When Eric Williams announced last April that he was entering the NBA draft, he had no intention of returning to Wake Forest for his senior season. Then, while taking part in the NBA's predraft camp in Chicago six weeks later, he had a change of heart. "I knew I still had a lot to learn," says Williams, a 6'9" forward, "and I'd rather test what I'm learning on the court against top college players than sit on the bench in the NBA."

So he turned down invitations to workouts from the New York Knicks and the Detroit Pistons, two clubs drafting in the bottom of the first round, and turned the Demon Deacons back into ACC contenders.

With the expected loss of Williams and All-America point guard Chris Paul (drafted fourth overall by the Charlotte Hornets), Wake Forest appeared headed for a rebuilding year; instead the Deacons get their two leading scorers back in Williams (16.1 points per game) and 6'3" senior guard Justin Gray (16.0). Says coach Skip Prosser, "We need those guys to be a dominant inside-outside combination for us."

Gray will replace Paul at point guard, a position he hasn't played since his senior season in high school, but he's confident he can get the ball to Williams in the post. The spot on the wing vacated by Gray will be filled by 6'2" Harvey Hale, one of five freshmen. But Wake has plenty of experience up front, with 6'9" senior Chris Ellis, 6'5" senior Trent Strickland and 6'11" junior Kyle Visser joining Williams.

Gray says this season he'll be on the 280-pound Williams to shed his gentle-giant persona. "When he fouls someone, he's the first one to help them up," Gray says. "It's good to be a good sport, but just once I'd like to hear him say, 'Don't bring that back in here.'"

Prosser wants Williams to improve his free throw shooting (only 56.9% last season), and to learn to rebound and block shots outside of his immediate area on the floor--all the sorts of weaknesses that gave Williams reason to think twice about jumping to the NBA. "Seniors have what I call the advantage of no choice," Prosser says. "Eric and Justin both know this is their last time around. They're determined to do something special."

 

PIPELINE

NORTH CAROLINA

Skip Prosser has done a good job keeping the state's best talent out of the hands of ACC rivals, signing the likes of Justin Gray from Charlotte, Eric Williams from Raleigh and former stars Josh Howard and Chris Paul from Winston-Salem.

 

FAST FACTS

Coach: Skip Prosser 2004-05 record: 27-6 (13-3, 2nd in ACC)

2005 tournament: Lost in 2nd round to West Virginia

 

STARTING LINEUP

POS.

PLAYER

HT.

CLASS

KEY STATS

 

SF

Trent STRICKLAND

6'5"

Sr.

5.9 ppg

3.5 rpg

PF

Eric WILLIAMS [RETURNING STARTER]

6'9"

Sr.

16.1 ppg

7.7 rpg

C

Kyle VISSER

6'11"

Jr.

3.2 ppg

1.5 rpg

SG

Harvey HALE*

6'2"

Fr.

18.5 ppg

5.1 apg

PG

Justin GRAY [RETURNING STARTER]

6'2"

Sr.

16.0 ppg

40.5 3FG%

--KEY RESERVE--

 

 

 

 

 

F

Kevin SWINTON*

6'7"

Fr.

24.9 ppg

12.3 rpg

 

*HIGH SCHOOL STATS

 

 

 

 

RETURNING STARTER *HIGH SCHOOL STATS

 

ENEMY LINES an opposing coach's view

Everything they did the last two years came from Chris Paul making something happen, and I'm not sure they can replace that with what they have.... I love Justin Gray as a player, but I don't know that I love him as a point guard. He can make plays, but can he make the other guys better? ... Trent Strickland is a wild card. He can have a bad attitude sometimes, and they're a team thirsting for consistency.

PHOTO

MANNY MILLAN

 WIDE LOAD

The 280-pound Williams, who pulled out of the NBA draft, has to rebound and block shots better before making the leap to the pros.

ILLUSTRATION