The excuse of inexperience won’t — or shouldn’t — apply to Wake Forest’s men’s basketball team this season.
Especially with the Deacons planning to play as guard-heavy a lineup as it appears a few months before the season starts, and how much experience their bevy of guards has.
“It’s a guard-heavy team and Coach is going to give us the keys to the car, we’ve gotta drive it,” senior point guard Brandon Childress said last week before a summer practice.
Wake Forest enters the season with three seniors — all of whom have spent different amounts of time in college basketball — on its roster, and all three are guards.
Torry Johnson enters his sixth season of college basketball, his second at Wake Forest after graduate-transferring from Northern Arizona last summer. Andrien White is entering his fifth season, having sat out last season after transferring from Charlotte, where he scored more than 1,000 points in three years.
And Childress will be the Deacons’ senior point guard, having led Wake Forest in scoring (14.7 points per game) and assists (4.0) last season.
“Andrien is an upperclassman, he’s a senior, but he hasn’t played in the ACC yet,” Coach Danny Manning said. “Torry has played, so yeah, we’ve got three seniors that we feel very comfortable with in terms of their experience level.”
And that’s before you dig into the rest of the roster. Chaundee Brown is now a junior and has started 59 of 62 games in his first two seasons. Manning said Brown’s deployment will range from as a guard to “small-ball at four with him.”
With those four, it's similar to the approach Wake Forest took for the 2017-18 season — when the four most-experienced players were guards Bryant Crawford, Keyshawn Woods, Mitchell Wilbekin and Childress. That was the first of the Deacons' back-to-back 11-20 seasons.
Sharone Wright Jr. was fourth on the team in scoring last season (7.1 per game) and started 21 games as a freshman. Michael Wynn was brought along at a slower pace, but at 6-6, could develop into a reliable outside shooter.
“Our freshman class from last year, we threw them into the fire,” Manning said. “Those guys continue to grind through it and that’ll be beneficial to us this upcoming year.”
Miles Lester, a non-scholarship player, sat out last season after transferring from Rice — where he made 20 of 53 3-pointers in his only season for the Owls.
The only freshman guard is Jahcobi Neath, a 6-3, 170-pounder from Toronto who is tasked with playing catch-up for the next few months — he didn’t arrive on campus until a couple of weeks ago.
Childress played 36.4 minutes per game last season and Brown played 29.1 — both numbers that could decrease this season.
“We have depth now, guys don’t have to play — I know Brandon played a lot of minutes last year, Chaundee played a lot of minutes last year and I think toward the end, it kind of wore them down a little bit,” White said. “We’ve got a lot of talented freshmen coming in and our sophomores are rising also, so that’ll definitely help with helping that guard spot so we can alleviate those minutes that those guys had to play.”
Junior Olivier Sarr is the only scholarship forward or center who’s been at Wake Forest for more than a season. Sophomore Isaiah Mucius and freshman Ismael Massoud will be on the wing, while freshmen forwards Tarik Ingraham and Ody Oguama have made solid first impressions — Ingraham for his size (6-8, 230) and Oguama for his high motor.
With more guards on the roster and, theoretically, on the court, Wake Forest could be positioned to take more 3s than in previous seasons.
They’ve got to make more of them, too. The Deacons made 30.8% of 3-pointers last season, which was 328th in the nation.
“Everybody’s gotta improve. Yeah. Everybody’s gotta improve,” Manning said of his team’s 3-point shooting. “For us, we have to take good shots. But a lot of it is going to be determined by the cuts that we make. And if we make good, hard cuts and force help we should be able to move the ball around and shoot open shots.
“But also, we’ll have more guys out there capable of shooting the long ball than we had in the past.”