Off-season update on men’s basketball

Wake Forest has had significant roster turnover, with nine players leaving the program

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Cooper Sullivan, Assistant News Editor

It’s been six weeks since Trey Wertz released his buzzer-beating three-pointer and Prentiss Hubb unleashed his extended third finger to the crowd of Wake Forest students at the end of the first round of the ACC Tournament in Greensboro. While there was a lot of yelling in the mezzanine on the way to the parking lot, no one wanted to dwell too long on the heartbreaking end to Steve Forbes’ inaugural season and neither did he. That meant preparation for next season, immediately.

In comes the “Get Right” program: seven weeks of “intense” strength training and conditioning. Junior guard Daivien Williamson, freshman guard Carter Whitt, sophomore forward Ody Oguama, junior forward Isaiah Mucius and redshirt freshman forward Tariq Ingraham are all part of the offseason program that tracks and ranks each player’s effort and goal achievement.

“You better not be last,” Forbes said in a press conference on March 15. Through four weeks Williamson has gained 11 lbs, Whitt has gained nine, Oguama seven, Mucius six. Ingraham has lost three pounds.

Forbes expressed his excitement about the progress he has seen with all five players in the program, especially Williamson and Ingraham.

“It is encouraging to me because Daivien has never really excelled in the weight room, he’s excelled more on the court than he has in the weight room.,” Forbes said. “I can tell a major difference in his body already. I challenged him the other day ‘can you play like that’ … and from what I’ve seen in workouts, he can.”

“Tariq has been unbelievable,” Forbes continued. “I mean as far as his conditioning, what he’s been through and where he’s at now … the guy didn’t gain two pounds during the whole time he was out. That’s hard to do. He didn’t get to do anything. Three months of inactivity but complete discipline to his diet and nutrition. That’s really hard for someone that young. I’ve been very, very encouraged with what he has done coming off of [the Achilles injury].”

Expect these five players to contribute heavily next season as a wave of players are leaving the program, entering either the pros or the transfer portal. Of last year’s roster, nine players have announced that they will not be returning to the Demon Deacons, but that does not mean they cut ties from Forbes or the coaching staff.

“I’ve always maintained a relationship with the players that leave,” Forbes said. “I’m never going to turn my back on any young man that is not in this program anymore. They are good kids and they deserve our respect and they deserve [for] us to help them.”

Jonah Antonio and Ian DuBose — who both joined the program this season as graduate transfers — have expressed their intent to play professionally. Antonio has signed with an agent, while DuBose has narrowed it down to three possible agents. Jalen Johnson, the third graduate transfer, will use his extra year of eligibility at a different school. The 6’6″ guard is currently still looking for a destination.Junior guard and former Virginia Tech Hokie Isaiah Wilkins confirmed he would return to the state of Virginia by committing to Longwood University. Freshman center Emmanuel Okpomo and freshman guard Quadry Adams will also be heading up north, joining Temple University and St. Bonaventure University, respectively. Sophomore forward Ismael Massoud will don purple and silver at Kansas State University. And recently, sophomore guard Jacobi Neath announced that he will be a Wisconsin Badger next season. Junior forward Blake Buchanan is still looking for somewhere to play after earning his Wake Forest degree this past May.

In lieu of these departures, Forbes and staff searched this year’s transfer portal looking for two types of players — size and skill on the perimeter, and size and strength in the post — and that’s exactly what they got.

Jake LaRavia is a sophomore combo guard-forward from Indiana State University. Forbes would like to use the 6’9″ 230 lb sophomore as an all-around player, citing his size, ball-handling and passing abilities. Dallas Walton, a senior center from the University of Colorado, was the second player to join the Demon Deacons. The seven-footer has had knee problems in the past and sat out the previous season due to COVID-19 precautions, focusing on rehabilitation and strengthening his lower body. The final transfer for Coach Forbes is a familiar face from ETSU, reigning Southern Conference Freshman of the Year Damari Monsanto. Forbes initially recruited Monsanto prior to the 2019-2020 season in which he redshirted. The 6’6″ forward has a “good feel,” a “knack to rebound the ball” and according to his former coach, he has improved defensively.

“[Originally], I had no intention of recruiting Damari because he wasn’t going to be available until the coaching change,” Forbes said. “And then when he entered the portal, I didn’t see any reason [for him] to go anywhere else.”

ETSU head coach Jason Shay resigned from his position on March 30, after facing backlash for allowing his players to protest during the national anthem. This move led to four players entering their name into the transfer portal, although, Monsanto was the only player that Forbes recruited to Wake Forest.

Transfer players will be able to come to campus once finals are taken and transcripts are cleared — which at the earliest would be May 24. Players can voluntarily work on strength and conditioning, but Forbes cannot organize official team activities until later.

When asked about the recent assistant coaching vacancy, Forbes said he hasn’t started the process of finding a replacement yet, and acknowledged that it takes a bit of time to find the right candidate for the job. He says it is “not a high priority” at the moment as he is more focused on recruiting and finding his former players new homes.

“I would like to have somebody on board before we start summer workouts in June,” Forbes said. “Will it be before the end of school? That might be pushing it.”

All these changes aren’t enough to stop Forbes from looking ahead with eagerness. “I can’t wait to open that glass door in June and pop that whistle and get it going.”