Day 8: Wake Forest | Traveling Violations
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – In being named a preseason All-American, Chris Paul received more votes than any other player. It ostensibly makes the Wake Forest point guard the leading candidate for national player of the year honors.
"I don't know why," said the 6-foot sophomore Wednesday before practice here at Lawrence Joel Coliseum. "Anything I've done, everything I've accomplished is because of my teammates.… They make me look good. They make it a lot easier during the game."
Anyone who knows Paul knows this isn't just talk. As comfortable as he is taking over games on the court – his 14.4 points per game helped lead the Demon Deacons to the Sweet 16 last year – he would rather share the credit afterward.
The preseason All-American announcement actually made him feel a bit uncomfortable. He wishes everyone would focus instead on Wake being ranked No. 2 in the nation.
"I want my teammates to know it is never about me," Paul said. "Every magazine picture, every newspaper clip, I always have Wake Forest on my chest."
Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser isn't sure he can come up with a better team leader or representative of his program.
"If the kid never played a second of basketball, Wake Forest University would be a better place [because] he attended school here," Prosser said. "He is that good of a person."
With that Prosser paused.
"I'm glad he plays basketball though."
With Wake Forest fans and local attorneys Todd Rhodes and Mark Leach as our guides, lunch was convened at Little Richard's Lexington BBQ in Winston-Salem.
Rhodes loves BBQ almost as much as he loves the Demon Deacons. First he explained to us the difference between West Carolina 'cue and East Carolina 'cue (West has chopped meat and a ketchup-based sauce).
"Then they have mayonnaise-based slaw," Rhodes said. "That is an insult to a good piece of pork. We use BBQ slaw."
I told him he took this seriously.
"You walk in here and you're saying, 'I'm looking a case of heartburn in the eyes.' And I'm saying, bring the pain.'"
Little Richard's was incredible. The pork was tender, the sauce a bit zingy and the hush puppies delectable. Knife-and-fork-man Bret Bearup somehow had room to wrap things up with some banana cream pie. We think he liked it, but we couldn't make out what he said between mouthfuls.
"Ask the waitress for a gurney," Bearup said afterward.
Rhodes claims his two favorite BBQ joints are Richard's and Gary's, both in his hometown of Salisbury, N.C. He points out that you can only trust a place that uses a first name only. So Gary's is fine. But the Hog Hut or Smith's isn't.
"The last name is a little too gentrified," Rhodes said. "You've got to be suspicious of that."
May the Lord bless this man.
Prosser is a native of Carnegie, Pa., just outside Pittsburgh. That makes him a die-hard Steelers fan and, considering the Steelers' 7-1 start to the season, a very happy person.
"Proof there is God and all is right with the world," Prosser smiled.
Valued Reader Email
Your correspondence, with my response in italics:
Dan – I wanted to comment on the good things in West Virginia. My grandparents are from West Columbia, WV, which is in Mason County near the Ohio border of Gallipolis, OH, and Point Pleasant, WV.
You don't find Hillbilly Hot Dogs just anywhere. I went to a hymn sing at an old country church, and that was the main course. They're something I've eaten my whole life, thinking it was normal. It consists of a normal hot dog, topped with hot dog chili and coleslaw. Tastes great!
Of course I'm a big fan of coon-hunting as well, with Blueticks naturally.
Well there you go.
Dan – Waffle & Steak "is" a Waffle House franchise. You must have seen one in Indiana, where the pre-existing Waffle House of Indiana has dibs on that name.
Actually it was right over the border near Louisville … but why have Waffle House and Waffle & Steak? It makes no sense. It sounds like the movie "Coming to America": See, they're McDonald's, I'm McDowell's. They got the Golden Arches, mine is the Golden Arcs.
Wake has a ton of talent and depth, which can make for some strong, spirited practices such as Wednesday's. If you don't bring it every day with this crew, you will be exposed.
Wake's practices also are notable because Prosser has one of the finest staffs in the country. Associate coach Jeff Battle has been with him 12 seasons and has turned down some head coaching opportunities to stay. Assistant Dino Gaudio is a two-time college head coach, and 29-year-old Pat Kelsey played for Prosser at Xavier.
All three do a ton of teaching, which isn't always the case with assistant coaches, who often are recruiters first.
Wake Forest will host Winston-Salem State Thursday night in a historic exhibition game. The two schools are located just five miles apart but have never competed against each other in any sport.
Winston-Salem State is a historically black university and has a proud basketball tradition thanks to legendary coach Clarence "Big House" Gaines. Back in the 1960s, when Wake was all-white, Deacon players Billy Packer and Len Chappell used to go over to W-S State and play pickup ball.
But never did the two schools play, which is something Prosser is excited to help remedy. The two schools even held a luncheon the other day. Five hundred people showed up.
"This city has taken a bunch of hits, whether it is tobacco or whatever," Prosser says. "[The game] can be a real point of pride for this city. Thursday, 14,000 people in Winston-Salem will either be rooting for Wake or Winston-Salem State.
"I think it is great."
As a Winston-Salem native, Chris Paul knows WSSU well. "Big House" Gaines was a regular at a Chevron service station that Paul's grandfather, Nathaniel Jones, owned. And through the years Paul attended scores of basketball and football games. He is looking forward to seeing WSSU's big-time band.
"Oooh, they are good," he said.
In case you were wondering what Bearup sometimes talks about during long drives, consider his theory on what would happen if aliens came and conquered the world:
"We'd make great pets … we are intelligent, loyal and can be very entertaining."
The atmosphere at Wake's home court, Joel Lawrence Coliseum, has improved in recent years. Among the North Carolina ACC schools, Wake long has had the most meager home-court advantage.
But after a game two years ago at Marquette during which the crowd was nuts, Wake assistant Pat Kelsey got in touch with the MU marketing people to figure out how to jazz things up. With a game against Duke just four days away, Kelsey convinced Prosser and Wake to gamble and then got the MU marketing guy to travel to Winston-Salem.
The result was loud music, inflatable mascots and tie-dye shirts for the "Screamin' Deacons" student section. The Demon Deacon rode a Harley-Davidson on to the court. The place was electric and Wake beat Duke for the first time in 14 tries.
Finally the Deacs have a true home-court advantage.
"Things are exponentially better now," Prosser says.
For the Wake Forest media guide the players were asked if they could be on any magazine cover, which would they choose? Most answered GQ or ESPN. Lithuanian Vytas Danelius had a different take:
"SkyMall," the in-flight shopping guide.
Total mileage thus far: 1,691.9 miles.
Next campaign stop: Durham, N.C.