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ACC Preview #2 Wake Forest

They may not be back just yet, but Steve Forbes is priming the pump and soon the Demon Deacons will roar.

East Tennessee State v Illinois
All he needs now is a Mini-me
Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

We usually start our ACC previews with the Triangle schools then Wake Forest and then whoever is most interesting, which means NC State is usually second. This year though we’re going to change it slightly and do Wake Forest second.

Why?

Because Steve Forbes is really interesting.

At East Tennessee State he rebuilt in a damn big hurry using JUCOs. Wake Forest said you can’t do that here and he said fine, and why not? At that point he could use grad transfers for the same purpose.

And then the transfer rule was waived and he could basically do JUCOs without the JUCO part.

But let’s start with who’s gone.

It doesn’t matter as much as it does in some places since Wake is in a major rebuild but Sunday Okeke, Ian DuBose, Ody Oguama, Ismael Massoud, Jonah Antonio, Jalen Johnson, Jahcobi Neath, Emmanuel Okpomo, Isaiah Wilkins, Quadry Adams and Blake Buchanan are all gone and only Okeke and DuBose were out of eligibility.

Normally that’d be a red flag but it’s just year #2 for Forbes, and turnover is not uncommon with a new regime.

So who's back?

Isaiah Mucius, Daivien Williamson, Tariq Ingraham, Miles Lester and Carter Whitt return and Damari Monsanto is coming off a redshirt year.

Williamson, who followed Forbes from ETSU, was surprisingly good. Mucius was adequate but that’s adequate on a mediocre team. Whitt showed a lot of potential but ultimately joining as a freshman in the second semester was a tough thing to do. Still, we expect he’ll be much better as a sophomore and a tall point guard is a nice thing to have. He showed some instinct last season.

Lester barely played and we don’t know if he’ll get much more time this year and Ingraham has only been able to play two games so far in his career. He had an Achilles injury in Danny Manning’s last year and Covid-19 wrecked his first season under Forbes.

So Wake has a nice backcourt coming back and beyond that it’s hard to tell. Ingraham came to Winston-Salem as an overweight big man but is in reasonable shape now at 260. We’ve heard good things but no one outside the program has seen enough to form a meaningful opinion.

In a perfect world, Mucius would probably get less time. Why? Because he was an average player on a bad team. If he gets less time it’s because the talent has improved.

And speaking of that, who is new?

Well it’s time for the old joke about not being able to tell the players without a scorecard because there are a LOT of new guys in Winston-Salem.

So let’s just list for now and we’re not kidding about not knowing the new players. We think this is right but might be still off a bit.

Transfers

  1. Dallas Walton, grad student, 6-10/230 transfer from Colorado
  2. Khadim Sy, grad student, 6-10/240 transfer from Ole Miss
  3. Alondes Williams, grad student, 6-5/210 from Oklahoma
  4. Jake Laravia, junior, 6-8/235 transfer from Indiana State

Freshmen

  1. Cameron Hildreth, freshman, 6-4/195 from Worthing, England
  2. Lucas Taylor, freshman, 6-5/195 from Wake Forest, NC
  3. Robert McCray, freshman, 6-4/185, from Columbia, SC
  4. Matthew Marsh, freshman, 7-1/250 from Reading, England
  5. Luc Robinson, freshman, 6-10/260 from Cincinnati, Ohio
  6. Kevin Dunn, freshman, 6-2/205, from Winston-Salem

A couple of notes about these new players, what we think is the biggest one-year haul in the ACC since Steve Donahue brought in a 10-man freshman class at Boston College.

We’re not sure yet who the walk-ons are but you can’t have 17 guys on scholarship so some guys are obviously are.

We’re sure that the four guys over 6-10 are all on scholarship. That’s five counting Ingraham which is getting into Roy Williams/Leonard Hamilton big man fetish levels.

Khadim Sy is back in the ACC after an on-again off-again stretch at Virginia Tech, followed by a transfer to Daytona State and then Ole Miss, where he was coached by Kermit Davis, so he’s probably been well taught. Beyond that? We’ll have to see how much he has improved since his Blackburg days.

Walton played for Colorado where he got decent minutes in a back-up role. We don't see him doing too much more than that at Wake Forest but you never know.

Williams is a bit of a question mark too. He transferred from junior college to Oklahoma and had to deal with Covid last year. In his final game though he put up 15 against Gonzaga, so presumably he’s going to help Wake Forest. He looks pretty athletic.

Laravia was a classic late bloomer and did really well at Indiana State. He’s stepping up a level obviously but he’s also supposed to be a good defender and that never hurts.

Monsanto was in Winston-Salem last year but he suffered an injury and sat the year out. However, he was the freshman of the year in the Southern and made third team All-Conference before he came to Wake Forest and, like Williamson, he knows what Forbes expects.

McCray was supposed to be in Winston last season, and we’re not sure what happened, but he’s there now.

Hildreth is an interesting case. How many guards come out of the UK? Not many. He also considered Arkansas and Xavier, so some good programs were were onto him. He’s a bit out of left field, or maybe pitch, but he’s committed to the game and wants to be really good.

Taylor may not be popular when Wake plays at Clemson - he committed there first - but he’s big enough and athletic enough to make a difference. He also considered Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, Marquette, Miami, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, and several others as well.

Marsh has had a different sort of development path than most American kids and probably most British kids too. He played semi-professionally in Europe, first in Barcelona and then with ASVEL Lyon-Villeurbanne, a program run by former NBA great Tony Parker.

We don’t know a lot about Robinson, but he said this about himself: “As a starting center I am comfortable and confident scoring and passing from both the lane and the perimeter. While I understand my primary focus both offensively and defensively is working in and around the paint, I also play a well rounded game that has me running the court and supporting my team in transition.“

Not sure we’d count on him this year - he could conceivably redshirt - but he might turn out down the road.

We have no idea what to make of Anthony Mathis. He had a terrific high school career, scoring 2,475 points in Louisville at a private school, then played his freshman year at Navy and then sort of faded away. He’s a walk-on, and looks like we missed him from last year. Not many walk-ons scored 2,475 points though and while he was at a private school, Louisville is a basketball town. So who knows?

As for Dunn, his father works at Wake Forest and he’s a preferred walk-on, so odds are we won't see or hear much of him.

For his part, Forbes thinks he has a major upgrade and said this last week: “I love our roster. We have 13 ACC players on our team. I did not have that last year. There’s not one player on our team that cannot play in the ACC.”

Well that is a big difference, and so is how Forbes started on Reynolda. He got to Wake Forest a bit late, then saw nearly all of Danny Manning’s players enter the transfer portal before a few decided to come back.

He also took the job at the beginning of the pandemic. He didn’t even have an introductory press conference, at least not live, and couldn’t meet his players in person for some time. He had to recruit virtually. He had to deal with everything that the rest of the world did with Covid and had a makeshift roster with two players out for the year and one who only joined in January.

In spite of all that, Wake Forest gave Duke a tight game in Winston, lost to Virginia by just four, UNC by seven and took FSU to overtime, and also gave a hot Georgia Tech team a good game in the ACC Tournament.

So far he appears to be a very resourceful guy who doesn’t back down from challenges.

A lot of people are going to pick Wake 14th, ahead of only BC, but we think Forbes has a solid backcourt and some nice pieces to work with and, importantly, experienced players. Some of his guys have played in Pauley and Rupp and Allen Fieldhouse. They’ve been through the wars. Not much is going to scare them at this point.

If he can get find help from his wings - Mucius, Monsanto Laravia and possibly Williams and/or Taylor - and one of the big guys is at least a competent rebounder and defender, then we think Wake can compete with most of their opponents.

The other thing is this: some coaches, like Bobby Cremins when he was at Georgia Tech and Mike Krzyzewski, like tight rotations. Others, like Leonard Hamilton and, we suspect, Forbes, prefer more substitutions. Well, he should be able to do that now which will really change things.

We’re not sure where to rank Wake just yet but we think they have a real chance to surprise.