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#tbt: What Happened to Wake Forest?

Over the course of this offseason we will use Thursday to look back at various events, games, players, anything you want. Think of it as #tbt for Today’sU.com. Some of these will be first-hand accounts or just a rambling about the good ‘ole past. Follow me @uklefty22 for all #tbt posts as well as other ones throughout the week.

There have been a plethora of programs that come into the spotlight for a year or two. There’s been teams like Florida Gulf Coast and Cornell who each made runs to the Sweet 16 in the last six years. There’s been New Mexico, who was a No. 3 seed and had a ton of success before Steve Alford left.

But, there hasn’t been a team like Wake Forest. A program that was one of the best that just never seemed to get over the hump. There’s been two periods of bright spots for the Demon Deacons, in the 1990’s then again in the mid-2000’s. However, since then it’s been nothing but no postseason play a laughingstock in the ACC.

Let’s rewind the tape and look back at the glory days of Wake Forest basketball.

It started in 1989, when the athletic department hired an assistant coach from Virginia who only had three years of experience as a head coach. That man was Dave Odom, who resurrected the Wake Forest program into a national power. However, the one thing that always eluded Odom and the Demon Deacons was postseason success.

Heading into the 1997 season, Wake Forest was coming off back-to-back ACC Tournament titles, two Sweet 16’s and Elite Eight trip. He had the best player in college basketball in Tim Duncan and a veteran supporting cast. They floated around the top-5 all season but as was the case most years suffered heartbreak come March. This time it was at the hands of Stanford in the second round, ending Duncan’s collegiate career and most importantly closing the door on what seemed to be the last chance for a run to the Final Four.

Odom stayed on as the head coach through the 2000-01 season, winning an NIT title and making one more NCAA Tournament. Wake Forest then made the best hire in college basketball when it went to Xavier and plucked Skip Prosser to become the next head coach. What came next was a run of success before tragedy.

Prosser’s first year he took a team led by future All-American Josh Howard to a 21-13 record, before winning the ACC the following year. Prosser had huge talent coming through the program with Howard, Chris Paul, Darius Songalia, Justin Gray and Jamaal Levy. However, the program did what it normally does.

Skip Prosser

Skip Prosser continued the standard of success at Wake Forest before his tenure came to a tragic end.

It failed in the postseason. The 2004-05 team was a popular pick to win the NCAA title, as a No. 2 seed led by Paul. However, a loss to No. 7 West Virginia struck in the second round and Paul left for the NBA. After the next two seasons failed to bring a winning record, the most devastating and surprising news broke.

Skip Prosser died of a heart attack.

Ever since then the program has been a dumpster fire. Athletic director Ron Wellman is the first person to blame for hiring his friend Jeff Bzdelik, who turned Wake Forest into a mid-major playing in the ACC. The hire of Danny Manning is still a question mark, but in terms of recruiting he has the program trending in the right direction.

This is a proud program. One that gave the world Rodney Rodgers, Tim Duncan, Randolph Childress and Randolph Childress’ crossover of Jeff McInnis in the 1990’s. It gave us Jeff Teague, Chris Paul, Josh Howard and Al-Farouq Aminu in the 2000’s. Lawrence Joel Coliseum is one of the best arenas in the country, often being a host for the NCAA Tournament.

As a college basketball fan you should want to see Wake Forest be competitive again. Hopefully next year there will be a #tbt article about the rise of Wake Forest.

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