ACC Offseason Hoops Outlook

The official start of the college basketball season is still three months away, but it's never too early to look ahead -- especially for what should be one of the most competitive seasons in ACC history. <i>Inside Carolina</i> takes an offseason look at the state of all 11 ACC teams ...

CLEMSON

GETTING INSIDE

Arriving late on the job last summer at Clemson, Oliver Purnell hesitated to hand out too many scholarships to potential late signees. Instead, he played with the hand he was dealt. Although the Tigers never folded, a 10-18 season and a last-place finish wasn't wholly unexpected.

Purnell felt he'd have more quality recruits to pick from by waiting, and he was able to go out and sign five for this coming season and build what he's calling the "foundation" of his program.

He'll need some immediate contributions from the guard-heavy class, especially in the wake of junior guard Chey Christie's decision to transfer. The Tigers must also get upgrade in play at the point, whether it comes from junior Shawan Robinson and sophomore Vincent Hamilton or one of the newcomers. Clemson averaged a league-high 19 turnovers per game last year.

NOTES, QUOTES

PROGRAM OVERVIEW: A year in Oliver Purnell's system and some more options on the perimeter could make the Tigers a lot better this season, but it's going to be hard to move past any of the conference's old guard despite the return of senior center Sharrod Ford and junior Akin Akingbala up front and senior Olu Babalola on the wing.

Purnell put a plan into action last season -- relying on tough defense -- and that could help rebuild the psyche of the program. Add in a bevy of new players, and he is definitely building the program in his own image.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're going to be more athletic and we're going to have a lot of competition on the perimeter, and we need that to keep improving and moving forward." -- Coach Oliver Purnell.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

KEY RECRUITS AND TRANSFERS: Guard Cliff Hammonds -- Rated the 21st-best point guard prospect in the country by TheInsiders.com, the 6-3 Hammonds was 4A state Player of the Year in Georgia.

Forward Sam Perry -- The 6-5 swingman was one of the most highly recruited players out of South Carolina, and adds some athleticism on the wing.

Guard Troy Mathis -- Rated the No. 24 point guard in the nation by TheInsiders.com, the 6-0 Mathis is a true point with a penchant for defense, traits that play well in Oliver Purnell's system.

Forward James Mays -- At 6-9, Mays is the only real big man in the class but he's raw, albeit talented. He was consistently rated a national top 100 recruit. He and Mathis are considered steals for Clemson out of talent-rich North Carolina.

Guard Cheyenne Moore -- The 6-6 Connecticut native can play small forward or big guard and he consistently rated among the nation's top 100 prospects overall and the top 20 wing players.

INJURY IMPACT: Two Tigers went under the knife this summer, with starting forward Olu Babalola and reserve center Steve Allen both getting 'scoped. Babalola had surgery on his ankle in late March, and Allen, who played sparingly last year, had arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder in April.

DUKE

GETTING INSIDE

It sure was an exciting few days for coach Mike Krzyzewski, the Cameron Crazies, the Los Angeles Lakers ... and the whole of college basketball.

While the college game's signature coach mulled an offer from the NBA powerhouse to become its head coach in early July, the basketball world almost seemed to stand still. If he said yes, it would have been a huge transaction, potentially giving the college coaching carousel a big whirl and making a statement about the state of the college game.

Ahhh ... but Coach K decided to stay and build on his Hall of Fame career in Durham.

Some near the veteran coach believe his "courtship" was partly to send a message to the Duke administration, that despite the recent ACC emphasis on football, roundball is still king on his campus.

Whatever the case, Duke breathed a huge sigh of relief. And now almost all is right in the Blue Devils' world.

There is still the matter of being shorthanded next season.

The pros plucked Luol Deng, one of the most polished freshmen in the country last year, and 6-7 Shaun Livingston, the top high school point guard prospect in the nation, never made it to campus at all.

The Blue Devils retain five of the top seven players in their rotation from a group that reached last season's Final Four. Their depth won't be great in the frontcourt, but Duke's top-line players still compare favorably to most teams in the country.

NOTES, QUOTES

PROGRAM OVERVIEW: Duke goes 31-6 ... and the season kind of leaves a bitter taste for a lot of Blue Devils. Welcome to Mike Krzyzewski's world. The Devils squandered a late 12-point lead to just miss their sixth consecutive ACC title, and they just ran out of big men against Emeka Okafor and UConn in the Final Four.

So now gutty Chris Duhon is gone and Deng departed early, too, with the NBA also taking Shaun Livingston, one of the most anticipated signees anywhere.

But Coach K still has a load of talented players, particularly on the front line where Williams and Shavlik Randolph could be one of the ACC's top one-two punches in the paint.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Your heart has to be in whatever you do. You have to lead with your heart and Duke has always taken up my whole heart." -- Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, on his decision to rebuff the Lakers and stay with the Blue Devils.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

KEY RECRUITS AND TRANSFERS: Forward David McClure -- The 6-7 Connecticut product is a Top 50 prospect. The Blue Devils hope he can have the same kind of impact as their last Connecticut signee, Mike Gminski, an All-ACC fixture in the late 1970s.

DeMarcus Nelson -- Maybe the earliest commitment ever at Duke, the 6-3 Nelson announced for Coach K in May of 2002. A consensus top 20 prospect, Nelson can help right away if he can play defense. He's a proven commodity at the other end of the floor.

INJURY IMPACT: No significant injuries.

FLORIDA STATE

GETTING INSIDE

Florida State put its money where Leonard Hamilton's mouth is.

Hamilton is convinced he can turn the football powerhouse into a basketball school, too, and the FSU administration is buying it -- as well they should. The long-suffering Seminoles were 19-14 last year and advanced to the second round of the NIT, their first postseason appearance since 1998.

The 'Noles were 14-15 in Hamilton's first season and he'll have many more seasons, thanks to a three-year extension awarded by athletic director Dave Hart in May.

The contract boosts Hamilton's base pay from $144,899 to $152,144, and extends his stay through the 2009-2010 season.

NOTES, QUOTES

PROGRAM OVERVIEW: Associate head coach Stan Jones was named one of the nation's top 25 recruiters by Rivals.com, and with good reason. Jones played an integral part in FSU luring All-ACC guard Tim Pickett two years ago and in landing highly-touted Alexander Johnson and Von Wafer last year as part of the nation's top-rated recruiting class.

The 'Noles had another great haul this year, including Antonio Griffin, who originally signed in 2003 but did not enroll. He went on to star at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College.

With recruiting like this, the Seminoles will continue to work their way up through the ranks of the tough ACC.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We believe FSU can achieve at the very highest level of college basketball and we're glad to have ample time to continue to reach our goals." -- Coach Leonard Hamilton on the contract extension.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

KEY RECRUITS AND TRANSFERS: Forward Antonio Griffin -- The explosive 6-6 Griffin averaged 16 points and 7.4 rebounds last year at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College, and was ranked among the Top 25 junior college prospects by several services.

Guard Ralph Mims -- Originally from Pensacola, the 6-3 Mims, a true combo guard, was one of the top prep players in Maine history at Brunswick High School.

Guard Jason Rich -- A 6-3 product of Dr. Phillips High in Orlando, Rich is rated one of the top shooting guard prospects in the country.

Guard Isaiah Swann -- The 6-1 guard prepped last year at Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy and was rated among the top shooting guards coming out this year. FSU is hoping he can help replace Tim Pickett's firepower.

INJURY IMPACT: Redshirt junior Andrew Wilson started the last 17 games last year, playing in 32 contests. He had played in just seven games the previous two years, sitting out 2000-01 with a knee injury and 2001-02 with a wrist injury. The 6-6 swingman averaged 5.1 points per game in those last 17 games, helping the Seminoles to wins over three nationally ranked teams, including his career-high 24 points against North Carolina.

GEORGIA TECH

GETTING INSIDE

After the NCAA title game loss to UConn, there's still a buzz around the Yellow Jackets after their run under coach Paul Hewitt.

Luke Schenscher, the 7-1 senior center who provided such steady low post play during the run, lasted until the final cut for the Australian Olympic basketball team but returned to Atlanta in late June to resume workouts with former Tech standout Malcom Mackey.

With a glut of talented guards in the program, including seniors B.J. Elder and Will Bynum and junior Jarrett Jack, little-used 6-4 junior Jim Nystrom opted to withdraw from school soon after the title game appearance, hoping to latch on with the Swedish national team.

In another move that has more long-term implications, trusted Yellow Jackets assistant Dean Keener parlayed Tech's success into his first head coaching job, moving on to James Madison of the Colonial Athletic Association. Keener was recently recognized as one of the top recruiters in the country.

Peter Zaharis, who spent four years as Tech's director of basketball operations, was promoted to fill Keener's vacancy and John O'Connor, an 11-year coaching veteran with stops at Drexel and most recently, Lafayette, takes Zaharis' old position.

NOTES, QUOTES

PROGRAM OVERVIEW: It took Paul Hewitt just four seasons to catapult Tech into the storied program's first championship game appearance, and he did it in a season the Jackets were picked to finish seventh in the then-9-team ACC. He also did it in the wake of Chris Bosh's early departure to the NBA. Hewitt cobbled together a hard-working, over-achieving squad that defended all over the floor and made the best of disparate parts like the 7-1 Schenscher surrounded by multiple guards. Most of the key pieces return except streak-shooting guard Marvin Lewis and fellow graduates, reserve swing man Clarence Moore and little-used forward Robert Brooks. The Jackets could be poised to be a national player for years to come.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We may not have one name that people can latch on to, so we're somewhat nondescript. But this has been an excellent basketball team the whole season." -- Coach Paul Hewitt summing up the 2003-04 squad.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

KEY RECRUITS AND TRANSFERS: Forward Ra'Sean Dickey -- The 6-9 forward out of Clio, S.C., is a solid rebounder and consistently rated in the top 60 forwards in the country.

Guard Zam "Buck" Fredrick -A 6-1 combo guard out of St. Matthews, S.C., Fredrick's father starred for the Gamecocks. The younger Fredrick is known for his quick first step and ability to score.

Guard Anthony Morrow -- A highly regarded wing out of Charlotte, N.C., the 6-5 Morrow, like Fredrick, has a chance to eat up some of the minutes lost with the graduation of Lewis. Next year when Elder and Bynum are gone, Morrow and Fredrick may well be key players.

Forward Jeremis Smith -- The 6-7 Fort Worth, Texas product caught Hewitt's eye with his aggressive style. The Tech staff think they got a "sleeper" in the mildly-regarded Smith.

INJURY IMPACT: Hewitt decided to cancel a planned August trip to Australia because of some nagging injuries to his team. Seniors guard B.J. Elder (ankle) and small forward Isma'il Muhammad (knee) and junior forward Theodis Tarver (knee) are all better served with time to heal, according to the coach.

MARYLAND

GETTING INSIDE

Look for the Terrapins to pick up where they left off last season with the exciting run to the ACC tournament title and an 11th straight trip to the NCAAs, currently the league's longest streak.

Taking advantage of rules that allow teams to take preseason playing tours every four years, Gary Williams picked this season for Maryland -- with 11 returning lettermen eligible to make the tour -- to take its trip.

The Terps will tour Italy in August and also get 10 practice dates. Last year's fast finish, with Maryland going from NCAA "bubble team" to ACC champs, has fueled intense desire in the Terps in the offseason in the weight room. Power forwards Travis Garrison and Ekene Ibekwe have added muscle, and 6-10, 290-pound Hassan Fofana has lost weight.

The Terps return four starters, including ACC tourney MVP John Gilchrist and all but one player -- center Jamar Smith, who recently was invited to camp by the Orlando Magic -- among the regular playing rotation.

NOTES, QUOTES

PROGRAM OVERVIEW: Gary Williams saw his youngest Maryland team in years struggle to a 14-11 record heading into the last week of the 2003-04 season. The Terps' streak of NCAA Tournament appearances not only looked ended, but Maryland was heading for the ACC Tournament play-in game.

But that's when Williams' season-long mantra of patience began to pay off.

The Terps eked out a 70-69 win at N.C. State and then beat Virginia to finish the regular season.

In three days in Greensboro, Maryland knocked off the top three seeds in the field and won the school's first ACC tourney title in 20 years, and the first of Williams' career. In some circles, the league title was regarded as more important than the national championship two years ago. If Williams wasn't already on the short list of the top coaches in America, then he certainly earned mention there now.

And more importantly, he's gone from returning a young and unproven team to welcoming back a battle-tested championship squad that's still relatively young.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The way we finished last season gives us a lot of confidence heading into this year. We're all working hard and getting ready. We can't wait for this season to begin." -- Junior forward Travis Garrison.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

KEY RECRUITS AND TRANSFERS: Forward James Gist -- An athletic 6-8 forward that will help immediately up front. The Wheaton, Md., native is long and lean in the tradition of Joe Smith and Terence Morris and has the same kind of explosive offensive skills. Maryland came very close to teaming him with the similarly-skilled and higher regarded Rudy Gay, who eventually signed with UConn.

Guard Sterling Ledbetter -- A 6-4 pass-first point guard with great defensive skills out of Allegany Community College fills one of the team's biggest needs, a quality back-up for John Gilchrist, who had to play too many minutes sometimes last year. He fouled out in the NCAA second-round game with Syracuse and left the Terps pointless in the waning seconds. Ledbetter is also a hedge against the ultra-confident Gilchrist declaring for the NBA draft next spring.

INJURY IMPACT: Ledbetter fell asleep at the wheel the morning of May 12, and was involved in a serious single-car crash returning to Allegany for exams. He dislocated a hip and injured his ankle and face, luckily avoiding more serious injury as his car was totaled. Ledbetter had to be cut from the vehicle and was flown to a local hospital, but he's already working out and getting ready to join the team this fall. Newcomers Ledbetter and Gist aren't allowed to join the tour to Italy or the pre-tour practices, according to NCAA rules.

If fully recovered, Ledbetter will have an impact next season because of his penchant for defense. Look for him to play alongside Gilchrist in some sets and look for the Terps to step up the defensive pressure when he enters the game.

MIAMI

GETTING INSIDE

Frank(ly), Miami needed a change. Two consecutive losing seasons in the Big East and the move to the ACC opened the door to clean house ... so Miami athletic director Paul Dee swept out coach Perry Clark.

Enter 38-year-old Frank Haith, one of those young coaches whose name kept coming up on short lists for head jobs the past two years. He helped Rick Barnes build a powerhouse at Texas the last four years, and before that he was with Dave Odom at Wake Forest, so he's no stranger to the ACC.

Most importantly, though, Haith is a proven recruiter, recently named this year's top recruiter in the nation, in fact, by Rivals.com, a service that tracks the recruitment wars. And a quick influx of talent is the surest way to right the Hurricanes as they enter a new era, likely to begin in the lower echelons of the top-heavy ACC.

NOTES, QUOTES

PROGRAM OVERVIEW: Frank Haith inherits a young team that doesn't look positioned to be much of a threat in its new league, though sophomore guard Guillermo Diaz could be a star in the making.

Along with the graduation of leading scorer and rebounder Darius Rice, sophomore point guard Armondo Surratt opted to transfer. Ditto sophomore reserve forward Karron Clarke and talented fall signee C.J. Giles. The Hurricanes look inexperienced and undermanned heading into that initial ACC schedule, a lethal combination against an unforgiving slate.

Haith certainly knows how to perk up future hopes, though. In late June, he secured a verbal commitment from South Miami High hero Brian Asbury, who will enroll in 2005. The 6-6 Asbury led the Cobras to the Florida 6A state final as a junior and will be one of the state's top seniors this year.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I want to spend more time watching tapes and watching this team, but I know we are close. We have to improve in some areas. ... Our main theory is going to be that (the players) have each other's back and I want them to know that I have their back also." -- Coach Frank Haith.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

KEY RECRUITS AND TRANSFERS: Forward Raymond Hicks -- A 6-7 forward from Longview, Texas, Hicks has the ability to play on the wing but also go inside when necessary, according to Haith. Hicks, who averaged more than 21 points and 10 rebounds at Longview High, chose Miami over Indiana, Texas A&M, Baylor and Tulsa.

Guard Antoine Mayhand -- The 6-2 product of Washington, D.C., prepped last year at Massanutten Military (Va.) Academy and is the more polished of Haith's two signees. He averaged 23 points, seven rebounds and eight assists and chose Miami over Georgetown, Illinois and Arkansas. He led H.D. Woodson High to an 88-7 record and two state championship appearances in three years.

INJURY IMPACT: No significant injuries.

NORTH CAROLINA

GETTING INSIDE

Roy Williams' paper-thin bench was exposed in the NCAA Tournament loss to big, strong and deep Texas last season. The veteran coach thought he had the problem fixed for this season ... but then events beyond his control conspired to cut the Carolina recruiting class in half.

First, Matt Doherty-signee Jameson Curry of Mebane, N.C., was caught up in a drug sting and convicted of several felony counts, forcing Williams to make the tough decision to withdraw his scholarship. Curry, a high-scoring 6-2 guard, ultimately landed at Oklahoma State.

Next, 6-6 swingman J.R. Smith of Clarksburg, N.J., declared early for the NBA draft; the New Orleans Hornets took the McDonald's All-American with the 18th overall pick.

Williams still has two highly touted prospects coming and he has sold his entire returning team on a stringent off-season conditioning push to make them stronger and more durable.

Increased stamina could help the Heels down the stretch of tight games. They lost eight games by six points or less, and had three overtime setbacks in 2003-04.

NOTES, QUOTES

PROGRAM OVERVIEW: There's a comfortable feeling that things are again right in the Carolina Blue World. With Roy Williams set to begin his second season at the helm, die-hard Tar Heel fans are convinced the Heels are ready to overtake Duke as the league's preeminent basketball commodity.

Williams could enhance that image this summer, teaming with another Dean Smith-disciple, the much-hailed Larry Brown, to bring home Olympic gold.

The Tar Heels will be a fashionable pick to possibly even win the ACC this year, and that occurrence could make Williams' stock soar even as his "honeymoon" back at Chapel Hill should be ending. So much hinges this year, though, on the health of Sean May and the continued maturation of Rashad McCants.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You don't have to be a nuclear physicist to figure out that we have to guard people better, so everybody's got to work on guarding the basketball better. We want Raymond (Felton)'s shot to go in more. ... We want Sean (May) to have more stamina to be able to play longer and to make more of his shots. We'd like Jackie (Manuel) to be able to do all of the things he did last year and hopefully be more confident with his shot. ... We need Jawad (Williams) to be more of an inside presence and be able to score inside and be a better rebounder. We need Melvin (Scott) to be a better ball-handler." -- North Carolina coach Roy Williams.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

KEY RECRUITS AND TRANSFERS: Guard Quentin Thomas -- Listed anywhere between 6-2 and 6-4, Thomas is obviously long and lean and has the slashing game to go with that body. One of the top point guards on the West Coast, the Oakland native will be groomed behind Raymond Felton and have the opportunity to run the team next year.

Forward Marvin Williams -- A sure-fire star drawing comparisons to a Roy Williams recruit at Kansas, Drew Gooden. The 6-8 native of Bremerton, Wash., can play either forward spot and has a soft shooting touch from all over.

INJURY IMPACT: Junior center Sean May has taken a much more serious approach to his conditioning this off-season, hoping to shake some of the nagging injuries (back, ankle) that hampered him last season. He's running and lifting weights more than ever. The burly, 6-9, 260-pound May has all the skills to be one of the top big men in the country but he has yet to turn in a full healthy season in college.

NORTH CAROLINA STATE

GETTING INSIDE

By all accounts, the Wolfpack recruiting year was fine but the State coaching staff did its best job in simply keeping Julius Hodge around for another season.

The league's reigning player of the year, the 6-7 Hodge and his all-around game would have made him a prime target in the NBA draft. But Hodge opted to return for his senior season in Raleigh, and that fact alone again makes State a leading contender.

The ultra-competitive Hodge was second in the conference in scoring at 18.2 points per game, ranked seventh in assists (3.6), ninth in rebounding (6.4), fourth in free throw percentage (.828) and led the ACC in field goal percentage (.507).

Word is he's working harder in the weight room than ever and is now consistently weighing in at 200 pounds on that lanky, hard-to-guard frame -- bad news around a league that already had trouble containing him.

NOTES, QUOTES

PROGRAM OVERVIEW: Coach Herb Sendek seems to have weathered the storm of some lean years at N.C. State. Suddenly, the Pack has three consecutive upper division finishes in the top basketball league in the land, including last season's surprising second-place showing.

Now entering his ninth season at State, Sendek has three consecutive NCAA appearances and two trips to the ACC final in the past three years.

The constant question is can the Pack consistently recruit the big-time players to compete with Duke and Carolina year-in and year-out. At least the last couple of seasons, the answer is an emphatic "yes."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You always want to do better, you always want to be further ahead. We feel like we've made steady and continued progress. I think we really had a good season this past year. Even our earlier teams that didn't cross that magical threshold of the NCAA Tournament can be looked on retrospectively with great pride because those guys helped to build a bridge to where we are now." -- Coach Herb Sendek.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

KEY RECRUITS AND TRANSFERS: Guard Tony Bethel -- Started two years at Georgetown before transferring to State last fall. The 6-2 point guard averaged 10.5 points, 3.1 assists and played over 30 minutes a game in his two seasons with the Hoyas. Can step right in and help fill the void left by the graduation of Scooter Sherrill.

Forward Andrew Brackman -- A 6-10 power forward, Brackman is also a big-time baseball prospect and plans to play both sports for the Pack. He starred at Cincinnati's Moeller High School and has a world of potential, particularly if Herb Sendek could keep him just on the hardwoods.

Forward Gavin Grant -- Was a high school teammate of Julius Hodge. The 6-7 Bronx native has the combination of skills -- scoring, passing, moving without the ball -- to be effective in the Pack's Princeton-styled offense.

Center Cedric Simmons -- Rated the top prospect in the state, the 6-10 Simmons started at West Brunswick High in Shallotte, N.C., and needs to have an immediate impact to help bolster State's suspect inside game. Quick and athletic, Simmons could be a star sooner rather than later.

INJURY IMPACT: Junior Ilian Evtimov, who missed the entire 2002-03 season with a torn ACL, had surgery on his other knee in mid-June. Sendek estimated a six-week rehabilitation for the crafty Bulgarian forward, a real key in State's motion offense. Evtimov had surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus but is expected back on the court by the end of July. Another international import, sophomore guard Engin Atsur, is also expected back for the fall semester in mid-August despite his appointment to the Turkish National Team. Atsur will get to play a limited schedule with that squad, including their August 8 meeting with the U.S. National Team.

VIRGINIA

GETTING INSIDE

Pete Gillen got a vote of confidence from his athletic director and the school president after a thorough review of the Cavalier basketball program, but that doesn't mean the scrutiny is over for the veteran coach.

Gillen took the Cavaliers to postseason play for the fifth consecutive season last year, but for the fourth time, that trip was to the NIT. Virginia was 18-13 overall, reaching the second round of the NIT, and the critics were in full voice by the end of the season.

Since then, the only notable changes in the program have been the departures of assistant coaches Rod Jensen and Scott Shepherd. Veteran John Fitzpatrick, most recently on the Houston Cougars' staff, was hired, along with Mark Byington, who becomes the administrative assistant. Former administrative aide Alexis Sherard moves up into the third assistant's job.

Gillen actively pursued former Clemson head coach Larry Shyatt to join his staff, but Shyatt ultimately landed at Florida, where Shyatt felt there was more stability on the coaching staff.

NOTES, QUOTES

PROGRAM OVERVIEW: Pete Gillen has four starters and eight of his top 11 players back, though valuable junior reserve forward Derrick Byars has left the program.

Byars, who averaged 7.5 points and 3.4 rebounds, is transferring to Vanderbilt, where he will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

Freshmen T.J. Bannister and J.R. Reynolds both moved into starring roles down the stretch last season as Virginia won five of its last eight games. While young last season, the Cavs improved their once-porous defense and can also look forward to the return of four of the top five top scorers this season.

Looking even further ahead, the new, $130 million, state-of-the-art John Tudor Jones Arena is scheduled to open on campus in 2006.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think this is an underrated class and that's fine. I don't mind that. I agree, sometimes our classes have been overrated, but I think this one's better than perceived." -- Coach Pete Gillen on the incoming recruiting class.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

KEY RECRUITS AND TRANSFERS: Forward Adrian Joseph -- A 6-7 forward originally from Trinidad, Joseph played this past year at Brewster Academy in New Jersey. Joseph has slipped through the cracks for recruiting analysts because he was too old to continue playing in high school in New Jersey. A great run-and-score player and superb defender, Joseph was high on Maryland's recruiting list, too, but got away during the Terps' ill-fated pursuit of Rudy Gay.

Guard Sean Singletary -- The 5-11 guard is the key signee coming aboard. The Philadelphia product is the highly touted point guard that Virginia has been desperate for since injuries ruined Majestic Mapp's career four years ago. Singletary may not beat out T.J. Bannister next year but he is the future for Virginia and Gillen.

Center Tunji Soroye -- The 6-11 Nigerian was a late addition to the class. He averaged 11.2 points and 8.9 rebounds at Montrose (Md.) Christian School last year and led the team to a two-year record of 45-5. Soroye is a potentially dominant shot-blocker but his game is raw, probably too raw for him to help much this season.

INJURY IMPACT: Senior forward Devin Smith was plagued by a bad back through the latter part of last season, missing four complete games and limited in several others. His healthy return -- as a 6-5 linchpin on both ends of the court -- is a key. He averaged 12.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, second to senior center Elton Brown in both categories.

VIRGINIA TECH

GETTING INSIDE

Virginia Tech finally aligning with its regional rivals in the ACC is arguably the biggest thing to ever happen to the Hokies. But when Tech takes to the hardwoods this winter, it will be thinking small.

Power forward Bryant Matthews has left for the NBA, and there's no heir apparent in the program, so look for adaptable coach Seth Greenberg to run 6-8 sophomore Coleman Collins out on the floor with four guards.

Tech will miss Matthews, who averaged 22.1 points and 8.9 rebounds last season and signed a free agent deal with Detroit.

Greenberg is counting on senior Carlos Dixon and incoming freshman Marquie Cooke to be among his offensive leaders, creating an inside game by attacking the basket. On defense, Greenberg says the diminutive Hokies must rebound by committee, and cover the court and low-posting opponents with quickness.

NOTES, QUOTES

PROGRAM OVERVIEW: Tech enjoyed its first winning season in four years, tying for eighth place in the Big East and qualifying for the league tournament for the first time. The Hokies finished 15-14 overall and 7-9 in the Big East in their first season under Seth Greenberg, who has breathed a little life into the once-proud program that had eased into Tech football's shadow in the past 20 years.

Greenberg's easy-going manner has made him popular with players and fans, who are anxious to fill Cassell Coliseum to boo the likes of Duke and Carolina, regional teams they've watched from afar with envy for so many years.

Tech has been a basketball force before and it can happen again, but Greenberg needs some more players, especially up front.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I have no problem playing three guards and a skilled forward. Duke's done it for years with (Carlos) Boozer and (Shane) Battier. That's a style that's conducive to be successful in the ACC. We're just going to play with four guards." -- Coach Seth Greenberg to The Roanoke Times.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

KEY RECRUITS AND TRANSFERS: Guard Marquie Cooke -- Rated the top prospect in Virginia, the 6-3 Cooke is the impact-type offensive force the Hokies had to land this year. They may have been aided by Virginia's pursuit of Pennsylvania point Sean Singletary, but for a program that hadn't landed the consensus top player in the state since Dell Curry came aboard in 1982, no one is complaining.

Forward Deron Washington -- Washington is a 6-7 wing player from New Orleans and could push for duty in the guard-heavy rotation at Tech. A small forward, he averaged nearly 15 points and seven rebounds at National Christian Academy in Fort Washington, Md., this past season. Washington has athletic bloodlines. His father, Lionel, is a former NFL cornerback and a current coach with the Green Bay Packers.

Forward Wynton Witherspoon -- A 6-7 wing from Duluth, Ga., Witherspoon was a late addition to the class after averaging 24.1 points and 6.8 rebounds at Berkmar High School. He can play all three perimeter positions and Seth Greenberg loves his seven-foot wing span. Witherspoon's and Washington's prospects for playing time have already been boosted with the dismissal of 6-7 Justin Holt. Holt, a transfer from Tacoma (Wash.) Community College who had yet to play at Tech, was dismissed for an unspecified violation of team rules.

INJURY IMPACT: The 6-7 Carlos Dixon, Tech's lone senior, missed all of last season with a fractured foot. He will be a key after averaging 13.8 points per game the previous season.

Actually, Tech may have another senior, too. Football quarterback Bryan Randall came over and helped the hardwood Hokies last season with his stable demeanor and solid, though, limited game contributions. He could be back this year, too, if his NFL prospects don't limit his options.

WAKE FOREST

GETTING INSIDE

Any discussion of the top programs in the ACC this year needs to start with Wake Forest.

Point guard Chris Paul was one of the top freshmen in the country last season, shooting guard Justin Gray is one of the nation's most dangerous scorers and senior swing guard Taron Downey is a proven team leader.

And for all that, the Demon Deacons' real strength is in the paint.

While many college teams struggle to come up with enough big men to run a traditional front line of two forwards and one center, Wake Forest has an embarrassment of riches with low posts Eric Williams, Vytas Danelius and Kyle Visser, underrated Jamaal Levy and solid Trent Strickland.

Another potential member of the rotation, 6-9 sophomore Todd Hendley, decided to transfer this summer, but Wake can go big or run a small three-guard lineup. The Deacs can go back and forth perhaps more effectively than any team in the country.

NOTES, QUOTES

PROGRAM OVERVIEW: The Demon Deacons reached the NCAA Sweet Sixteen last year for the first time since 1997, part of a wondrous upward arc the past three seasons under coach Skip Prosser.

Prosser's Wake squads have won 21, 25 and 21 games in the past three years, becoming a fixture at the top or near the top of the standings. Last year, they did it with no scholarship seniors so now Prosser has his starting five back intact, plus all his key subs.

Injuries hurt that depth last season but if healthy this year, no ACC team can match the Deacs man-for-man up and down the line.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We would like to get into a rotation of playing four or four and a half post forwards. I think (we) have the ability to have a big, strong front line with some experience with Vytas (Danelius) and Jamaal (Levy) being seniors, Eric (Williams) and Chris (Ellis) being juniors, and Kyle (Visser) with a year under his belt. We could safely play some big, strong guys in that front line." -- Coach Skip Prosser.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

KEY RECRUITS AND TRANSFERS: Forward Cameron Stanley -- The 6-7 forward was Wake Forest's lone signee. Stanley, from Millbrook High School in Raleigh, N.C., saw his stock jump two years ago after an all-star performance at the ABCD camp in Teaneck, N.J. He has worked hard to develop a consistent perimeter game to go with his explosive forays to the hoop.

INJURY IMPACT: The 6-9 Chris Ellis had surgery on his fractured right foot in April, an injury originally suffered last October at Wake's first practice. He didn't play until Dec. 30, and wasn't nearly as mobile and effective as he had been prior to the screw being placed to hold the bones together. Ellis, son of former NBA star Dale Ellis, is recovering well and should be ready to play more minutes this year.

Prosser also hopes the 6-9 Vytas Danelius, a 2002-03 all-conference pick, is ready to return to form after an injury-plagued junior season. Danelius missed six games with a nagging high ankle sprain that limited his effectiveness last season. If Danelius can battle all the way back, he and big Eric Williams will be a tough tandem to handle.


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