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ACC Preview #2 - Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons are a rising power.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Wake Forest vs Boston College
In just two seasons, Steve Forbes has transformed the culture at Wake Forest.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It didn’t take Steve Forbes long to prove that he belonged in the ACC. In his first season, despite getting the job quite late, despite Covid and recruiting problems, and despite a very limited roster, by the end of the year, Wake Forest was a tough out. That team really improved.

And last year, the Demon Deacons could play with just about anyone in the ACC. Wake Forest finished 25-10 and 13-7 in conference. That’s up from 6-16 in his first season which is a heck of an improvement. Who goes up 19 wins in a year? Not many.

Plus Forbes is an affable guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously. We’re guessing he’s highly popular with Wake Forest fans. Since most coaches are stuffy if not a bit paranoid, his lack of pretension is a real breath of fresh air

Which is good, because he has some cover in case he has a bad season. We’re not saying Wake Forest will, just that it’s possible. Wake lost Jake LaRavia, who ended up being really, really good. At the #19 pick, he wasn’t too far off from being a lottery selection in June.

The Deacs also lost ACC Player Of The Year Alondes Williamson, Dallas Walton, Khadim Sy, Isaiah Mucius, Carter Whitt and Miles Lester.

Williamson was nearly impossible to defend while Walton became one of the better bigs in the ACC. The well-traveled Sy was a reasonable backup. Mucius was a competent ACC player while Whitt and Lester were spot players who contributed.

That’s a lot to overcome. But Forbes has some good talent back and some good new players, too.

Wake returns 6-1 hometown hero and senior Daivien Williamson, 6-6 junior Damari Montanto, 6-5 sophomore Lucas Taylor, 6-4 sophomore Robert McCray and two Brits, 6-4 Cameron Hildreth and 7-1 Matthew Marsh.

We’d bet good money that Wake Forest is the first ACC team with two players from the UK.

The best of the returnees is probably going to be Williamson, who followed Forbes when he left ETSU for Winston-Salem. He’s a twitchy guard who can get buckets. His slight frame and small size works against him but he’s a pain.

Monsanto could be rounding into form, too. He only played 17 games last year after an ACL injury, missing the whole first semester, but he was slated to miss the entire year. That’s a hell of a recovery on his part. He could be a major surprise. Like Williamson, he followed Forbes down from ETSU.

Taylor was well-regarded in high school and could blossom; we’ll have to wait and see. He’s not a bad athlete so he should be able to carve out a role for himself.

What about the new guys?

Transfers first.

Tyree Appleby comes over from Florida. A 6-1, 165 lb. fifth-year guard, he was explosive but erratic and not a great defender. No particular reason why he can’t be. He’ll need to be more consistent.

Junior big man Davion Bradford left Kansas State. At 7-0 and 270, he’s definitely big. He showed potential as a freshman but was slowed by injuries and illness as a sophomore: he had to deal with a hip injury, Covid and pneumonia which surely made for a rough year. He could really help but he’ll need to lose some weight. He wore 21 at K-State but he probably won’t be wearing it at Wake since that was Tim Duncan’s number. He did wear it on his visit, however.

Andrew Carr is a 6-9 forward from Delaware. He’s an excellent shooter and may slot in reasonably well for LaRavia, though you can’t expect him to be as good because LaRavia was a rare find. Still, he shot very well at Delaware and that will help a lot. He also has three years left.

Jao Ituka left Marist for Wake. A 6-1 sophomore out of the DMV, he’s a microwave: he got 15.3 ppg in 22 minutes an outing. He also shot extremely well, hitting 41 percent on threes. He’s likely to be a factor.

Only two freshmen, both bigs: Zach Keller is 6-10. His weight is not listed but to judge by his pictures he’s got reasonable size for an 18-year-old big. He’s also fairly athletic. If he stays healthy, he could become a really good player. Expect his hair to be a topic of conversation as it’s red, curly and vertical - and the first thing anyone will notice. He’s no Jim O’Brien; he’s closer to young Bill Walton but with more....up. Big Red returns!

Sort of, anyway.

Six-foot-nine Bobi Klintman has had an interesting path in college already: he committed to Maryland but bailed when Mark Turgeon did. Then he committed to Colorado State where Turgeon pal Tad Boyle coaches, presumably on Turgeon’s recommendation. However, that didn’t last either so now he’s a Demon Deacon.

To an extent he fits the traditional European stereotype: he shoots with range, he has solid all-around skills and likes to run. The traditional American complaints/concerns are there: is he physical enough? Does he defend? Can he adapt to the way the game is played here?

We’d expect a period of adjustment, like any freshman, but he has great tools to work with. It may take a year but he’s going to have an impact.

Put it all together and Wake has size, outside shooting and athleticism. They also have several bigs for Forbes to work with.

Most of all though they have Forbes. We wrote a while back about how some older coaches would step away, not liking the rapid turnover in today’s game, and indeed, both Mike Krzyzewski and Villanova’s Jay Wright retired after last season, with both citing that as a factor. We also said some new guys would master this environment and Forbes appears to be one of them.

When asked about Forbes last year, Coach K praised his basic coaching ability and also noted that he has a great eye for talent and who will fit his system.

There are a lot of unknowns for the Deacs, but the cupboard is by no means bare. We’ll see how Forbes shakes the box but if there is slippage, it won’t be much and won't last for long. The guy is legit.