At the end of every season, we always review the year with our coaches. There is much interest in the status of our men’s basketball program and how we will return to a championship caliber program. Let me share my thoughts about our vision for the program, where we are today and our expectations for the future.
Our goals for our basketball program have never wavered. It is our expectation to have a sustainable championship-caliber program. Our win-loss record the last few years has not been what we want or expect. However, building a sustainable championship caliber program takes a certain approach. There are no shortcuts nor should there be at Wake Forest. The foundation must be strong for a championship program to emerge. That foundation has been established.
When we become a championship program again, it will be the result of the decisions that have been made by Jeff Bzdelik and his staff during their time with us. The primary factor that will lead us to success are student-athletes who are not only outstanding players but also good students; good citizens who relate to our student body and fans, and are committed to achieving excellence both on and off the court. Our players have those qualities. There are many reasons to be encouraged about our future but at the top of the list are our returning players. They are fine representatives of our program and university. And they happen to be very good basketball players. They are the foundation upon which we will continue to build our program.
Future recruits will also contribute to our success. They will play important roles for us and, again, are individuals who our students and fans will embrace. Our team chemistry that was evident this year will continue to be a positive force with the additions to our team over the next couple years.
Our players will continue to develop and improve through hard work and dedication just as they did throughout this season. This year 60% of our minutes were played by freshmen. We have not found another team that played freshmen so many minutes. The next highest percentage in the ACC was Georgia Tech with their freshmen playing just over 40% of their minutes. Miami, the ACC regular season and tournament champion, played their freshmen only 4% of the total minutes. Additionally, the top teams in the country generally played their freshmen minimal minutes. Experience does matter. Our freshmen gained valuable experience this year that will pay dividends in future years.
One of the trademarks of a young team is difficulty winning on the road. That was certainly evident with our team. We had some good wins at home (Xavier, Virginia, No. 18 NC State and No. 2 Miami). We also played well against other teams but did not finish those games (Duke, Georgia Tech, Seton Hall, and road games at Richmond, Boston College and Virginia Tech). As we mature, we will learn to finish those games both at home and on the road.
This year our team improved its home record with an 11-5 mark after having been 9-7 and 7-12 the last two years. A major factor in that improvement was the home court advantage that our fans established with their enthusiasm and passion. Our student attendance increased 55% from the previous year. We want to continue to grow our student attendance which we will do as our players continue to make positive contributions on campus.
It’s not only students who provided the improved atmosphere at the Joel. Our fans helped to motivate the team through their boisterous support that played a major part in winning a number of home games this year. In fact, our overall attendance increased 11% this year. Our fans are adopting this team and will continue to be a positive influence on the outcome of our games.
Next year we will return to our historical competitiveness. To do that we will need to be tough to beat at home and win more road games. That will require physical and mental toughness from everyone on our team. Our players will rise to meet that challenge through the training that they will receive in the off-season.
In future years, we will challenge for ACC Championships and advance to the NCAA Tournament. With the direction of our program, there is every reason to expect that to happen in the near future. Ultimately, we are determined to win ACC Championships and advance deep into the NCAA Tournament. Those are all realistic goals that our program is building to achieve.
The foundation has been established to return to our historical competitiveness and future championships. I look forward to continuing the journey with you next year!