WINSTON-SALEM — Two and a half months of video and phone calls only did so much for Coach Steve Forbes in learning about his Wake Forest men’s basketball team.
The last two weeks, during which the Deacons have been undergoing voluntary workouts and in-person meetings on campus, have done so much more.
“You have no idea what kind of work ethic they really have from a computer,” Forbes said today. “Really impressed with their eagerness to learn, their coachability, how hard they’re going. Especially for a group of guys, like everybody across the country can imagine, really hasn’t done anything since March.
“You know, a lot of them in their head think they did. But they didn’t when they met me.”
Forbes was hired April 30 as Wake Forest’s new coach, replacing Danny Manning. Among the points he made in that initial wave of interviews was that his practices are typically harder than games.
Now, finally, he’s able to put the Deacons through something resembling practice — the NCAA allows for eight hours per week for weight training, skill instruction and conditioning.
“Ismael Massoud is a worker, in the weight room and on the court," Forbes said. "But I can’t tell that just talking to him. Isaiah Mucius is eager to learn and get better and he’s got a really good motor. Ody Oguama has a tremendous motor, almost to the point that I’ve gotta dial him down a little bit.
“I’ve been impressed with that. Not only do they work hard, but they want to win, they want to get better, they want to buy in.”
The Deacons are missing two scholarship players from voluntary workouts: grad transfer Jonah Antonio is finishing academic requirements and Jahcobi Neath opted to stay home. Walk-ons Blake Buchanan and Miles Lester aren’t with the team yet, and Forbes confirmed that Sunday Okeke suffered an injury in the spring related to the torn Achilles that cost him nearly all of last season, and he won’t play this season.
Otherwise, the Deacons are going through voluntary workouts and getting their first taste of Forbes and the new staff’s practices.
“Obviously it’s much better in person because you’re (able) to feel the energy amongst everyone, but it’s definitely what I expected and it’s been going really well,” Massoud said last week.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Forbes figures it’s an unprecedented situation for a college basketball coach to take over a program in early May and not meet his new players until mid-July. He’s learning about his players as they learn about him.
“I look at practice like games: either you win or you lose. And I tell them after every workout, it’s a win or a loss,” Forbes said.
Do the Deacons have a winning record so far?
“They’ve got a winning record. We’re not in the Final Four yet. But we’re winning,” Forbes said with a laugh. “But as it gets harder and more, and — as the protocols allow — as we can get more people on the court, it’ll get harder and harder and harder, and we’ll have to put more and more things in.”
Among the newcomers, Forbes mentioned three things about players that have stood out.
Forbes said Jalen Johnson has gained 14 pounds since he first came to Winston-Salem — the Tennessee transfer was listed at 6-6, 196 last season.
“He’s really playing well and he’s being more vocal and aggressive. I’ve been impressed with him,” Forbes said.
Guard Quadry Adams, one of two freshmen, went through early growing pains, but Forbes is happy with how he’s responded.
“Like any young kid coming out of high school, he just wasn’t used to the pace of practice,” Forbes said. “He got fatigued quickly and then when that happens, mistakes happen. But he fought it and he’s strung together probably three or four really good practices.”
And Forbes pointed out that the Deacons’ other freshman, center Emmanuel Okpomo, “is raw and … it’s going to take some time,” but has plenty of upside.
“If you’ve got a 7-foot-7 wingspan, you know, that’s a pretty good God-given gift,” Forbes said of Okpomo. “That’s not going to change, and so when he continues to learn to play with that length, he’s going to be a really good player.”
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