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At precisely 2 p.m. on May 8, Demon Deacons coach Dave Odom was
driving to the airport when he placed a call to his office from
his car phone. According to plan, center Tim Duncan answered the
phone while seated at Odom's desk. The coach directed Duncan's
attention to two sheets of paper that had been placed facedown
in front of him on the desk. Odom asked Duncan to read the paper
to his left, a press release announcing that Duncan was
declaring himself eligible for the NBA draft. Then the coach
asked Duncan to read the one on his right, another release
explaining that he would remain at Wake Forest for his senior
season. After studying the two documents carefully, Duncan told
his coach that he would make the right choice.

Senior forward Sean Allen was lifting weights that afternoon
when a teammate informed him of Duncan's decision. "It was a
great relief, like hearing that somebody you love had made it
through surgery," Allen remembers. "It's like the whole team was
pacing nervously in the waiting room, but I think Coach Odom was
working the worry beads the hardest."

For the second season in a row Odom feels as if he hit the
jackpot because Duncan chose not to enter the NBA lottery. But
even Odom can't figure a way to get his star center back for a
fifth season, which may explain why, on the first day of
practice this fall, the coach read to his players from a book
entitled The Precious Present. The book came highly recommended
by Kentucky coach Rick Pitino, who shared it with his team last
season on the way to the Wildcats' national championship. The
Precious Present, a collection of pithy proverbs, is a feel-good
hit, much like the Wake Forest program itself.

Mostly due to the presence of Duncan, the 6'10" wunderkind from
St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Demon Deacons have
transformed themselves from have-nots into heavyweights. Wake
Forest has won the last two ACC tournaments and should win a
third straight; no team has done that since North Carolina won
three in a row from 1967 to '69. Duncan, who last season led the
ACC in rebounding (12.3 per game) and blocked shots (120) and
finished second in scoring average (19.1) and field goal
percentage (55.5%), returns as the prohibitive favorite to sweep
the national player of the year awards. He is joined on the
baseline by Ricky Peral, a 6'10" sharpshooter from Valladolid,
Spain, who was second in the nation in three-point field goal
percentage (51.0%) a year ago, and by the 6'8" Allen, a strong
defender and rebounder who started his collegiate career at
South Florida and played a year at Anderson (S.C.) Junior
College before coming to Wake. Odom will also find playing time
for his prize recruit, 7'1" center Loren Woods from St. Louis,
who will give Wake the option of playing a front line that
averages 6'11", which is taller than most of the starting front
lines in the NBA.

The key to Wake's season is junior point guard Tony Rutland. A
relative newcomer to the playmaking role, Rutland has been a
point guard only since his senior season at Bethel High in
Hampton, Va., when his teammate, Allen Iverson, was forced to
quit the team after the famous bowling-alley incident. Rutland,
who averaged 11.9 points, 3.9 assists and only 2.7 turnovers a
game last season, must play his way back into shape after
suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee
during the '96 ACC championship game, an injury that required
off-season reconstructive surgery. That setback, coupled with a
preseason foot injury that has slowed Wake's only other
experienced guard, Jerry Braswell, led Duncan to suggest
shifting himself to point guard if Rutland didn't recover in
time for the season opener. "I thought about what it would be
like to have Tim dribbling the ball upcourt, and that cured me
quicker than any rehab," Rutland says. "I knew I'd better be
ready, or this team would be doomed."

If the guards can remain healthy, Wake has a chance to reach its
first Final Four since '62, when Billy Packer was the point
guard. Nothing less will satisfy Duncan. "I didn't come back to
school to be a spokesman for college basketball," Duncan says.
"I came back to do something special, to try to win another ACC
title and then maybe the national championship."

With each significant victory during the Duncan era, Wake
students have revived a curious ancient ritual known as rolling
the quad, which consists of emptying the campus bathrooms of
toilet paper and unspooling the rolls onto the trees and
shrubbery in the middle of campus. "It feels so good to come
home and see the quad looking like the dead of winter," Rutland
says. "I guess if we finally do get to the Final Four, it'll
look like a blizzard in April."