under him, however, the Demon Deacons have gone to the
tournament every year since 1991, the eighth-longest such streak
in the nation. Not counting his first team's 12-16 record, Odom
has won 70% of his games as Wake Forest coach. And the Demon
Deacons have won the last two ACC tournament titles, becoming
the league's first repeat champs since North Carolina in
1981-82. "Dave has done a helluva job," says Georgia Tech coach
Bobby Cremins. "He has taken Wake Forest to new heights."
And the fans around Winston-Salem have noticed. Three years ago,
average attendance at Joel Coliseum (capacity 14,407) was 8,229,
54th in Division I; last season the home crowds increased to
12,794 per game, 23rd in the nation.
The fans will turn out this season too. In addition to Duncan,
three starters--Sean Allen, Ricky Peral and Tony Rutland--are
back, as are guard Jerry Braswell and swingman Steve Goolsby,
the top players off the bench in '95-96. With them the Demon
Deacons have an excellent shot at making their first Final Four
since 1962, when center Len Chappell was the team's star and a
mouthy little guy named Billy Packer was the point guard.
Unquestionably, Duncan is Wake Forest's star, but Rutland is the
team's leader. He was the Demon Deacons' assists leader and
their No. 2 scorer last season, and just how much he meant to
the team was made clear after he tore the anterior cruciate
ligament in his right knee during Wake Forest's 75-74 win over
Georgia Tech in the ACC tournament championship game. Hobbled
during the NCAA tournament, Rutland had difficulty penetrating,
passing, shooting and playing defense. Even the great Duncan
missed him: Without Rutland on the perimeter to draw the defense
away from him and with no one to pass him the ball, Duncan
averaged 3.6 points less in the tournament than he had during
the regular season.
While Rutland was still recovering, the Demon Deacons had
another scare. On Sept. 3, Braswell, who was slated to start at
shooting guard, broke a bone in his left foot. Despite this
close call, however, the Deacons' prayers have been answered:
Both Rutland and Braswell should be ready for the Nov. 24
opener. Good thing, too, because Wake Forest's next most
experienced guard is Joseph Amonett, a sophomore who averaged
less than a point and less than six minutes per game last
season. "We'll be very shallow in the backcourt early on," says
Odom. "Even if Rutland is ready, he's not going to be out there
The bench will be crucial. Last season Duncan averaged more than
37 minutes per game. "He's been coached to play 40 minutes a
game," says Odom, "but we do have a freshman center who can give
him some rest." That freshman is 7'1" Loren Woods from St.
Louis, who averaged 21.1 points, 13.2 rebounds and 6.5 blocks
per game at Cardinal Ritter High. Says Odom, "Hopefully I can do
a better job of spotting Tim before timeouts and stuff like
that. He has gained some weight--he's up to about 250 pounds
from 236 last year. It's a good 250, all muscle, and that should
help him with his stamina."
Although Duncan would have been an NBA lottery pick, he chose to
stay in Winston-Salem at least in part because Odom convinced
him that his formidable game needed a little polishing.
"Right now he can be a better offensive player facing the
basket," Odom says. "He needs to get stronger in his legs and
learn to move his feet a little better. He needs to use his left
hand a little more and improve his turnaround jump shot over his
right shoulder. On defense, he needs to defend the ball high on
the perimeter better." The idea of an improved Duncan is enough
to strike fear in the hearts of every team on the Demon Deacons'
When he finally did find out that Duncan was coming back, Odom
didn't turn cartwheels or drop to his knees and thank his maker.
But, he says, "I'd be less than truthful if I didn't say I was
very pleased, even relieved."
Which, of course, has to be the early favorite for one
postseason award: Understatement of the Year.
THE DATA BOX
Coach: Dave Odom
Career record: 180-114 (10 seasons)
Record at Wake Forest: 142-72 (seven seasons)
1995-96 record: 26-6 (final ranking: ninth)
ACC record: 12-4 (second)
PG *Tony Rutland, 6'2", Jr.
Tore ACL in the ACC championship game
SG Jerry Braswell, 6'1", Jr.
Versatility allows him to be backup at point
SF *Ricky Peral, 6'10", Sr.
Led league with 51.0% three-point shooting
PF *Sean Allen, 6'8", Sr.
Second on team in blocks and boards
C *Tim Duncan, 6'10", Sr.
19.2 ppg, 12.3 rpg and nation's best defender
Dec. 14 vs. Massachusetts
Duncan won't have to contend with Camby this time
Dec. 31 at Utah
Held Utes to season-low 56 points in last season's win
Feb. 5 vs. Duke
Deacons have beaten Blue Devils eight times in a row
Feb. 19 at North Carolina
Wake has lost more to Heels than to any other team
Feb. 25 vs. Georgia Tech
Closest game at home in 1995-96? Wake 66, Tech 63
COLOR PHOTO INSET [Varies by region] Wake Forest Tim Duncan is the nation's best
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER A fully recovered Rutland is vital if the Demon Deacons are to take the ACC again. [Tony Rutland in game]
PLAYER TO WATCH
The Demon Deacons are so thin at guard that junior Tony Rutland
may be as indispensable to them as Tim Duncan. In the second
round of the NCAA tournament, Wake Forest was trailing Texas by
10 at halftime when coach Dave Odom told Rutland, who had torn
the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee one week
earlier, "I want you to go as long as you can, and when you
can't go anymore, tell me and I'll take you out and won't put
you back in." Rutland went out and played as long as he could
(about four minutes), inspiring the Demon Deacons to come back
and win, 65-62. But the effort drained Rutland. Against
Louisville, in the next round, he played just three
minutes--three more than he would play in the following game, a
season-ending 83-63 loss to Kentucky. Rutland's heart has always
been willing, and now, after knee surgery in March, his body
should be too.