ACC Preview: Wake Forest

<i>Inside Carolina</i> continues its preview of the ACC with today's focus on Wake Forest - Q&As with star wing Josh Howard and coach Skip Prosser.

Josh Howard

How difficult is it to be a leader not knowing if you'll be on the court full time because of you injury?

I think it will be more of me speaking up more. A lot of folks know that I don't talk that much outside of basketball. But I am going to have to if I plan on having a good season. I have to help the freshmen learn and all.

It was kind of hard at first but I've picked up on it [speaking out]. I spent the summer with them and talk to them a lot. It's something new.

How do you want to get better as a leader?

Vocally. I think I am a great leader by example. I think I go hard every play. I learned that from Coach Prosser when he first got there – to go hard. I know when a person sees me going hard, I think they will pick up on it and go hard every play. Like I said, vocally, that's my weakness and I just need to speak more.

What have you done to become more of a vocal leader?

When I see something wrong, say it and let them know. When coach gets on a freshman real bad, I come behind him and tell them that everything's going to be ok and try to tell them how to do it or when to do it.

Have you always been reserved and shy?

Outside of basketball? I would say so. People that know me know I am a silly guy when they get to know me I mean. I keep a lot of stuff in and it's not good to keep it in. I am trying to learn to let it out when I need to let it out.

Is there any chance of redshirting? Is that your call? When would you have to make that call?

It's my call. I think you can play a certain amount of games so if it gets down to it, which I don't think it will because my leg has gotten a whole lot better. I am able to play through some pain. I don't think I am going to have to worry about that [redshirting] but if it continues to hurt or gets any worse, that will come up to the top of the list. Right now, it's waaay waaaay [away].

You play through pain, but at some point you have to sit down. How is affecting you mentally?

It frustrates me because like I said, I can only practice for thirty or forty five minutes and I have to sit down and watch the team practice. Mentally, I have gotten used to it. I can't say [what will happen] if it continues like this. I think I am supposed to an hour or hour and a half this next week so we'll see how it goes. I am slowly progressing, trying to play as long as I can and see how it goes.

Not only are you going to be a leader but you'll be expected to contribute your usual offense and you are also probably one of the better defensive players in the league. Given that and your injury, you are going to be a target for other teams since you are the leader of Wake Forest, how much of that weighs on your mind and how much do you think about this being your last year at Wake with all this?

I expected it [being the leader] and Coach Prosser basically told me at the end of last season that this is what was going to happen. It was going to be all on my shoulders. Me and Steve [Lepore] are going to have to carry the team. I am the type of person that I don't let too much get to me. I know my legs hurt. I am hoping it is going to get better and I think it will. The pressure comes along with the job. I am going to have to deal with it.

How is the ACC race shaping up in your opinion?

It's wide open to me. Any team could win. I think for the team that is going to win, their freshmen and young guys are going to have to grow up pretty fast. I am trying to get our young guys to grow up fast so they can get out there and compete for this ACC Championship.

How exciting is that for your team when probably the top six teams can win the ACC?

I think it's real exciting. Night in and night out, each game in the conference is going to be watched. I think whoever wins the last couple games is going to be the winner.

Is there a favorite?

Of course, there is always a favorite. Duke, Carolina, Maryland, those three. This year, I think anybody, NC State, Georgia Tech, Florida State or us, can win.

How do you view this as a chance for Wake Forest to get up there and win?

I think it's a big chance. Like I said, Steve and I get healthy, the freshmen, sophomores and juniors keep playing hard like they have, we've got just as good a chance as anybody.

What kind of impact is Eric Williams making?

He's taking up a lot of space. Of course, they make the freshman mistakes and his made his. Still learning plays. Once they learn it, I think everything is going to click and go well. I am looking forward to a big season.

Since the young guys played so much last year in big games and in tough situations, do you feel like this year heading into practice, you aren't really starting anew, but more of picking up where you left off last season?

That's exactly right. Trying to get those freshmen to learn and get them to fit in. That's what everybody is working to do. They are making their mistakes and we are going to have to correct them. As soon as they get to know what they have to do when they have to do it, I think we can go far like we did last year, maybe even further.

How has you life changed since you the Maryland game last year with the timeout?

That was in the back of my mind. It hasn't changed at all though. I just know not to call time out anymore. That's about it. It was a mistake. The next time I go up there, I'll play as hard as I did. I rebounded well.

How good can Wake Forest be?

I think we'll be one of the top teams in the nation. I've seen us practice every day, I see what we can do. We have got to go out there and prove to everybody else what we can do.

Head coach Skip Prosser

On recruiting at Wake

We are not as displaced as we were at Xavier. A Midwestern school in an eastern league. We can have a natural recruiting base right here in North Carolina. So we have tried to go inside out. There was no grand design where we said we were going to recruit all these kids from North Carolina. It just worked out that way. Kids and coaches in this state, parents in this state, just understand what a great school Wake Forest is. The blend of that great school and the appeal of playing in the ACC, which they have been inculcated with almost since birth, I think it has really helped us in terms of recruiting the state of North Carolina.

When you come to a new league, do you feel it's necessary to work the refs?

I'm not smart enough to work the refs (laughter). I've dealt with the referees pretty much the same way since 1972 in Wheeling, West Virginia. Some guys are really good at that. I don't know. I get advice all the time, you know you've got to carve out your turf with the referees and you better yell at that guy because the other guy down there is yelling at them. We used to have great battles with Coach [Bob] Huggins. He was interesting with the officials. And Coach Cheney at Temple when I was at X. But I don't have any grand scheme or design on how to "work the refs." I think for the most part, they don't care who wins or loses and I think they try hard to do a great job.

But when you are on the sidelines, when you feel they miss something, you'll let them know? Other than that, you pretty much let them go?

Yea. I think we have the best referees in the country and I haven't found anything to dispel that.

Do you ever look down the sidelines and shake your head and tell the other guy to just sit down? There are guys that all game long work them.

Nah. After dealing the Bobby [Huggins] and Coach Cheney, I've seen a lot of guys stand up for a whole game and talk to the officials. So, I'm somewhat immune to that.

Can you comment on Josh Howard's situation?

It's minute to minute. He practices for a few minutes and goes as long as he can and then he sits down. I wish I could say it's day to day or even week to week, but it's not.

How will the team deal with it if he's not able to go?

Well, we are going to try and win as many as we can. Coach Gillen used to tell me, "the dogs may bark but the caravan moves on." So, if he's able to go, that will really help us, but if not, we have to make the adjustments and try and win as many as we can.

Is there a feeling that this league is going to be down this year?

I don't think so. You guys have been around this league a lot longer than I have. Down from what? Down from winning the national championship two years in a row? Are we going to win a third one? I don't know. If we don't win a third national championship, does that mean it's down? I think that's up to you guys to define. A lot will shake out in the early season. From Wake's perspective, we have to open up against the co-champs of the Ivy League, then one of the top teams in the Atlantic 10 and one of the top teams in the Big Ten right out of the gate. So I think how everyone does in the those early season games. It's a bit unfair because of all the young guys, but I think the league will be much stronger in January and February than it will be in late November and December. I still think that will be how people judge the league. Only time will tell.

Is there any thoughts to Josh Howard redshirting?

Not really. He's set to graduate on time and I don't think we are at that point yet. There has been a lot of talk about it in the media and stuff like that, but Josh and I really haven't. I threaten with it once and a while (laughter).

How good can he be at 100 percent?

I wouldn't trade him for anybody in the ACC which means there aren't a whole lot of players I'd trade him for in the country when he's a 100%.

As a coach, how do you deal with him being minute to minute?

Well, I try to deal with it as best I can. I'd be less than honest if I said it was easy to deal with. It makes your preparation difficult. It makes practice planning difficult. Even scheming a little difficult because he's a pretty good option both offensively and defensively. But there's not a whole lot we can do about it.

Is there anyone that can step in a provide similar things he does?

As well as he can? No. Nobody on our team. He's extremely talented and extremely experienced. I think we have some very talented guys. Are they as talented as Josh? That remains to be seen. Without question, they aren't any near as experienced as Josh. So I don't think that can happen right now.

Despite the injury, has Josh made significant improvement?

I know one thing, in the shooting drills, he is really shooting the ball well from the perimeter. His shot looks so much better than it did at this time last year. You are surprised when it's not a smooth release and the ball doesn't go in. It's hard to tell about the other things because he's done them so little.

Does Josh make the decision whether or not to play or do the doctor's decide?

As I said, he's had a multitude of opinions, a battery of specialists have looked at it. But ultimately, he's the only one who knows his level of pain. So, again, it's more his decision than anyone else.

Can you discuss the point guard position, who do you see as your point guard? Who do you expect to lead the team on the floor?

Right now, Taron Downey. Justin Gray was really pushing him pretty hard but Justin has been out the past week with an injury. I think that's really set Justin back.

In terms of Eric Williams, he's someone who over the past few years when he was at Rolesville, he's gotten in better and better shape each year. How has he gone from when you saw him in high school to where he is now and can he handle a ‘fast' ACC?

I think so. He still has a ways to go but I think most freshmen do. He still has three weeks to go. It really hurt him being out this week with the injury. I really think that if you put a gun to his head, he would have tried to scrimmage yesterday. But we felt discretion was a better part of valor and another day today, to get better. I think in the next couple of weeks, barring another injury, I think he'll get in better shape and be more able to contribute.

Is he someone that could start in the middle for you?


Who else will help out in the post?

I think we'll have to play three, Chris Ellis, Vytas [Danelius] and maybe even Jamal Levy at times. We know he's not a prototypical power forward, but again, against some teams, you need a guy like that to guard someone similar on the other team.

What is the basketball environment like down here as compared to Cincinnati?

Different. Cincinnati is a great college basketball town. I mean, it's nothing for Xavier and Cincinnati to sell out 11 and 13 thousand the same night. But you are also talking about the metropolitan area of a million people. So, I think this is a great basketball region. In Cincinnati, you are either a Cincinnati fan or an Xavier fan. Where here, you are maybe divided up with Carolina and State the huge State Universities. Obviously there are a lot of Carolina and State fans in Winston Salem. Because of the recent success of Duke, you see a lot of Duke fans too. You don't have an ownership of the town that I think would be nice to have happen in Winston Salem. I think tat is something that maybe in inculcated as well and will never change.

How are you trying to make Wake Forest a more popular thing?

Marketing has a lot to do with that. I think the city has to want that to happen. I think that Wake Forest University, and again, you are talking about a guy that's only been down here a year, but Wake Forest means so much to the city of Winston Salem. The leading employer, the hospital, whatever. I think it would be good that if the University athletically meant a lot to the city as well and not just the business aspect.

Inside Carolina Top Stories