With a boatload of newcomers, Steve Forbes enters Year 2 aiming to turn around the Wake Forest basketball program.
This season marks Year 2 of the Steve Forbes era as the head men’s basketball coach at Wake Forest — a proud basketball university with numerous draft packs and Elite Eight appearances set in the heart of Tobacco Road.
It was not that long ago that Wake Forest was winning big. Six Wake Forest graduates still play in the NBA. From 2000 to 2010, the program made it to seven NCAA Tournaments — advancing in five — and was 206-110 in those 10 years.
Forbes took over the Wake program after some dark days. He succeeded Danny Manning, who had just one winning season in his six years at the program’s head. Before Manning, Jeff Bzdelik directed the program for four seasons and also had a single winning season. Wake Forest was a combined 129-187 with two winning seasons in the 10 seasons before Forbes. The Deacons have failed to finish higher than ninth in the ACC since 2009-10.
The once-proud program hit rock bottom.
But good news is on the way for head coach Steve Forbes: Wake Forest returns three players who started ten or more games off last season’s team. The bad news; those are the only three players who played more than 25 total minutes last season.
Seniors Daivien Williamson — 12.9 points, 35 made threes — and Isaiah Mucius — 10.3 points, 5.2 rebounds — accompanied Forbes on ACC Media Day. The other returner is sophomore point guard Carter Whitt, who graduated high school early to start ten games last season.
Roster turnover is to be expected across college basketball these days, especially a high-major program adjusting after a coaching change.
“I think the nature of recruiting has changed. The traditional model of just high school recruits; it’s going to be tough to do that. We have some really good freshmen, and I hope to see them all at the end. But I don’t know if we will. I can’t predict that. We have to be ready in the spring to recruit; it may be out of that portal; I don’t want to live in there, but you have to be ready. In the fall, we’re going to get the best high school players we can get, but we’re not going to settle either. I’m not going to settle in recruiting because I know there’s always going to be guys out there.”—Steve Forbes, Wake Forest head coach
Recruiting has changed in college hoops. Verbal Commits’ transfer database indicates 1,765 players hit the D-I transfer portal last season, setting an all-time high.
Transfers were especially kind to the Demon Deacons this past spring: Wake brought in five new players, four of whom should significantly impact this season’s team.
“I want to be old and athletic,” Forbes said. “I want to stay old and athletic.”
Even though Wake Forest is undergoing an honest rebuild, there is genuine optimism around this year’s team.
“Everything has been good,” Wake Forest assistant coach BJ McKie said. “I like the camaraderie of our guys. They have been working hard and have been receptive to learning. Everyone has bought into getting better every day, and we see improvement every day.”
“We are big; we have legitimate ACC size,” Forbes said. “We have a couple of guys who are 6-8 who can play the 3. We have legitimate size, and it’s a game for big people.”
Jake LaRavia is a star in the making
“Jake is shooting the ball very well and playing unselfishly,” McKie said, “Jake is going to give us a good inside and outside punch. He’s very versatile, works hard on both ends. He moves his feet better than you would think. He’s a hard worker.”
LaRavia is a junior transfer from Indianapolis, Indiana, who played his first two collegiate seasons at Indiana State.
“My previous coach, Coach (Greg) Lansing, after he got let go, he helped me a lot with this recruiting decision,” LaRavia said. “After I hit the portal, he was the main one I went through to find out where I wanted to go next. He said (Wake Forest) would be a good place for me, so I came here. I think I made the right decision.”
LaRavia brings a highly skilled, unselfish player to the mix. The 6-8, 235-pound forward averaged 12.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game last season.
“I knew Jake was very competitive,” Forbes said. “I could tell he could shoot it. What I didn’t know was how well he could move his feet — he has tremendous feet. For a guy who played the 3, it’s not about your offense, and it’s about who you can defend. So Jake has brought that size. He has a mean streak to him in a good way. He’s unselfish, tough, and can handle the ball. He is a multi-positional player.”
Alondes Williams brings tournament experience
Alondes Williams also joins the fold — a 6-5 shooting guard who started 24 games at Oklahoma. He averaged 6.3 points in 17.5 minutes per game in his two seasons.
“Alondes is a tremendous athlete, and I like him a lot being old and athletic,” Forbes said. “He’s a great finisher and an excellent passer. He’s very unselfish, and he shoots the ball well. I think he has to be more dialed in defensively because he can turn defense into offense easily with his length and size.”
Williams is a supreme athlete. He joined the likes of Jared Butler, Mac McClung, and Davion Mitchell as one of 10 players in the Big 12 last season who had a player efficiency rating of at least 16, an offensive rating of at least 107, and an assist percentage of at least 14.
“He is a guy that is ready to work and take on a bigger role on the team,” McKie said. “He has been proven on an NCAA Tournament team. He wants to win, so he is coming in ready to work; he’s working hard and eager to accept a leadership role in our group.”
Williams’ game is continuing to develop, and it could pay massive dividends for the Deacons.
“The thing I love about Alondes is his unselfishness and his ability to pass the ball. Everyone knows about his athleticism, and he is probably one of the better athletes in the conference. He has shot it way better over the last month and a half, but his ability to pass it and see the floor has stood out.”
Khadim Sy is ready to contribute
Sy comes to Wake Forest directly from Ole Miss. The former Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill center has played four years of college ball, two at Ole Miss, one in JUCO, and one at Virginia Tech.
“Khadim has taken the whole tour; he’s now back in the ACC, went to JUCO and then the SEC,” Forbes said.
The 6-10, 240-pound post averaged nine points and four rebounds per game during his junior season while shooting 52.5 percent from the field. He has started 59 career games and knocked in 13 career threes while shooting 73 percent from the free-throw line at Ole Miss.
“I think he’s a really good player,” Forbes said. “The thing with (Khadim) is that he’s been hurt with a foot situation. One of the things you can tell about him is that he’s a very skilled passer, and he has shot it well from three. He’s going to be a major piece in what we do.”
“He played for Kermit (Davis) and Buzz (Williamson). He’s a tough kid,” Forbes said. “He’s been taught toughness. I like his personality, and he has a little pop to him.”
Dallas Walton has a versatile skillset
Dallas Walton is the final key piece of the mix, having started 23 games for a 23-9 Colorado team last season. The center helped lead the Buffaloes to an NCAA Tournament win and a No. 22 ranking in the final AP poll.
With his 7-2 wingspan, Walton brings a presence at the rim, maintaining a career 5.3 block percentage. What also makes Walton unique is his ability to shoot the ball. He shot 47.4 percent from deep last season on two attempts per game and also converted 84.5 percent of his free-throw attempts.
Coming out of the worst ten-year period in program history, Forbes is tasked with bringing the Demon Deacons back to respectability. However, Year 1 came in the middle of a pandemic, which should be enough to give his staff a pass.
Year 2 starts now, though, and with nine newcomers on the roster, there are more questions than answers. However, Forbes’ hope is the transfer portal will help mitigate that. Externally, there is no pressure on Forbes. The ACC media predicted a 13th-place finish for Wake Forest this season. But internally, Forbes knows what is ahead of him.
“My dad told me there’s a reason why your windshield is bigger than your rear-view mirror — that’s because what is in front of you is more important than what is behind you,” Forbes said. “There’s a lot of new people and a lot of new players. I think we’ll go game by game, but I like where we are.”