Senior Travis McKie has been an integral part of the Wake Forest basketball team since he arrived in 2010, and is set to begin his senior season with the most points, rebounds and career starts of any returning ACC player. Throughout his career, McKie has been counted on to fill many roles within the Demon Deacon program, but there is one role in particular he is ready to shed:
Part of McKie's responsibilities last season were to help assimilate the seven new players that arrived on campus in the fall of 2012. Not only were the "Sensational Seven" new to the team, but they were new to the entire college experience.
They needed help.
"Last year I had to do everything for these guys: Take them to Walmart, show them the building," McKie said. "Just little things that people don't see, as a college student."
Now that last year's freshman class has a year of college under their collective belts, McKie can finally get back to focusing on his game instead of constantly looking over his young charges' shoulders.
"I think this year they know; a couple of guys got cars now, they're more familiar with the campus, they have their own circle of friends and whatnot," he said. "I think that helps me a lot because I don't have to worry about them as much as I had to last year."
McKie said that it was hard to generate any type of consistency while trying to teach last year's freshmen at the same time. He was frank about the sense of frustration coach Jeff Bzdelik felt at times during the season.
"Last year he was aggravated because we couldn't run the pace that he wanted to because we had seven freshmen," he said. "They didn't know anything. It's hard as a coach if you have a plan and you can't execute your plan because you're too busy teaching simple things he thought they should know but didn't."
Legendary Marquette coach Al McGuire once said, "The best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores." That statement rings true for McKie, who can already see a change in his teammates, both on and off the court.
"Just walking around campus, they have a sense of being sure about themselves," McKie said. "I think last year they missed it. They were just trying to feel out just being in college their first year, just being away from home."
McKie is aware that his team and head coach are under intense scrutiny for their failures over the past few seasons. One might think, under those circumstances, the level of pressure may be elevated. McKie thinks otherwise.
"Actually I don't think there's going to be pressure at all," he said. "This is the most relaxed I've seen coach since he's been here. We're not worried about all that other stuff. We're worried about everybody on the team."
Another reason McKie has a positive attitude on the season is the offseason addition of shooting guard Coron Williams. Williams arrived on campus to little fanfare, but those close to the team have all raved about their new teammate. McKie believes that Williams could be one of the surprises in the new season.
"I think the person nobody that knows about is Coron," McKie said. "He's a fifth-year guy, played at Robert Morris and I think he's going to surprise a lot of people because nobody knows that he can really, really shoot the ball. I was shooting with him all summer, and he can really shoot the ball."
McKie is acutely aware that this is his last opportunity to make his mark on Wake Forest basketball. Even more so, he is aware that this team needs to win, and win now to restore the luster to a once-proud program.
"I want to get this team back on track to what it was when I got here," he said. "That was a high level (of play), NCAA tournament every season...I want to get it back to that point. We took our lumps but now it's time to get back on track. Winning solves everything. If we win, people will come."
McKie was candid regarding the challenges he has faced since coming to Wake Forest. Originally part of a five-man recruiting class that included Tony Chennault, Carson Desrosiers, J.T. Terrell and Melvin Tabb, McKie is the only one left in Winston-Salem. The rest have transferred to other schools, for various reasons.
"For me, it's been personally a struggle," he said. "I don't think anybody could envision what we've been going through here, especially through my four years. Being part of a five-man class and being the only one (left) for two years now has definitely been a struggle but I've grown a lot, I've learned a lot and I think I see the world a lot different. I'm a better person and a better player."