Dannny Manning has a tough job, trying to coach Wake out of the lower echelons of the ACC back into conference relevance. As the beat guy, the last thing I want to do is make it tougher.
Yet, as the beat guy, I also have a job to do. Best I can tell, Manning understands that as well.
So when Devin Thomas fouls out against Iona, in part because of a technical foul called against him in the second half, I feel it's my job to ask him about it.
And when Thomas lands on the bench tonight with 18:04 remaining in a 75-48 undressing of hapless Nicholls, not to return, again, it's my responsibility to at least attempt to get his take on his evening and how it all came down.
In both instances, last Friday and tonight, Manning declined to make Thomas available to me or anyone in the media. He's the coach. That's his call.
I could go on and on about how rare it has been in my 20 years on the beat that a player has not been available, but that would be beside the point. I can't imagine that you, the reader, care, nor could I imagine why you would.
But if I don't ask to talk with Thomas, I'm not doing my job. And for the record, I did ask both Friday and tonight.
As for what message Manning was sending when he pulled all five starters in the first two minutes of the second half, the players themselves got it loud and clear once they made it to the bench.
"He told us right then that if you don’t do what you’re told to do, (you’re) coming out and you won’t play,'' grad student Darius Leonard said.
“It was pretty clear.’’
As for why Thomas remained on the bench when the other four starters returned, I can only go on what Manning said afterward and what I picked up elsewhere. Thomas had made two bad plays moments before the hook came out, and it was mentioned to me that Manning wasn't pleased that Thomas took his own sweet time making it to the bench.
Manning is hardly the only coach in college basketball to resort to tough love. And, based on what has transpired at Wake the past four years, the case can be made that the Deacons could use some.
Manning said he didn't send Thomas back in because he like the lineup he had on the court. As he expounds on his general philosophy of coaching, it becomes pretty obvious that playing time will be dictated by what a player is doing at the present moment, and not anything he has done in the past.
Thomas came into the game averaging 17.3 points and 13.3 rebounds. He played 15 minutes, the fewest of his career since logging 12 in back-to-back games against William & Mary and Nebraska in the fifth and sixth games of his freshman season.
On Friday, it was the team's other junior leader, Codi Miller-McIntyre who found himself on the bench for long stretches against Iona.
"I've told you guys all along -- whoever is going to help us be successful is going to play,'' Manning said. "That's what it was tonight. That's what it's going to be every night. That's just how I coach.
"There'll be times when a guy will start out a game and if I don't think he's playing the way he needs to play to help our team be successful, I'll give somebody else a chance.
"If they take advantage of that opportunity, good for them.''
Did that, I asked, answer the question of why Thomas played so little?
"I liked the guys and I liked the rotation that we had going on,'' Manning said."So I went with it.
"There are going to be times like this all year. When guys get out there and they're playing well, I'm going to leave them out on the court.''