Steve Forbes’ official introduction as Wake Forest’s men’s basketball coach came today on a virtual news conference.
It was replete with declarations to play winning basketball, self-deprecating jokes and a pinch of the same ferocity that he showed when he spiked his COVID-19 facemask in Thursday’s video.
And Forbes provided details to how his Wake Forest program will operate.
“If you didn’t know anything about basketball and came to watch us play, when you left you say, 'Man, those Wake Forest (players) — ooh, wow. They play hard, they play like their hair is on fire. I mean, their coach don’t have any hair. But they play hard,'” Forbes said. “And they really share the ball, they must like each other. They’re really tough on defense. Man, they grab the ball with two hands, they rebound it and they execute it.”
Also, there was: “We’re going to be gritty, grimy and tough and together on defense. That’s the only one original thought I’ve ever had was that slogan.”
It’s a good one, and its effect is engraved on some jewelry.
“We put it on our rings twice.”
Forbes is at Wake Forest to not only win basketball games but to win back a beaten-down fan base that’s seen 129 wins in the past 10 seasons.
Forbes’ East Tennessee State teams won 130 games in the past five seasons.
“This program needs to win in basketball, it deserves to win in basketball, and this program will win in basketball,” Forbes said. “That’s what we are here to do.”
The 55-year-old who has spent 30 of those in collegiate coaching at levels ranging from junior college in Creston, Iowa, to Tennessee and holding the No. 1 ranking in the country, Forbes made clear his intent to have a players-led program.
He invited former Deacons to revisit campus, come by for a practice, speak to the team and have any kind of impact at their alma mater.
A good approach for a man whose second interview was Tuesday morning and included Tim Duncan and Chris Paul.
“It’s really important to have a connection between now and the past,” Forbes said. “We have such a wonderful past, I think we all need to get behind each other. I invite all of the former players to come back and be a part of this.”
Forbes was announced Thursday and unveiled, in a way, with today's news conference.
“Today I’m introducing to you a first-generation college graduate and a man who has dedicated his life to mentoring young men,” Athletics Director John Currie said. “Steve Forbes is a relationship-oriented leader who invests in every person around him.”
That was today, and now it seems like the rest of the weekend — at least — is reserved for building those relationships with players who will fit his style.
Forbes laid out five tiers to recruiting, one of which was particularly successful at ETSU that he knows he won’t be able to do at Wake Forest.
“Junior college, that’s not going to be available here at Wake Forest. That’s not something that we’ll be exploring,” he said, bluntly answering one of the bigger question marks about his adjustment to the school.
Otherwise, Forbes sees the tiers of recruiting as: recruiting high school and prep school players, recruiting transfers, recruiting graduate transfers and recruiting international players.
In-state recruiting is of importance to Wake Forest, and competing with bluebloods Duke and North Carolina — plus the emerging program at N.C. State under Kevin Keatts — is a challenge Forbes is embracing.
“One of the advantages here is that we have an unbelievable amount of players and talent here in the Carolinas. We’ve gotta work inside-out,” Forbes said. “Keep the Carolina kids at home. … I’m not afraid to recruit against anybody.
“We’re not going to back down to anybody in recruiting. We have too much going on here, too much to sell.”
The first recruiting tasks are to re-recruit some of Wake Forest’s seven players currently or planning to enter the NCAA’s transfer portal. In less than 24 hours after Forbes’ first meeting with the team, a source indicated Olivier Sarr, Ody Oguama and Ismael Massoud are planning to enter the transfer portal — not all that uncommon of an exodus when a new coach arrives, but leaving the Deacons with two returning scholarship players.
If any of the players in the transfer portal return to Wake Forest, they’ll have a different style of play.
“You’ve gotta have identity before you have culture,” Forbes said. “Identity is immediate, and that was the thing that I came in the door from Day One, that was it.”