Deacons exhibition trip to Bahamas more than just a day at the beach

The main purpose of the offseason trip was to give coach Danny Mannings young team a chance to get a headstart in preparation for what it hopes will be a breakthrough season

Christine T. Nguyen—The North State Journal
Wake Forest guard Bryant Crawford (13) drives to the basket during the game against N.C. State Saturday

Most people go to the Bahamas to leave their work behind and spend some down time relaxing in the sunshine and sand. The Wake Forest basketball team, on the other hand, headed to the Caribbean this summer to put in a little extra work. Okay, so the Deacons did get a chance to have some fun during their week at the Atlantis resort in August. But the main purpose of the offseason trip was to give coach Danny Manning’s young team a chance to get a headstart in preparation for what it hopes will be a breakthrough season. A full 70 percent of Wake’s roster is made up of players in their first or second year in the program, including four freshmen and two incoming transfers. The three exhibition games they played in the Bahamas went a long way toward blending all that youth and inexperience into a cohesive unit. “Bahamas gave us a chance to come together as a team,” said sophomore guard Bryant Crawford, the team’s top returning scorer and an ACC All-Rookie team selection last season. “With so many new faces, we got a feel for each other’s personalities off the court by hanging out with each other around the resort. On the court, we got a feel for each other’s game and play with each other.” The trip was a success from both a basketball standpoint and a bonding experience. The Deacons scored three straight victories against teams made up of, as Manning described it, “grown men” that are “pretty solid basketball players who had all the old man tricks to them. By far the biggest benefit, however, came from from the 10 extra practices the Deacons were allowed before leaving Winston-Salem. “Those 10 days that we could get into the gym, I think it helped,” said forward Austin Arians, a graduate transfer who played his first three seasons at Milwaukee. “Going up against different competition, guys you don’t know what they’re going to do was good, too. “When somebody calls a play at practice, it’s like ‘I know that play’ and that plays to my advantage not theirs. It was good not knowing what they can do and not knowing what kind of adversity we might face. We’re not going to get every benefit of the call, so being able to see how young guys respond was very beneficial.” Among the players that benefitted most were sophomore big men John Collins and Doral Moore, a duo that will be asked to play greater roles while taking up the scoring and rebounding slack lost with the graduation of Devin Thomas. Manning also got his first chance to see Arians and fellow transfer Keyshawn Woods for the first time under game conditions. Both players averaged double figure scoring in the three games in Nassau. Unlike Arians, Woods — a 6-3 sophomore who led Conference USA in 3-point shooting percentage in 2014-15 — had to sit out a season under NCAA rules after transferring from Charlotte. “For Keyshawn, it was good to see him out there in a setting other than practice,” Manning said. “I thought his presence and Austin Arians’ presence out there on the trip, their combination was something that could have helped us last year because they’re able to score on three different levels.” Wake was 11-20 overall and 2-16 in the ACC. One player that didn’t see action on the trip was junior forward Dinos Mitoglou, who was held out of action by Manning to help him rest up from his time with the Greek national team. While Mitoglou, Crawford, Arians and Woods figure to make up the Deacons’ nucleus this season, most other roles are still up in the air. That’s why Manning did his best to try as many combinations and get everyone on the team as much playing time as possible during the three games in the Bahamas. “Coach put together a lot of different lineups and threw a lot of different pieces on the court at different times,” Crawford said. Those pieces include four-star freshman point guard Brandon Childress, the son of Wake legend and assistant coach Randolph Childress, big man Sam Japhet-Mathias, wing Donovan Mitchell and shooting guard Rich Washington.The Deacons open their regular season schedule Friday night at home against Radford. “We’re getting there,” Manning said. “We like the direction we’re headed. We like our guys. We’re going to continue to build.”