Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

John Collins growth key to replacing lost production for Deacs

Wake Forest basketball coach Danny Manning talked with the media last week about replacing lost production with the graduation of Devin Thomas, and how the Deacs look to improve this season.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — With the graduation of Codi Miller-McIntyre and Devin Thomas and the addition of six new players who have a chance to cracking the rotation, Danny Manning’s Deacs have the look of an entirely different team.

Given the results of the last two years, that’s a welcome change for both Manning and Wake fans, as the squad is now comprised nearly entirely of players the third-year head coach has brought aboard himself.

Manning answered questions from the media during Wake Forest basketball media day last week.

On what evidence there is the Deacs will improve this season

Manning: “We’re a work in progress. There’s no doubt about what. When you look at what we lost, we lost guys that were significant contributors to this program for a very long time. But we’re excited about the guys that we do have. We’ve got a group that will go out, play hard, play unselfish and compete. I think we’re going to give ourselves a chance to win a lot of games because of that.

“You don’t replace Devin and Codi with freshmen most of the time. That’s why we think the addition of the two transfers in Keyshawn (Woods) and Austin (Arians) will help offset that. There’s no doubt we’re going to miss them, just like North Carolina is going to miss Marcus Paige. Joel Berry is a nice player, but Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson are going to be missed a little bit there. The league we play in is the best league in basketball. We started out well last year and when we got to the league, we faltered. We have to make sure we continue to put ourselves in situations we did last year, but make our free throws down the stretch and take better care of the basketball. If we do that, we’ll be very happy.”

On how to replace Thomas’ production

Manning: “For John (Collins) it comes down to initial defensive positioning. That’s very important to him. I think he learned a lot last year. I think all freshmen learn as they go that freshman year. For him it’s going to be playing defense before his man catches the ball. A lot of times in high school, especially big guys, you stand behind the guy you’re guarding and when he shoots it you try to alter or block the shot. Guys are too good at the collegiate level for that. He’s really made strides in that area, but he needs to continue to get better. But it’s about being a better position rebounder and defender for him.

“Across the board, we’re going to need more on the glass from Dinos (Mitolgou). Dinos’ body has changed. He’s about 250-255 right now. He came in at 219. On the block, Dinos does have a nice series of moves. We need to get him down there a little bit more, but he’s certainly someone that has to rebound the ball for us as well.

“Then we have to do a good job rebounding the ball from our guard spot. I think (Bryant) Crawford will do a good job. I think Keyshawn has a nose for the ball, and Austin (Arians) will get in there as well. Doral (Moore), Sam (Japhet-Mathias), Greg (McClinton), Donovan (Mitchell) — all of our big guys that are playing must do a good job of getting to the glass and making a concerted effort night-in and night-out. The last two years we did have a warrior going to rebound the basketball in Devin Thomas.”

On getting the team to buy in

Manning: “I don’t think the buying in is the hard part now, because most of the guys on the team, we recruited. That’s no disrespect to the guys in the past, but it is what it is. The Bahamas trip was very good for us. We got a chance to implement system, play and do some good things. We were over there for five days. One of the biggest things I walked away from that trip with was that three of those nights I didn’t get our guys a curfew. That’s how comfortable and how much I trust this group. That speaks volumes when the legal age for everything there is 18.”

On John Collins ability to find his teammates out of the post

Manning: “We still want to have paint touches. It doesn’t matter who our post player is. You want to break down the defense by getting into the paint and making a good decision from there. By the pass or by the dribble, we always talk about getting good paint touches. We’re going to throw the ball inside and hopefully our guys have a good angle to score inside. If they don’t have it, hopefully they will fan it out to one of their teammates and we’ll go from there.”

On if there’s a better chance this season those kickouts will finish with made shots

Manning: “I hope so. The last two years, we’ve had two guys that have been consistent 3-point shooters for us, in Dinos and Mitch (Wilbekin). This is the first year we’ve felt like we’ve got six-to-seven guys that are capable of making the shot anytime they touch the ball, if they catch it in rhythm and are open.”

On Bryant Crawford

Manning: “He’s a fearless competitor. That is a great attribute, but sometimes it’s a big weakness for him as well. He just needs to be more calculated with the risk plays that he makes sometimes. But you love his spirit, because he’s going to go out there and try to make something happen. Now, with having more shooters around him that will either open up more lanes for him to drive, or be able to distribute the ball in a more balanced fashion because we have more capable shooters on the court.

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