RALEIGH, N.C. — New Wake Forest coach Steve Forbes knows he’ll have to tweak his approach to configuring a roster now in a challenging rebuilding job. It starts with figuring out how many Demon Deacons he can persuade to return.
Forbes left East Tennessee State on Thursday to take over a program that has managed two winning seasons and one NCAA Tournament appearance in the past decade. His first task has been talking with the current players about whether they intend to transfer or stay in Winston-Salem.
“I told them over and over again that my No. 1 recruiting responsibility and priority is to get everyone back,” he said Friday during a virtual news conference.
Forbes inherits an uncertain roster with multiple players announcing plans to at least explore a transfer.
That list includes junior center Olivier Sarr – the team’s No. 2 scorer (13.7) and top rebounder (9.0) – who told ESPN on Thursday that he has submitted paperwork to enter the transfer portal. The team had already lost rising senior guard Chaundee Brown (12.1 points) when he announced he entered his name into the NBA draft and the transfer portal, then posted on social media that he's considering Gonzaga, Illinois, Iowa State and LSU if he returns to college basketball.
Additionally, incoming instate signees Djimon Bailey and Jaylon Gibson have both announced they are seeking a release.
Forbes, who replaces fired coach Danny Manning, said he spoke to every current player during his first night on the job.
“I had an unbelievable visit with Olivier, Ismael (Massoud), all those kids that we’re talking about,” he said. “I think it’s one of those things that there’s uncertainty at this time. They don’t know me. And we have to build a relationship.”
Forbes, 55, is coming off a strong five-year run at ETSU, where he went 130-43 while won two Southern Conference Tournaments. His rosters featured at least four junior-college transfers each year along with additions from other Division I schools.
That junior-college option is “not going to be available here at Wake Forest,” Forbes said. The plan is to consider transfers, graduate transfers and international players to supplement high school recruiting, with the focus there to “keep the Carolina kids at home.”
Forbes said the coronavirus pandemic that has shut down of college and professional sports adds an obstacle since he can’t spend in-person time with his new team.
“They don’t get to see my face, my passion,” Forbes said. “It’s a challenge but it’s a challenge I’m up for. I’m going to work really hard to build those relationships, and I really want to get everybody back.”