Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Prosser: Deacons need wake-up

Coach worried about youth, inexperience

By David Droschak
The Associated Press

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Wake Forest is the nation's top rebounding team, is excellent from the foul line and can rely on star Josh Howard when the game gets tight. Sounds like a nice mix for a serious run in the NCAA tournament. But coach Skip Prosser is worried about his team's youth and lack of postseason experience heading into Friday's game against East Tennessee State in the East Regional in Tampa, Fla.

After starting five seniors in last year's NCAAs, the second-seeded Demon Deacons (24-5) have used four freshmen in their eight-man rotation en route to the school's first outright ACC title in 41 years.

On the surface, it appears Justin Gray, Eric Williams, Chris Ellis and Trent Strickland have enough seasoning to play winning postseason basketball.

Prosser isn't convinced.

"The tournament is an unbelievable experience," Prosser said. "I tell the kids it's like three weeks of the Super Bowl. You can react to it better if you've done it a few times. We have a lot of guys who have not been a part of that and how we react will be very interesting."

Prosser's tourney strategy won't change from a season ago, when Wake Forest beat Pepperdine before losing to Oregon 92-87 in one of the event's more entertaining games.

"Teams have a tendency to draw things back at tournament time. We try to be different, we try to be more aggressive, take more risks as opposed to taking less," he said.

A key for Wake Forest will be Williams, the club's 270-pound center who has gotten into foul trouble in most games.

"It's hard to guard, score and rebound when you're sitting over there talking to me," Prosser said. "We're going to run him out there and we'll see how effective he can be."

While the 6-foot-6 Howard is one of the nation's best and most versatile players, Wake Forest's backcourt is still a question mark.

"Some days I'm really comfortable with them, other days less so," Prosser said of sophomore Taron Downey and Gray.

Downey was solid in the tournament in 2002 with nine assists and no turnovers in a combined 49 minutes. Meanwhile, Gray rebounded from a broken jaw in January to make the ACC's all-freshman team.

"The freshmen have been playing well for us the whole season," Downey said. "I don't think that will change just because we're in the NCAA tournament. I don't expect anything less from them now."

Prosser doesn't believe his team has lost any momentum by bowing out in the ACC tournament semifinals after closing the regular season winning 11 of 12 league games.

"It starts for real this week," Gray said. "Until now, when we lost, we always knew we were going to play again. It's not that way now."

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