Forbes’ first duty with Deacons? Get Wake’s players to come back

With only two scholarship players committed to returning next season, the new coach must sell his vision to an undecided team

Wake Forest introduced East Tennessee State’s Steve Forbes as its next men’s basketball coach last Thursday, picking the 55-year-old to replace Danny Manning. (Kathy Kmonicek / AP Photo)

Wake Forest has a new basketball coach. Now all it needs is enough players on its roster for that coach, Steve Forbes, to field a team.

Forbes was hired last Thursday, less than a week after the dismissal of former coach Danny Manning. He comes to the Deacons from East Tennessee State, where his teams went 130-43 in his five seasons while finishing first or second in the Southern Conference every year.

He said that among his top priorities will be establishing a “gritty, grimy, tough and together on defense” identity for a program that has had only one winning season since 2010.

But before he can do that, Forbes must first replenish his roster.

Seven team members have entered the NCAA’s transfer portal since the end of the season, including three that submitted their names since Manning’s firing. Two incoming recruits have also asked out of their commitments.

Of those in the transfer portal, only senior guard Chaundee Brown has ruled out the possibility of returning. For now, though, forwards Isaiah Mucius and Tariq Ingraham are the only scholarship players currently on Wake’s roster.

“I’m going to work very, very hard to ensure we get all these young men back to Wake Forest this coming year so we can have a very special season,” Forbes said during his virtual introductory press conference on Friday. “We have to build a relationship. Our priority is to get all those guys back.

“Not one of those guys said that they didn’t want to return to Wake. They all have the desire to return, it’s just a matter of relationships, and I can understand that. They can look at other options, but they aren’t going to find a better option than Wake.”

In addition to re-recruiting his team’s current players, especially third-team All-ACC big man Olivier Sarr, Forbes wasted little time hitting the recruiting trail — at least as much as he can, given the current social distancing restrictions.

Within two days of his arrival, the new Deacons coach had already handed out six scholarship offers. All of them, however, were to 2021 and 2022 recruits.

“Coach Forbes is going to concentrate on the current roster until we have a decision,” he said, referring to himself in the third person. “Those are our most important recruits. These are fine young men. They are ingrained in our community and they love it here. It is my job to build a relationship and get them to come back, so that’s what I’m going to do.”

Forbes was one of six candidates originally contacted about the job. The field was eventually narrowed down to two, with the 55-year-old Iowa native ultimately chosen over UNC Greensboro’s Wes Miller.

Among the factors that helped put Forbes over the top, in addition to his impressive track record, was his relationship with the man doing the hiring — Wake athletic director John Currie.

Currie was the athletic director at Tennessee when Forbes was an assistant coach with the Volunteers.

“I knew John meant business,” Forbes said of their time together in Knoxville. “I always knew he had our best interests.”

Not only did Forbes serve under Currie at Tennessee, so did Deacons football coach Dave Clawson.

But even though they were both at the same school in 2008, Forbes and Clawson didn’t officially meet until a few days ago.

“I talked more with Dave Clawson this week than I ever did when I worked with him,” Forbes said. “At Tennessee, things are spread out and we’re all in different facilities. I honestly really didn’t know Dave.

“It was refreshing to visit with him. I talked with him three times. I think he has a really good pulse for this institution, academically and athletically. In addition to being a great coach, he’s a very wise man. I leaned on and listened to him a lot.”

Like Clawson, Forbes plans to build his team upon a foundation of discipline, hard work, academics and retention. All 22 of his seniors during his time at ETSU have earned their degrees.

He said his team will play an intense style of basketball that will help bring fans back to Joel Coliseum and breathe life back into a program in desperate need of a spark.

“I think you need to understand that’s what I’m here to do,” he said. “I’m here to get this program going and get it right back where it needs to be. This program used to win in basketball. This program deserves to win in basketball, and this program will win in basketball. That’s what we’re here to do.”