The way Danny Manning sees it, his second Wake Forest team is clearly better than his first.
The question is whether that will translate into a better record.
“I think we’ve gotten better across the board,” Manning said. “I don’t know what that’s going to equate to when it’s all said and done. But I do know we look better walking through the airport.”
The Demon Deacons hope to take the next step under Manning. With four of five starters back from a team that was competitive in most games, they want to turn all those tight losses into wins.
“I want it all to be reflected that we’re a better team,” Manning said. “Realistically, what’s going to happen? I don’t know. But I do think that we are better than what we were last year at this point in time.”
Wake Forest seems to have a few pieces in place to continue its push out of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s bottom tier.
Big man Devin Thomas is back for his senior season, and top scoring guard Codi Miller-McIntyre eventually will return, too - he will miss a few more weeks after breaking his foot.
Those two and backup center Andre Washington are the last remaining members of the seven-man recruiting class brought in three years ago by then-coach Jeff Bzdelik to serve as the nucleus of the program’s turnaround.
That class has gone from 13 wins as freshmen to 17 in its final year under Bzdelik and back to 13 in Year 1 with Manning.
But the Demon Deacons generally were more competitive last season: Of their 19 games against ACC opponents, 12 were decided by single digits, and they went 5-7 in those games. Five losses were by either three or fewer points or went to overtime.
“We’ve been getting the responsibility since our sophomore years but I don’t think our maturity level, we just weren’t ready,” Thomas said of he and his fellow seniors. “We just weren’t ready in terms of maturity-wise to handle that and take on that load. And last year was just a learning curve for everybody with the transition and everything. But this year, we’ve been making progress each and every day in practice. We’ve been setting the tone in practice.”
Some things to know about Manning’s second season in Winston-Salem:
THE GREEK DEAC: Dinos Mitoglou was a pleasant surprise as a freshman, with the 6-foot-10 native of Greece hitting a team-best 52 3-pointers and making 13 starts. He’s spent the past two summers playing for his home country in international competition. Manning wants Mitoglou to continue to adjust to the physical, athletic style of play in the U.S.
DURABLE CODI: Miller-McIntyre will be out until at least late November; school officials said last week in announcing the injury that he would miss 4-6 weeks. He led the team in scoring (14.7 ppg) and assists (137) last season and has only missed two games in three years, none last year.
WHO’S GONE: Two more members of that 2012 recruiting class have left. High-energy forward Aaron Rountree graduated and transferred to Iona, and occasional starting guard Madison Jones was kicked off the team. He had been suspended from basketball activities in March, reinstated in May and finally dismissed in August.
WHO’S NEW: Manning brought in a strong class of freshmen, led by Bryant Crawford - the latest in a string of Gonzaga College (Maryland) High School guards to earn spots on ACC rosters - plus forward John Collins and center Doral Moore. And there’s a recognizable name among the walk-ons - Anthony Bilas, the son of former Duke star and ESPN analyst Jay Bilas.
AP Basketball Writer Aaron Beard in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, contributed to this report.
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