- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) - When his Wake Forest players couldn’t get a defensive drill quite right, new coach Danny Manning made them do it again - and again.

After about an hour, they finally figured it out.

The message was clear: Manning knows the Demon Deacons have to take care of all the little things if they’re ever going to achieve big things.

He said Tuesday that “there’s no pity parties, there’s no feeling sorry for yourself” from Wake Forest’s Atlantic Coast Conference opponents and that “this is what we need to do to get better.”

That intensity and attention to detail have made Manning such a popular figure in Winston-Salem.

It didn’t take much to win over a once-fractured fan base, and all those returning players on the roster also quickly bought in.

Guard Madison Jones called it an “easy sell” because of Manning’s straightforward nature, while up-tempo guard Codi Miller-McIntyre said teammate Aaron Rountree III had been taking note of Manning’s Tulsa teams from afar.

“And as soon as Aaron said (Manning) wants to play fast, I was automatically sold,” Miller-McIntyre said.

The hiring of Manning also immediately galvanized a splintered fan base that had factions publicly calling for former coach Jeff Bzdelik’s ouster.

Manning went to high school in nearby Greensboro, led Kansas to the 1988 NCAA tournament championship, became the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft and played in the league from 1988-2003.

He was 38-29 with two postseason berths in two seasons at Tulsa, and in March guided the Golden Hurricane to their first NCAA tournament berth since 2003.

He takes over a Wake Forest program that has floundered for much of the past half-decade, with no national postseason tournament appearances of any kind since 2010.

Bzdelik endured three consecutive losing seasons and stepped down under intense public pressure after his best year at the school - a 17-16 finish with a roster full of sophomores.

They’re all juniors now, from tempo-setting guard Miller-McIntyre to promising post player Thomas, who figures to be the main beneficiary of an inside-out offense drawn up by Manning, the 6-foot-10 former power forward who made two All-Star teams.

“I’m a big man,” Thomas said. “It works out for me. You can put the pieces to the puzzle together.”

Manning’s first team has eight players who have logged significant minutes at the Division I level, including five sophomores who make up the nucleus of the team. There’s also redshirt senior Daniel Green, who missed the past two years with knee injuries, and graduate student Darius Leonard, who came in from Campbell.

“They’re still learning as well. They pick it up a little bit quicker than the guys that haven’t been in the rigors of college basketball,” Manning said. “But for the most part, it’s new to everybody, and now we’re at a point where the older guys, the junior class, can start talking to the younger kids about technique and detail and things of that nature because now they have a better grasp.”

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Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joedyap

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