WINSTON-SALEM (AP) — Something very important happened to all those young players at Wake Forest during the past year: They got older.
Coach Jeff Bzdelik also hopes they got better — and his future just might depend it.
One of the nation’s youngest teams hopes it can take another step forward in its embattled coach’s fourth season.
Bzdelik said it’s “a results-driven business” and that “we need to win. That’s what I get paid to do and that’s what we’ve got to do.”
Wake Forest started at least three freshmen in all but three games last season. Freshmen played more than 60 percent of the team’s total minutes, and four of them were among the top six scorers.
Bzdelik said this year’s sophomores “gained a valuable understanding of what’s expected … to win.”
It’s been a gradual process under Bzdelik at Wake Forest after his first season in 2010-11 included a worst-in-ACC-history one victory in league play.
The next step is to earn some victories on the road. They’re 1-24 in road conference games under Bzdelik.
“The road thing has been a problem ever since I’ve been here, and it’s because we’ve all had young guys,” said forward Travis McKie, the only player on the roster who has been with Bzdelik for all four years. “This year we’ll be more ready for it, and we’re definitely ready to win more road games than we have in the past.”
Five things to know about a critical season at Wake Forest:
MADISON AND MILLER-McINTYRE: Guard play is critical in college basketball and the Demon Deacons believe sophomores Madison Jones and Codi Miller-McIntyre have figured out what it takes to succeed at this level. Miller-McIntyre was inconsistent as a freshman — he scored 15 in the Miami upset, but went 3 of 10 in a 20-point loss at Georgia Tech — but Bzdelik says his decision-making and confidence have improved. “They grew — they all grew,” he said of his sophomores, “and now they have a better understanding, a better grasp of this game.”
THE OLD MAN: The oldest player on the roster is also the newest. Guard Coron Williams is a one-year graduate transfer from Robert Morris, where he averaged 9.2 points, made nearly 42 percent of his 3-pointers and took part in the Colonials’ memorable NIT win over Kentucky. He turns 24 on Nov. 23 and is almost three full years older than McKie and redshirt sophomore Daniel Green. “I feel like a newcomer and a freshman in those aspects, but when it comes to playing and defensively, communicating, I try to be a voice, a leader out here,” Williams said. “I have to be a fast learner.”
BRAINSTORMING: Bzdelik said he spent a decent chunk of the offseason picking the brains of some of the sport’s most successful coaches and looking for tips to bring back to Winston-Salem. Among the coaches he spent time with: Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, Kansas coach Bill Self, Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, Florida’s Billy Donovan and retired Maryland coach Gary Williams.
HOME-AWAY SPLITS: If nothing else, Wake Forest re-established Joel Coliseum as a tough place to play last year. The Demon Deacons went 11-5 on their home court, the site of both of those upsets. They’ve won only five road games in three seasons under Bzdelik — and three of those were played within 30 miles of Winston-Salem.
STABLE ROSTER: For the first time under Bzdelik, there wasn’t a mass exodus from the roster during the offseason. Role-playing guard Chase Fischer (BYU) was the only player to transfer out. Seven players left following the first two seasons.