The timing might have seemed strange with the Wake Forest basketball team having already lost games to lightweights Georgia Southern, Liberty and Drake to start the season. But athletic director Ron Wellman was looking at a much bigger picture than just a handful of games in November when he decided to sign coach Danny Manning to a contract extension.
“Danny is attracting highly rated and quality young men to our program and he has proven his ability to develop that talent,” Wellman said Saturday in a statement announcing the unexpected move. “Our program will continue to improve, and we will realize the lofty goals that we have for the program.”
Manning checked one of those goals off last season, his third in Winston-Salem, when he led the Deacons to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010. Although their stay there didn’t last long after losing to Kansas State in the “First Four,” it was a definite sign of progress that was reinforced earlier this month with the signing of a 2018 recruiting class ranked among the nation’s top 10.
In the meantime, though, Manning’s current team has taken a noticeable step backward at 2-4 entering Tuesday’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup against Illinois.
It’s a team that has some talented pieces, especially in the backcourt, but is still in the process of finding an identity after losing star sophomore big man John Collins to the NBA draft and veteran stretch four Dinos Mitoglou to a professional team in his home country of Greece.
“We are not a good team right now. We have to get better,” Manning said after a 79-66 loss to Liberty on Nov. 14. “We have to come into practice every day with our hard hats on and our lunch pails. We have to quit feeling sorry for ourselves and get better. That’s the only way to get out of the situation that we’re in now.”
With the security of a newly extended contract, Manning, who has a 45-56 record at Wake, can afford to be patient with his Deacons and not resort to looking for a quick fix.
Although details of the new deal were not released by the school, KUSports.com, a website that covers Manning’s alma mater Kansas, has reported it is for six years through the 2024-25 season.
Among the Deacons’ most glaring deficiencies thus far has been defense and rebounding.
Through their first six games, they rank dead last in the ACC allowing 74.8 points per game and are last in defensive rebounds at 22.8. Their rebounding margin of 0.2 (205 for, 204 against) is 13th best among the league’s 15 teams.
“We can’t live through our offense,” Manning said recently. “Too many of our guys have that mindset when it needs to be the other way around. We need to be able to create some offense from our defense.
“We play good first-shot defense and then we turn around and we look and we wait for Dinos Mitoglou and John Collins to fly in and get off a plane and come get a rebound. That’s not happening.”
There is hope, thanks to the play of 7-foot-1 junior Doral Moore, that the situation could improve as the season goes on.
Moore contributed 17 points and 17 rebounds in just 25 minutes of the Liberty loss then added 17 more points and seven boards in an 81-75 win against UNC Greensboro last week.
Despite the emphasis on the big picture and a future that appears to be bright, Manning said that he and his staff are working as hard as ever to turn things around this season.
“It’s going to come from us, and then it will trickle down through them,” he said. “We’ll continue to coach, and we’ll continue to challenge, motivate, prod or whatever we need to do to get that motivation, to get that level of play that we need.”