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Virtual farewell tough for Forbes

Joe Avento • May 1, 2020 at 9:30 PM

JOHNSON CITY — The coronavirus pandemic claimed another victim this week, so to speak, and this one left Steve Forbes with an empty feeling.

It deprived Forbes of a chance to look each of his players in the eye as he explained to them why he was leaving East Tennessee State for Wake Forest.

“It was hard to say goodbye to my players,” Forbes said Friday as he was introduced as Wake Forest’s new basketball coach in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “I love those kids. It was really impersonal to do it on a computer. You don’t get a chance to hug them. You don’t get a chance to look them in the face.”

Forbes, who spent five years at ETSU, was offered the job at Wake Forest on Wednesday afternoon. Once he accepted, he didn’t have much time to say goodbye. Because ETSU’s campus is closed, face-to-face contact with his players was impossible.

“The message to the players was very simple — the love we have for each other, the great memories, all the hard work and togetherness we have,” he said. “I really didn’t try to stay on there too long. I knew it was going to be hard. It was too impersonal. I wish we could have done it face to face. We did the best we could.”


Forbes said when he spoke to the current Wake Forest players, he had a specific message for them.

“The first thing I wanted them to know was ‘You’re never going to hear me say ‘I can’t wait to get my team. I can’t wait to get my players.’ These guys are my players. I want them to know that.

“I’m not one to say ‘I can’t wait until year two or year three.’ We’re here to win now.”


Seven Wake Forest players are reported to have entered the NCAA’s transfer portal since the season ended, so Forbes’ rebuilding job is going to be a tall task.

“We talked to every player last night,” Forbes said. “I think it’s one of those things. There’s uncertainty at this time. They don’t know me and we have to have a relationship. I told them my No. 1 recruiting priority is to get everybody back.

“I understand if you look at your options, but you’re not going to have a better option than Wake Forest.”


Forbes has always used every recruiting tool at his disposal, saying recruiting has five tiers.

Only four of them will be available at Wake Forest.

His tiers are high school players, junior-college players, transfers, grad transfers and international players. He’ll no longer be able to use junior-college players.

“At Wake Forest, it will be four tiers,” he said.

When he was asked about recruiting against the likes of Duke and North Carolina, Forbes answered quickly.

“First of all, I’m never afraid to recruit against anybody,” he said. “We’re not going to back down to anybody in recruiting. We have too much going on here, too much to sell.”


Wake Forest Athletic Director John Currie worked with Forbes at Tennessee and they’ve remained in contact since.

“We’ve known each other a long time,” Forbes said. “John’s the main reason I’m here. It’s about trust. It’s about relationships and it’s about family.

“We built all these things together 15 years ago. We’ve remained colleagues and friends. It was his vision that really drew me and attracted me to this job.”


Forbes has always said it would take a special job offer to make him leave ETSU.

“I found it,” he said. “I wasn’t looking for it. There’s been a lot of opportunities before. I just couldn’t turn away this time.”

He said three things — education, facilities and the ACC — played a big part in swaying him to Wake Forest.

“You’re just not going to beat a Wake Forest education,” he said. “I’m really excited to go out and sell that. The facilities are phenomenal, not just basketball but the entire campus. Being a head coach in the ACC — did I lay in bed and dream about that? Not where I’m from. I grew up in Iowa. I would have probably said the Big Ten. But to coach in the most historical conference in the country, was just too good.

“Those things just added up. There was no way for me not to do it once I was given the opportunity.”

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