Tag Archives: Wake Forest

MARCH SADNESS: WF, WTF and the What-Ifs

23 Mar

Good Deacon hoops can sometimes feel like a vintage painting in a museum.

Put a ‘T’ between the W and F, it’s been said many a time during the current Wake Forest basketball depression. The saying is played, unlike the NCAA Tournament for the Deacs in seven of the past eight years.

Wake has posted only two winning seasons since 2010. In the two decades before that, the once-proud program of Tim Duncan and Chris Paul had only one losing season while eclipsing 20 wins 12 times.

Here in yet another missed March Madness, let us move past the WTFs, Deacon Nation… to the What-Ifs.

My top 10 (pre-depression):

10. What if referee Fred Hikel hadn’t ruled that Wake’s successful length-of-the-court inbound pass grazed the Greensboro Coliseum scoreboard with 33 seconds left in the 1975 ACC tourney game against North Carolina?

Just last month, long-time Greensboro New & Record sportswriter and columnist Ed Hardin said, “That pass from [Wake’s Jerry] Schellenberg never touched the scoreboard,” which showed a Deacon lead at the time. The “Scoreboard Call.” And one might wonder where the “Carolina Refs” legend came from. (Actually not here. Read on.)

9. What if the Deacs simply managed to get a shot up with 20 seconds left in a tied 1983 ACC Tournament first round game against N.C. State?

Instead a turnover led to a foul, which led to Wolfpack free throws and a 71-70 loss. That was how the Cardiac Pack started its unbelievable nine-game postseason run to a national title.

8. What if Rodney Rogers had stayed for his senior season, i.e., overlapped with the start of the Tim Duncan Era?

Wake still finished third in the conference the following season without the 1993 ACC Player of the Year.

7. What if instant replay was available for Tim Duncan’s senior year?

The January Maryland and February N.C. State buzzer beaters in Joel Coliseum wouldn’t have been beaters. Absent that really bad luck, the ’97 Deacs definitely finish the regular season better than 22-5, earning them a more advantageous postseason draw.

6. What if Wake hadn’t lost three star sophomores — Jeff Teague, James Johnson and Al-Farouq Aminu were all top 19 NBA draft picks — in 2009 and 2010?

Losing that type of talent will hurt any college basketball program, but Wake was especially in need of stability after unprecedented adversity in the years leading up to those departures.

5. What if Randolph Childress hadn’t been hit with the flu bug before the ’95 Sweet 16 matchup with Oklahoma State?

The ACC Champions’ Final Four hopes were fumbled away by our star guard on the last possession against the Cowboys.

4. What if referee Jim Mills calls a charge instead of a block in the 1957 ACC semifinal against undefeated UNC?

Wake was less than 50 seconds away from ending the historic season of its bitter rival, but instead the Heels’ Lennie Rosenbluth, who’d beat out somebody named Wilt Chamberlain for national player of the year, got the controversial blocking call, the basket and a free throw for a 61-59 win.

3. What if Chris Paul hadn’t left school after his sophomore year?

Instead of essentially no point guard the next year, the Deacs would’ve had the best PG in the nation to go with senior studs Justin Gray, Eric Williams and Trent Strickland, as well as impressive big men Kyle Visser and Chris Ellis.

2. What if Tony Rutland hadn’t wrecked his knee in the 1996 ACC Tournament Championship Game?

Some were comparing the sophomore guard to Ga. Tech’s Stephon Marbury on a team that, despite the injury, still managed to reach an NCAA regional final. Long-time Winston-Salem Journal beat reporter Dan Collins called it “one of the saddest coincidences ever in Wake Forest history,” the backcourt misfortune when the Deacs had the best big man in the land.

1. What if Skip Prosser hadn’t passed away?



Hail to the King!

29 Mar

A Palmer Pilgrimage to Wake Forest last fall

I am celebrating The King from this month’s Arnold Palmer Invitational to next month’s Masters and beyond. Palmer, the global sports icon and my fellow Wake Forest Demon Deacon, passed away last fall at the age of 87. The new golf season reminds us that old traditions will be quite different this year without golf’s greatest ambassador.

  • “Can he play golf?”

The Wake Forest Athletics Director uttered this in 1947 when a Deacon recruit was encouraging him to offer another scholarship to a fresh-faced 18-year-old from Latrobe, Pa. That recruit would take Wake’s golf team and then a whole sport to a new level.

  • “This man was my favorite person. Not my favorite golfer, but my favorite person that I ever met.”

Country music singer and golfing enthusiast Vince Gill said this about the King. I don’t bite on too many marketing campaigns, but Mastercard aced it with #ArnieWould: Arnie would stop and sign every autograph, Arnie would found two hospitals for women and children, Arnie would become only the sixth athlete ever to be honored with the Congressional Gold Medal…

  • “How he impacts other people is more important than any golf championship.”

A former patient at Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies named her son Palmer after surviving a harrowing pregnancy thanks in large part to the Orlando hospital staff. The family was surprised, to say the least, when later little Palmer received a thankful letter from his legendary namesake. Arnie had the common touch, but was still bigger than life to many folks. More importantly, he believed in something bigger than self.


Source: Wake Forest magazine, NBC Sports

Houston, We Have a Problem

28 Feb

Everything’s bigger in Texas, including sports disappointment for me recently. Consider the following heartbreak in Houston, where I lived as a kid:

  • College Cup: Following a scoreless draw with defending champ Stanford in the mid-December NCAA soccer title match, my Wake Forest Demon Deacons had a penalty kick opportunity to take home the trophy, but were denied on two straight attempts as the Cardinal, which did not score a goal during the entire Final Four weekend, successfully defended its crown.
  • Super Bowl: Less than two months later in NRG Stadium in Houston, my Atlanta Falcons somehow relinquished a 28-3 second half lead to the hated Patriots to also lose in overtime. The emotional and psychic wounds from this debacle will hurt for a long, long time. My therapist says I’m doing a lot better though: down to only three to five Big Game what-ifs per day now.
  • NCAA Baseball: As if to confirm the horrid luck in Houston, my baseball Deacs were swept by the University of Houston Cougars to open their season a couple weeks after the Super Bowl.

There is a bright side at least: I’ve gotten five Texas magazine freelance assignments in that stretch. All work and no play make Brian a full boy?

Once More With Feeling

21 Nov

“I was telling people that you were going to die, Willy.”

It wasn’t exactly your normal breakfast talk. A physician fraternity brother offered this up during a trip to the ol’ alma mater earlier this month. The hustle and bustle of the diner, omelettes and orange juice, and his four kids stuffed into a booth with four adults offered quite a contrast to the weighty message.

Willy, my “little brother” from our fraternity days two decades past, is two years removed from a brutal bout with something called necrotizing pancreatitis. “This is a disease where your pancreas ‘eats’ itself which, in turn, affects the kidney, liver and various digestive processes,” he wrote shortly after his release from the hospital in November 2014. “The [South Dakota] hospital decided to fly me to Asheville to be closer to my mom because they were not sure that I would live through the summer. I went through 13 surgeries, dialysis and had a bout of psychosis where I saw things. I am now a Type 1 diabetic, I can’t walk well, and I have five tubes coming out of my lung, abdomen, and stomach. However, I am dealing with it all.”

Dealing with it all, he wrote so simply. Willy’s gentle, understated tone ran through my head and ran up against the horrifying reality of a struggle most of us can’t even begin to imagine…

Struggle was nowhere near my thoughts the rest of that gorgeous fall Saturday as he and I strolled around the sun-splashed Wake Forest campus, stopping at the chapel, the bookstore and the statue of Arnold Palmer, our fellow Demon Deacon and global golfing legend who passed away just weeks before.

Later that afternoon, before the football game between two of Willy’s alma maters — he’d gotten a degree from visiting Virginia as well — we checked out Wake’s Sports Hall of Fame, got some greasy grub from a favorite college dive and soaked up the tailgating energy.

When I drew blood handling a beer with a faulty bottle opener, Willy was giving himself an insulin shot. When the football contest was too close for comfort, I was stressed. Willy was less.

There I was thinking in my routine, short-term way: successful work week, enjoyable weekend, good trip… good game.

And there was Willy: “Relearning what it means to have a life is such a blessing.”

No Sporting Chance

15 May

Braves_onfireIt is the spring of my sporting discontent. The Atlanta Hawks got swept in the postseason for the second year in a row by LeBron & Company, and my rebuilding Braves are buried in last place. In fact, as mid-May approached the baseball club had the seventh most wins… ON ITS HOME FIELD!

To top off the sporting depression, my favorite player and fellow alum, Tim Duncan, may have just played the last game of his stellar 19-year career with the San Antonio Spurs…

You might say that I’m carrying a lot of emotional sports baggage:

  • My college football team hasn’t had a winning season since I became a father. (My oldest daughter turns 8 in the fall.)
  • The Diamond Deacs, my alma mater’s baseball team, haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 2007 despite our coach – no lie – donating a kidney to one of his players. Come on, karma!
  • My basketball program, which produced the likes of Duncan and Chris Paul, has gone 75-115 (.395) since 2010 when it fired a coach with a .663 winning percentage.

Hmm, maybe this is the reason my wife let me get a kegerator?!?

I take solace in my daughters’ smiles, long walks (no, not on short piers!) and the occasional relaxed round of golf. And when things seem too bleak, I tell myself: At least I didn’t have a North Carolina Tar Heel April!

They got a name for the winners in the world

I want a name when I lose

They call Alabama the Crimson Tide

Call me Deacon Blues.

— Steely Dan


Happy Birthday, Tim!

25 Apr

Thanks to this Deacon duo, Duncan and Randolph Childress, my last two years at Wake were championship-quality.

Happy 40th Birthday to my favorite player and fellow alum, Tim Duncan!

I still remember Thanksgiving Weekend in 1993 when I ducked out of a family gathering in Florida to go check out a skinny, unsung Wake Forest freshman from the Virgin Islands in his college debut in Alaska (when he posted zero points but double-digit rebounds.)

I feel so blessed not only that Tim Duncan represented my alma mater, but also that he has entertained and inspired this fan for more than half of my life.

Ryan Nusbickel, my classmate cousin, author and former cartoonist in this blog space, hits the mark like a patented Timmy bank shot: “We’re at college fraternity parties. We’re watching Duncan. We’re partying, single 20-somethings. We’re watching Duncan. Getting married. Starting families. Watching Duncan. He’s always been there.”

Timmy D.’s basketball accomplishments are well known, including five NBA championships and almost too many player-of-the-year/MVP trophies to count. Did you know though that the “Big Fundamental” is the only player ever to be selected to both the All-NBA and All-Defensive teams in every one of his first 13 seasons as a pro? Amazing.

Duncan somehow manages to build on even that Mt. Olympus of resumes. He does it with class and integrity. Timmy rises above so many things — hype, greed and all the other ubiquitous pulls from this culture of short-term self-gratification — but the effect isn’t to detract from his relatable-ness. The college player of the year once signed the bar tab of my other classmate cousin. Many years later, he took the time to call a friend and former suitemate’s wife to wish her a happy birthday when her husband was thousands of miles away serving a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Want a unique story? Read about Duncan’s swimming prowess as a youth and how his attention turned to basketball only after Hurricane Hugo destroyed the one Olympic-sized pool in his hometown of St. Croix.

Want loyalty? Duncan could’ve been the No. 1 draft pick after his sophomore season at Wake, but he stayed in college all four years. And all basketball fans know about his 19-year career in San Antonio

Want integrity? The classy, old soul, who could never be altered by our greedy, mass-marketed, look-at-me pop society, repeatedly took less money so that the Spurs could remain a competitive team. (Click here for a comparison of Kobe Bryant’s 2016 salary versus Timmy’s).

“Good, better, best: never let it rest until your good is better and your better is best.”

Timmy, you’re better than the rest. THANK YOU and Happy Birthday!


Mar 3, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Tim Duncan (21) against the New Orleans Pelicans Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Bombing the Soul

28 Dec

light-at-the-end-of-a-tunnelEarlier this month, my sister texted her hairdresser to confirm the day’s appointment. In her darkest of nightmares, Allison never would’ve imagined that her in-house stylist and friend had been murdered 36 hours before.

Intensely and shockingly personal or merely the morbid curiosity of passers-by staring at a traffic accident, the response of human beings to tragedy is complicated, but there does seem to be some irresistible pull toward misfortune and calamity. Several days later my sister found herself combing through the disturbing Facebook page of her friend’s demented and perhaps even satanic killer.

In his book “Everyone Loves A Good Train Wreck: Why We Can’t Look Away,” Wake Forest University Professor Eric Wilson explores the doom and gloom side of human nature. In a spin on the saying about the light at the end of the tunnel, do we need the darkness of that passageway to fully appreciate the light?

Last year at my old job, I eagerly asked the company IT director about his predecessor, who had been caught by the Feds in a child-sex sting. Somebody I didn’t know and would never meet attempted something horrific and I wanted to know more details. At about the same time, I felt the need to look through the Twitter feed of an Atlanta twenty-something charged with DUI and the death of a fellow motorist. There the young man was in his day-to-day, week-to-week posts talking about fun outings and trips, and then the online log abruptly stopped just hours before he stopped an innocent life.

Struggling to process and cope with the sudden loss of her friend, my sister was left to revisit a text conversation that was sickeningly one-sided at its end. There are obviously no easy answers in that type of very sad situation, but Professor Wilson argues that death and destruction can help us empathize with suffering and make us value life more. Studies like his can certainly help us in the psychological realm, but they fall short in soothing the soul.

In the holiday season with its many signs and symbols of hope and rejoicing, there can also be indelible reminders of heartbreak and tragedy. As my favorite reverend, Davis Chappell, preached, “The life of faith is a marathon. You have to learn to run with pain.”