We usually start preview season with the Big Four teams - other than Duke - and for the last decade or so, Wake Forest has been the least interesting of those.
Well not this year.
Somewhat belatedly, Wake fired Danny Manning, who looked like he might have had a reprieve due to the pandemic.
Didn't happen that way, and on April 30th, the Deacs introduced new coach Steve Forbes.
Forbes had one of the more interesting introductions in recent ACC history with this video. He’s certainly the only coach to have been introduced while wearing a mask (which he quickly spiked).
At Wake Forest, Manning was a reserved and somewhat stiff coach. We can’t remember him publicly showing any passion at all - which was mostly true for his playing career as well, come to think of it. He’s always been quiet and a bit of an introvert.
His teams generally reflected that lack of passion, often competing for 30-35 minutes only to lose the game in the last few (the upset of Duke last season was a notable departure).
With his tenure coming after that of the despised Jeff Bzdelik - we’ve never seen a fan base act uglier to a coach, other than Georgetown’s when John Thompson first got started - Wake Forest needed someone to stir things up.
Pretty good chance Forbes will do that.
First his background.
He’s from an Iowa town called Lone Tree, 2010 population 1,300.
Forbes came up the hard way. He toiled at community colleges for nine years before getting an offer from Idaho. Then he went to a series of asstistant coaching jobs at Lousiana Tech, Illinois State, Texas A&M and Tennessee, where he was caught up in the Bruce Pearl scandal.
He went back to JUCO for two years as. head coach (Northwest Florida State) before returning as an assistant to Gregg Marshall.
In 2015, he got his first D-1 head coaching gig at East Tennessee State, where he did spectacularly well, never winning les than 24 games and topping out at 30-4 last season.
We should say that ETSU is a surprisingly good basketball school and it’s not hard to win there. Lots of guys have done well there. But he did very well indeed.
One of his trademarks there was recruiting JUCOs, something Wake Forest made clear he won’t be relying on in Winston-Salem.
Doesn’t matter - he can recruit grad transfers and no one will care.
So what does Forbes have to work with in Year 1?
He has two seniors in Anthony Mathis, Jr, and Sunday Okeke. Mathis transferred from Navy but is a walk-on this season. Okeke has been at Wake for four years with minimal effect. He missed almost the entire season last year with an Achilles injury.
Isaiah Mucius is a 6-8 junior who has some talent and may benefit from the coaching change. He could be a surprise.
Junior Miles Lester transferred to Wake Forest from Rice and has not played for Wake yet. He started five games at Rice but didn’t make much of a dent.
Sophomore Ody Oguama started 24 times last year and was a decent shot blocker. He’s tall and lean and might fit Forbes’ system well.
Fellow sophomore Ismael Massoud played a lot last year but didn’t start. He showed some flashes however. At 6-8, he’s a touch smaller than Oguama but more versatile.
Six-foot-three guard Jahcobi Neath is a product of Toronto and could inherit the point guard position from graduated Brandon Childress.
Grant Van Beveren is a 6-6 sophomore but really didn’t play much last season at all.
Tariq Ingraham redshirted last season and he’s 6-9 and 250. Like Oguama, he missed last season with an Achilles injury. He’ll be a redshirt freshman this year.
Aside from those returnees Forbes brings in three grad student transfers, two undergrad transfers (both Winston-Salem natives) and two freshmen.
The grad transfers are 6-6 Jalen Johnson from Tennessee. He’s a good athlete and it runs in his family: his mother ran the hurdles and high-jumped while his father ran the 4x100 relay. He’ll be a big asset for Forbes.
Ian Dubose, 6-4, comes over from Houston Baptist and like Johnson grew up in Durham. Two years ago, you may recall, Houston Baptist beat Wake Forest in Winston-Salem.
Jonah Antonio, a 6-5 Aussie who started at Mt. St. Mary’s before transferring to South Plains College in Levelland, Texas and playing for UNLV last season, is a three point ace.
The undergrad transfers are Isaiah Wilkins, the 6-4 guard who came down from Virginia Tech and who is immediately eligible. He certainly had his moments in Blacksburg but coach Mike Young encouraged him to transfer.
Daivien Williamson also came home to Winston-Salem. A 6-2 junior, he played for Forbes at ETSU. We don't think the NCAA has ruled yet on his eligibility.
Finally, there are two recruited freshmen, 6-10 Emmanuel Okpomo out of Oak Hill and 6-3 Quadry Adams from New Jersey.
Forbes, as you may have gathered, likes to run and likes high pressure defense. He worked for Bruce Pearl, who really likes that style of play. He’s made it clear that he’s his own man though and he’ll do it, with apologies to Sinatra, his way.
And think about this: hired on April 30th, the entire roster, with one or two exceptions, entered the transfer portal. He first had to recruit players back. Then he managed to pull in eight players, including a couple who might be really good.
If nothing else, as we saw in his video introduction, the man has a lot of energy.
It’s really hard to predict much at all this season. Because of the pandemic, no one even has a schedule yet.
However, we think Forbes will be okay in his first season. He’s got a bit of size, some quick, lean athletes, and some guards who should be able to apply perimeter pressure.
We can’t say for sure, but what he accomplished at ETSU speaks to his talents as a coach and what he’s done at Wake Forest so far speaks to his energy level.
We think the Deacs have a decent chance at escaping the cellar which, when you think about where they’ve been, would be a pretty decent first year.