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ACC Preview #3 - Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons could be a load but Coach Dilbert has a major family issue to deal with

Wake Forest v Syracuse
GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 08: head coach Steve Forbes of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons reacts during the second half of their game against the Syracuse Orange in the second round of the ACC Basketball Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum on March 08, 2023 in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Before we get to Wake’s prospects, coach Steve Forbes and family had a major, life-altering bit of news recently as his wife, Johnetta, suffered an apparently significant stroke in August. Whatever else happens is much less significant than that. We wish her a speedy and as full a recovery as possible.

The theme so far for our ACC previews is roster turnover with State and UNC both having a ton of churn. Well, Wake beats them both with a whopping 12 players gone. Obviously some of them are walk-ons but still. Walk-ons know the drills and stations. They may not see the court much, but they can still play a key role.

Tyree Appleby and Daivien Williams, one of the ACC’s better backcourts, is gone. Poof! Little-used Grant van Beveren, we assume, has graduated. Bobi Klintman is playing in Australia. Big man Davion Bradford is off for parts unknown. Lucas Taylor is now at Georgia State. Xiaolong Xu is gone, but to who knows where. Same for several of their other more anonymous departees.

Interestingly, our ol’ frenemy autocorrect made departees deportees, which brings us to a relevant point. The basic idea of the portal is to allow players to transfer without penalty and for a lot of guys, it works out great. However, 45 percent of players who enter the portal do not find a new team and no longer have scholarships and it’s hard to argue that that’s not a penalty. If those numbers are correct, first, it’s staggering and while it may work to the benefit of some, overall it’s closer to disaster. Not all players come from impoverished backgrounds but a lot do and college is their best shot to change their lives. This wasn’t supposed to happen and it needs to be addressed. For all the talk of player movement as a positive, if education means anything, this has to be fixed.

And second, if you’re a marginal player with a scholarship, you might want to consider staying where you are. It’s a free market now, but you have no guarantees if you move on. However, if you stay, at least you can earn your degree and the doors that that will open later.

On the bright side, Wake gets Damari Monsanto, Andrew Carr, Cameron Hildreth, Matthew Marsh, Zach Keller, Owen Kmety and Jao Ituka back.

Monsanto was pretty solid last season but he went out with a left patella tendon injury suffered against NC State in late February and that was that.

It’s not his first injury - he also blew out an Achilles in 2021 and came back extraordinarily fast from that. Forbes says his progress here is encouraging as well. That’s good to hear. Monsanto was terrific when he was healthy.

Wake Forest took a while to get its bearings last year and was in a tight game with Appalachian in mid-December. Carr got to play the hero, hitting a huge shot to prevent the upset.

If they had lost that game, the Deacs would have been 7-4 and probably 7-5 after the next game, which was a loss to Rutgers. Carr really came through against App State.

Overall though, the Delaware transfer found it a bit tougher in the ACC. His shooting percentage fell from 58.4 percent with the Blue Hens to 48.9 with the Deacs. On the bright side, rebounding was up from 5.1 to 6.0 per game.

We loved what we saw from Hildreth last season. Seeing big guys out of the UK is no shock - out of anywhere, really. Everybody looks for big guys. To paraphrase Grandpa Munster, who believe it or not was also a basketball scout in New York, who said you turn over a rock and find a player (Al Lewis, who played Grandpa Munster on the ‘60’s show, was a terrific high school scout. He also had a Ph.d. in child psychology. And was a successful restaurateur, also ran for governor of New York and was also big on the Ramones. Interesting guy).

UK, Nicaragua, Congo - big guys are always a premium.

But a British guard? That’s different. There aren’t too many of those.

And Hildreth has a bit of a mean streak, which we’re sure Wake fans must love. We don’t know how he developed that in the UK, or his crafty approach to the game, but he’s good. A 6-4 guard, he was Wake’s second-best rebounder, behind Carr, with 5.3 per game. He was surprisingly strong inside too. We loved him. By the way, his mom is a good follow on Twitter/X. She loves her boy.

Fellow Brit Matthew Marsh hasn’t done as well but he was a rotation player, getting 18.2 mpg and scoring 6.1 ppg while grabbing 4.2 boards. He was a solid but unspectacular presence. He’s useful.

Keller was a well-regarded freshman but like lots of young bigs, he has a ways to go. He did get about 10 mpg but had a mild impact. Still, he could develop.

Ituka transferred from Marist and not surprisingly got less time with the Deacs. He’s not likely to get more with Hildreth and two promising transfers ahead of him.

Owen Kmety is a product of LaLumiere but he only got in three games last season. We’re honestly not sure if he’s a walk-on or not, but based on last year, we’d be surprised if he had a major impact.

The transfers are Kevin Miller (Central Michigan), Hunter Sallis and Efron Reid (both Gonzaga) and also Abramo Canka (UCLA).

Miller looks promising. He was really good in the MAC but only played four games last season after suffering a broken bone in his foot. He’s a quick point guard who is nearly certain to start.

He prefers to be called Boopie, by the way. Whatever he goes by, Miller looks like a big personality, so that should be fun. Waterbug guards are generally fun too, unless you’re playing against them.

Hunter Sallis was a 5-star recruit and the first ever out of Nebraska. The 6-5 Sallis was in the rotation at Gonzaga, getting 16.8 mpg but didn’t shoot very well, just 46.6 percent overall and 25.6 percent from behind the line. He seems like a guy who could benefit from a fresh start.

Reid, a 7-0 rising junior, did not play a lot for the Zags and since Drew Timme is leaving he might have stayed. Who knows? But he has said that he transferred to be closer to an ailing relative (Reid is from Richmond). At a minimum, he offers Wake size and power inside. Carr and Keller offer size but not bulk. He has a natural role here. He and Marsh will likely battle for minutes.

Abramo Canka is a 6-6 sophomore who was at UCLA last year. A native of Italy, Canka, who might have been a teammate of Paolo Banchero’s on the Italian National Team someday had Banchero not opted for Team USA, got just 5.5 mpg last season with the Bruins. He did shoot well in limited minutes, hitting 50 percent on threes and 44.7 overall. Obviously most of that came in garbage time and is pretty meaningless.

So how’s about the baby Deacs?

Well, Forbes has some of those too.

There are five freshmen listed on the roster but it looks like Vincent Ricchiuti and Will Underwood are walk-ons.

Marqus Marion is a 6-8 Dane. Okay, let’s get this out of the way now: a good Dane? Or a Great Dane?

Somebody had to go first.

Marion is 6-8 and 200 and has played for Danish clubs to date. He could become a good player but the jury is out for now. We’ll see.

Last year Forbes landed Klintman out of Sweden. Hopefully Marion sticks around a bit longer than Klintman did. Can you imagine the staff meetings for who gets to scout Scandinavia in the summer? “Sit down, BJ! I got this!”

“No, you sit down! You scouted Klintman and look what happened! I’m going! You get the January trip!”

Clark continues a recent ACC trend of recruiting more in New England. Duke has TJ Power and would like to have Cooper Flagg.

Clark is ranked the second best player out of New Hampshire this year for what that’s worth. We honestly have no idea. But the 6-5 lefty was recruited by Miami, BYU, Xavier, Iowa and some school in College Park that we can’t quite remember the name of. Maryville? Marymount? Bloody Mary? Mary, Queen of Arkansas?

Something like that.

Clark is apparently a decent shooter too with some range. He might get some solid minutes as a freshman.

Friedrichsen originally signed with Notre Dame but gave up on the Irish when Mike Brey resigned. Like Clark, the 6-3 Friedrichsen is apparently a solid shooter with some range: he averaged 27.8 ppg in high school and remember Brey has a nose for for finding talented offensive players. It may take a year or two for the Oklahoman to develop, but no one saw Mark Price coming either and Virginia Tech’s Sean Padulla is from Oklahoma and he’s pretty good too. Not saying that every Okie is going to be outstanding, but there is an ACC history there.

So Forbes appears to have rebuilt in the short term and has some players to develop long-term too. What should we expect?

We’d look for Hildreth and Monsanto to start, along with Miller, and that looks like a pretty quick base to build on. The rest will have to be sorted out in practice and early games. Wake has some talented shooters and that will open up the court a lot.

With several big men to work with, Forbes should have enough there. Will Keller be better? He’s added a bit of weight - about 10 lbs - which should help. Carr may be stronger but he’s no bigger. Marsh is probably what he’s going to be and we can’t know about Reid yet. So we’ll have to see how things work out there.

Hopefully Monsanto is healthy and ready to go. He would be a major asset. Depth at the wing could be an issue. Forbes has some possible options though with Clark and Canka and Marion, if he’s ready. Or he could just run Hildreth there. He’s rugged enough to handle guarding a bigger guy and he’s long since established himself as an excellent rebounder.

The backcourt is where things could be really good. If Forbes moves Hildreth up and goes all three-guardy, we could see Miller and Sallis in the lineup with reserves to be determined later.

Forbes came to Wake at the end of the Krzyzewski era at Duke, and Coach K said that he had a knack for finding players that fit his system and getting them to work together quickly. That’s a pretty valuable knack in the portal/NIL era. Not many coaches can do that as well.

It also implies a certain level of energy and that could be an issue, at least in the short term.

Obviously, Forbes is not running the show by himself. When his wife was stricken in August, AD John Currie made a point of saying that his staff could help run things efficiently, which also suggests that Forbes isn’t making the mistake that Coach K made in the mid ‘90’s and he knows how to delegate, which is also important in the new era.

But you can only be torn in so many directions. Coaching has always been a demanding profession. Coaches have complained for decades that there is no down time, and with the portal, there’s literally none. You have to be ready to rebuild your roster every spring. lCoaches have let the NCAA know that they are exhausted and the cartel is looking for ways to ease the burden. Hasn’t happened yet, but we’re sure it’s been referred to the Committee To Review Complaints and they will pass it on to the Committee To Review The Complaint Committee Recommendations and in a year or three, it’ll move up to the Department of Redundancy Department and by 2027 or so, we’ll find out that it’s been sent back to the Committee To Review Complaints to get a comma put in the right place.

Rinse and repeat, in other words.

It might be different this time, especially if coaches start quitting in droves. People need a break and while they’re very well paid, coaches are universally exhausted and burnout is setting in. Something has to change but don’t hold your breath.

It may be especially difficult for Forbes. What can he do? His children are not small anymore, so that makes that aspect a bit easier, but you know his attention is torn. How could it not be?

Last we heard, Mrs. Forbes was still in Florida. She may have been moved back to Winston-Salem by now and he can afford to hire first-rate in-home care and hopefully she makes a full recovery. But there’s no substitute for family. You know he’d like to be there as much as possible, but his job really requires him for every waking hour.

He’s certainly delegating to his staff, but that opens up some other potential variables. And if Wake slips, the fans might be sympathetic to his personal issues, but as always, it’s win or move on. We think Forbes has put together a solid group and could/should win this year. The problems might come up down the road if his focus, however understandable, waivers.

He seems like a really good guy and we hope that things go well for Mrs. Forbes and that she makes a full recovery. Basketball is fun but it’s not everything.


  1. Damari Monsanto
  2. Andrew Carr
  3. Cameron Hildreth
  4. Jao Ituka
  5. Matthew Marsh


  1. Marqus Marion
  2. Aaron Clark
  3. Parker Friedrichsen
  4. Vincent Ricchiuti
  5. Will Underwood


  1. Abramo Canka
  2. Efton Reid
  3. Hunter Sallis
  4. Kevin Miller


  1. Tyree Appleby
  2. Daivien Williams
  3. Davion Bradford
  4. Grant van Beveren
  5. Xiaolong Xu
  6. Lucas Taylor
  7. Robert McCray
  8. RJ Kennah
  9. Kevin Dunn
  10. Zach Keller
  11. Bobi Klintman
  12. Owen Kmety