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Building Through the Portal: Wake Forest and Pitt Adapting to the Modern Recruiting Era



College basketball recruiting changed forever with the birth of the transfer portal and the elimination of the one-time transfer rule.

Combined with COVID-caused eligibility rule changes, these adjustments have caused the past few years to look much different around college hoops. For Pitt’s Jeff Capel and Wake Forest’s Steve Forbes, they have helped significantly in the quest to rebuild their respective programs.

Forbes took over the Wake Forest job in April 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to accepting the job, Forbes had just led East Tennessee State to a 30-4 record, and a Southern Conference title, in that 2019-20 season. However, shortly after COVID cancelled the NCAA tournament, Forbes had moved on to coach the Demon Deacons in the ACC.

Since taking over, Forbes has won 58% of his games at Wake Forest. After a 6-16 finish to his first season, he revamped his roster by going into the portal. Most notably, Forbes brought in Alondes Williams from Oklahoma. Yeah, the ACC Player of the Year Alondes Williams.

In addition to Williams, Forbes brought in future NBA Draft pick Jake LaRavia from Indiana State, who earned All-ACC honors, as well as Damari Monsanto, who followed him over from ETSU. At the end of the year, despite not being selected to play in the NCAA Tournament, the Demon Deacons finished with a record of 25-10: the school’s best season since 2009.

“I think it just gives you guys that are ready to play,” Forbes said about the portal. “Not that freshman aren’t ready to play, maybe it might take them a little bit longer just based on the level of competition that we’re playing in the non-conference and in the ACC, but you are trying to get the best players that you can get. You know, you don’t settle. For me, at this point, when I was coming into Wake, it was about, we could get a better player in the portal.”

As Williams, LaRavia, and company moved on to the professional level following last season, Forbes had to do it again. He and his staff were tasked with going back into the portal and reloading.

They did just that. Forbes brought in Tyree Appleby from Florida, who is now averaging 17.9 points per game, which ranks second in the ACC. He also brought in forward Andrew Carr from Delaware, who was last week’s ACC Player of the Week.

The Deacons are once again having a solid year behind transfers Appleby, Carr, and Monsanto (the ACC’s leader in three pointers made per game). But Forbes, similarly to Pitt’s Capel, knows that he has to mix in high school players too to balance out his roster and continue to develop players within the Wake Forest culture.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t have high school players, because we do,” he said. “Cameron Hildreth is a great example of that, Bobi Klintman, Matthew Marsh. We’ve got good guys, we’re going to continue to recruit high school players, but the portal gives you a chance to get a little bit older, and older is pretty good when you’re playing in a league like this.”

Capel and Forbes share lots of similarities in the ways in which they have built their respective teams. Capel’s starting five of Nelly Cummings (Colgate), Jamarius Burton (Texas Tech), Greg Elliott (Marquette), Blake Hinson (Iowa State), and Federiko Federiko (No. Oklahoma) is made up of four players from the portal and one from the junior college ranks. He built this team with experience and is reaping the benefits and sitting at 13-7 on the year. However, he also brought in three freshman last year, and also hit the junior college ranks for his big man, Federiko.

“It [the portal] was helpful this year,” Capel said on Monday. “We were able to get some really good guys that are also good basketball players and are really good teammates. We felt like we studied it better this year. We had some connections with the three guys that we got. What I mean by that, is that we were able to find out real information about their character as people. We were able to see the basketball stuff, but more importantly, we were able to find out real information about them as human beings, and that’s probably been the biggest thing that has helped us.”

Burton currently leads all guards in the ACC, shooting 54% from the field. He is leading the Panthers in scoring at 16.5 points per game, which also ranks in the top ten in the league. As for Hinson, the Iowa State transfer — who took two years off from basketball before joining Pitt — is averaging 15.8 points per game and has hit big shot after big shot for the Panthers this year. Although Cummings is struggling to shoot the ball well recently, he has affected the game in other facets this year, especially his passing. He ranks as the No. 7 assist-man in the ACC, averaging 4.5 per game. Lastly, Elliott, the team’s third-leading scorer, is leading the team in three-point percentage at 39%.

Capel and his transfers continue their season on Wednesday night against Forbes and Wake Forest, as the two teams are both trying to improve to 7-3 in ACC play.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Rob Radich
Rob Radich
1 year ago

Imagine. A downtrodden program hires an excellent coach and starts winning substantially by Year 2.

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