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October 2, 2006

Young Demon Deacons looking for chemistry

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The NCAA allows college basketball teams to take trips to foreign countries once every four years. For coaches, many times the biggest bonus in taking a trip is the 10 practices teams can have prior to the journey.

Wake Forest, who headed off to the Bahamas on Labor Day weekend, may have needed the extra practice time more than any team. The Deacons are making a transition from one of the oldest and most experienced teams in the nation to one of the youngest and least experienced.

"Our sophomores are veterans," second-year power forward Kevin Swinton told Rivals.com. "We're all learning from each other. We're even learning from our freshmen."

Swinton isn't exaggerating.

Seniors Michael Drum and Kyle Visser are the only upperclassmen on the roster, and both were role players last season. Drum, a transfer from Division II Presbyterian College, averaged 5.5 points per game and Visser put up 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds. Those numbers now rank among the best on the team.

Sophomore Harvey Hale is the leading returning scorer at 5.6 points per game.

However, there is a positive side to having a lack of proven scorers and entrenched starters. All the available playing time helped sixth-year coach Skip Prosser and his staff land a six-man recruiting class that landed at No. 10 in Rivals.com's team rankings.

It's a well-balanced group that features a pair of four-star prospects. Versatile shooting guard Anthony Gurley is from Newton, Mass., and athletic power forward Jamie Skeen of Charlotte, N.C., is part of the group.

Wake also signed two more in-state products ranked among the nation's top 150 recruits, point guard Ishmael Smith from Concord and shooting guard L.D. Williams from East Bend.

Chas McFarland is a 7-foot center from Worcester, Mass., and Casey Crawford, who hails from Overland Park, Kan., can play both forward positions.

Some of the newcomers will be expected to compete for starting jobs and possibly all will be asked to contribute immediately. Thanks to the early practices and two games versus professional Bahamian teams, they are more prepared to do just that.

"We went over stuff that we would usually learn in the first weeks of practice (in mid-October)," Swinton said. "We even put in a couple of plays and the young guys got a jump on that."

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None of the freshmen really asserted themselves on the trip, in large part because the Deacons usually subbing in five players at a time and to give most players equal minutes. Still, Swinton says he likes what he saw from his new teammates.

"They can all contribute and they all want the same thing. They want to win," Swinton said. "They are team-oriented and play hard-nosed. When shots go up they are all heading to the backboard."

It was that type of hustle that earned Swinton seven starts in his first season. With big-bodied centers Eric Williams and Dale Ellis gone, the 6-foot-7, 225-pounder could be poised for a breakout season. He averaged a team-high 11.5 ppg in the Bahamas despite the balanced playing time.

"I've been working on trying to develop my left hand and improve my perimeter game being an undersized forward," Swinton said. "The coaches really want me to focus on finishing around the basket, too."

That's about as much as Swinton, who isn't setting any personal goals, will say about himself this preseason. After enduring a 17-17 record last season that ended in a first-round loss in the NIT, he says he's only concerned with one goal.

"We are definitely hungry to get Wake Forest back to the NCAA Tournament," Swinton said. "We just have to stick together, learn to trust each other and get some chemistry."

Trivia question
Who is the only coach to have a losing record at the University of Kansas? Hint: He was one of the game's biggest pioneers. (Answer at the end of the column.)

Bad move, bad timing for Iowa duo
The news that Iowa senior guard Mike Henderson and freshman forward Tyler Smith were arrested and charged with theft last Sunday came at a dubious time for the Big Ten program.

It looked as if the team was finally ready to put off-the-court problems behind them earlier in the week when former Hawkeyes standout Pierre Pierce was released from jail after serving 11 months for assaulting his girlfriend.

Iowa coach Steve Alford hasn't said when or if he will punish the players, but any missed playing time could be a big blow. Both are expected to play big roles for a team that lost two of its top three scorers and its leading rebounder.

Henderson started all 34 games and averaged 7.9 points per game last season.

Smith, who at No. 43 overall is the highest-ranked recruit to sign with the Hawkeyes during Alford's five years in Iowa City, is expected to challenge for a starting job and play significant minutes immediately.

Quick hits
Kentucky gave away more than 21,000 tickets to Midnight Madness in 30 minutes on Saturday. This will be the second year the event is held in Rupp Arena.

San Diego State coach Steve Fisher recently signed a five-year contract extension that keeps him with the school until the 2010-11 season. Fisher led the Aztecs to a school-record 24 wins last season. The deal includes a school option for two additional years.

Former Purdue coach Gene Keady and former New Mexico athletic director Rudy Davalos were recently added to the NIT's selection committee. Keady was an assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors last season, and Davalos, a former member of the NCAA's men's and women's selection committees, retired last year.

Answer to trivia question: James Naismith, the inventor of basketball. Naismith had a 55-60 record at Kansas from 1898-1907.

Andrew Skwara is the national college basketball writer for Rivals.com, and he files his national notebook every week. Click here to send him a question or comment for his weekly mailbag.

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