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ACC Notebook

November 25, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments



Atlantic Coast Conference Notebook

by Michael Protos

Anointing a new lead Deacon

With the season only a few days old, the ACC looks strong from top to
bottom. No team has lost yet, and No. 8 North Carolina, Maryland and No. 25
NC State each opened their seasons with brutal thrashings of schools from
less powerful conferences. No. 2 Duke struggled early against Detroit – the
Titans and not the Pistons – in the first half and were actually losing at
halftime. But the Blue Devils regrouped to grind out a tough win against an
inspired opponent.

But No. 19 Wake Forest is the most impressive team so far in this young
season. Fresh off their first outright conference title in 41 years, the
Demon Deacons entered the season with several questions to answer. Most
importantly, who will replace ACC Player of the Year Josh Howard as the team
leader on and off the court?

Well, the Demon Deacons may have the answer to that question in junior guard
Taron Downey. One of three Demon Deacons capable of playing the point guard
spot, Downey is one of the oldest members on this team, which does not have
a single senior to lean on for experience. The Demon Deacons, however, can
turn to Downey as an example of what every player must do to defend their
conference title.

Downey had an emergency appendectomy Nov. 5, eight days before Wake Forest
opened their season against Memphis at Madison Square Garden in the
nationally televised Coaches versus Cancer Classic. Downey was expected to
spend the game recuperating after the surgery. Certainly, any playing time
would merely be in relief of the starters.

Immediately after his surgery, Downey said he wanted to play against
Memphis. Coach Skip Prosser opted not to start Downey but brought Downey off
the bench a few minutes into the first half, allowing him to play as long as
he felt comfortable to do so.

Once in the game, Downey proved he is definitely a team leader this season.
With sophomore guard Justin Gray and freshman guard Chris Paul, Wake Forest
is blessed with young talent in the backcourt. Downey is the most
experienced guard and will be responsible for delivering in the clutch, must
like Howard did last season. And Downey proved he is capable of delivering,
even after barely a week’s rest from surgery.

Downey played for nearly the rest of the game, logging 29 minutes. He
finished with a career-high 20 points and added five rebounds and assists.
He did not commit a single turnover and did not need to heave 35 attempts to
score 20 points – Downey shot 64 percent in the game.

By not taking the easy road to recovery, Downey showed his team he is the
best kind of leader: a leader by example.

Player of the Week:
Taron Downey, Wake Forest

If you need to know why Downey is my ACC player of the week, please read the
story above. In addition to overcoming surgery for an appendectomy, Downey
averaged fourteen points and 3.5 rebounds and assists in two Wake Forest
wins over Memphis and Elon.

Rookie of the Week:
Luol Deng, Duke

Duke’s lone freshman wasted no time proving that he may be the ACC’s best
freshman. Deng scored 21 points and collected eight rebounds in Duke’s tough
opening victory over Detroit.

Coach Watch:

The ACC coach watch highlights the two new coaches in the conference. Most
notably, Roy Williams returns home to North Carolina. In his first regular
season game as head coach of the Tar Heels, North Carolina beat Old Dominion
90-64. Although he will probably be overshadowed by Williams, Clemson coach
Oliver Purnell arrives in South Carolina via Dayton, where he turned the
Flyers from Atlantic 10 cellar dweller to powerhouse. If one game can
foreshadow success, Purnell can expect similar results in the ACC as Clemson
erased Gardner Webb, 86-55.

The return of Roy

North Carolina coach Roy Williams returned to his alma mater as head coach
last April, after guiding Kansas to the championship game against Syracuse.
One of the most successful coaches in college basketball won his first game
as the head coach of one of the most successful programs in college
basketball. Led by Williams, the Tar Heels destroyed Old Dominion 90-64
Saturday.

Sophomore guard Rashad McCants led the Tar Heels on the court with eighteen
points and a career-high eight assists. Meanwhile, sophomore forward Sean
May returned from a foot injury that kept him out of the lineup for most of
the final half of the season. May scored seventeen points and grabbed seven
rebounds.

NIT now, NCAA later?

Georgia Tech is the lone ACC representative in the Preseason NIT this year,
but the Yellow Jackets hope to repeat North Carolina’s success from last
year. Most analysts placed the Tar Heels as the weakest team of last year’s
Preseason NIT final four, which included Stanford, Florida and Kansas. The
Tar Heels stormed through Kansas and Stanford en route to the Preseason NIT
championship. Unfortunately, the championship was the peak of their season.

After soundly beating Louisiana – Lafayette and Hofstra in Atlanta, the
Yellow Jackets will travel to New York to play No. 1 Connecticut Wednesday.
Georgia Tech hopes to keep the Preseason NIT championship in the ACC family,
then build upon that hot start for the rest of the year.

Infirmary report

Georgia Tech: Sophomore forward Theodis Tarver dislocated his left knee
during practice Oct. 30 and has no timetable to return. Tarver’s injury
leaves the Yellow Jackets with even less depth up front after forwards Chris
Bosh and Ed Nelson left the squad after last season for greener pastures.
Bosh entered the NBA while Nelson transferred to Connecticut.

NC State: Sophomore guard Cameron Bennerman broke his right hand in practice
Oct. 24, but he has recovered nicely and played in the Wolfpack’s opener
against UNC-Asheville.

North Carolina: Sophomore forward David Noel tore a ligament in his right
thumb during practice Nov. 4 and will miss at least the next month. He had
surgery to repair the ligament. Noel started several games last season and
looked to be a major reserve for a shallow frontcourt. North Carolina has
virtually no depth up front and must avoid foul trouble and more injuries.

Wake Forest: Junior forward Vytas Danelius sprained an ankle in practice
Nov. 21, forcing him to miss the Demon Deacons’ game against Elon. Though
not serious, his injury reduces the depth of one of the ACC’s better
frontcourts. Danelius has missed several practices already this season
because of tendonitis in his knee.

Sophomore forward Chris Ellis broke his right foot in the team’s first
practice of the season Oct. 18. Though not a starter, Ellis figured to earn
more playing time this year in a reserve role. The team has not released a
timetable fore Ellis’ return.

The week’s best:

No. 8 North Carolina (1-0) vs. Davidson (0-1): Nov. 24, 7 p.m.
Georgia Tech (2-0) vs. No. 1 Connecticut (3-0): Nov. 26, 9:30 p.m.
Virginia (0-0) vs. Virginia Tech (1-0): Nov. 28, 8 p.m.
No. 19 Wake Forest (2-0) at Yale (1-1): Nov. 29, 1 p.m.

     

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