At this point, Steve Forbes is familiar with Year Ones.
Wake Forest’s first-year basketball coach has a resume peppered with stops around the country and throughout many levels of the college ranks. They can be difficult, he said, and they can be a blast, too. But with each one, there’s so much to do. A coach has to pace himself.
“I remember back when I was an assistant. I was an assistant at Illinois State in Year One. I was an assistant at Texas A&M in Year One, back-to-back,” said Forbes, thinking back to the mid-2000s. “That was hard.
“. . . I also had the opportunity to go to Tennessee following my first year at A&M, and I remember, I had this discussion with my wife, Johnetta. I was like, ‘I can’t do three. . . I can’t physically do it.’”
But the payoff – seeing a program take shape and players buy into the coaching staff’s structure – becomes the reward for the work of pouring a foundation. He’s seen flashes of it already as the Deacons returned to campus in July for voluntary workouts. And he hopes he see it in full force next week.
The NCAA is allowing preseason practice to start Wednesday, kicking off a stretch of 42 days in which programs can get in 30 practices before a scheduled start of games on Nov. 25. Players can work out four hours a day and 20 hours per week.
This Year One is getting real for Wake Forest and every other program now.
“Individual instruction and skill development is an important facet of any day in the life of a player, but the ultimate thing is to play and compete,” Forbes said. “. . . Think about it: they hadn’t competed since March. So from March to probably at the end of August sometime when they first started, were able to compete again, that’s probably the longest any of them had ever gone without competing since they started play.”
March ended with an 81-72 loss to Pitt in the first round of the ACC Tournament. That was followed by the firing of Danny Manning after six seasons and the hiring of Forbes from East Tennessee State. All of it coincided with possibly the weirdest offseason ever thanks to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
It’s been a slow-and-steady return back to the game for everyone. Forbes likes to number his practices, keeping track of every time players were in the gym. Friday’s was No. 49, for example. That includes the initial workouts with no more than four players at a time, each at their own basket with no passing. It graduated to passing around and then to unguarded skeleton plays of offense.
Forbes doesn’t like holding long practices, he said. So when the NCAA allowed for eight hours of work each week, it allowed for players to go full tilt. Wednesday won’t look much different on that front. But it’ll allow for focus on other things beside the gritty and grimy defense he promised when hired.
“I’ve spent so much time, a lot of time, defensively, and we still have a long way to go in that department,” Forbes said.
Forbes said he’s had to establish a priorities list as he’s still settling in. Players have received a good chunk of that. Other things, like his office, have not.
Forbes said he had his books up, as well as some commemorative basketballs on display. He plans on putting up some pictures of NBA players he has coached, as well as framed copies of Sports Illustrated magazines from the years he was part of an NCAA Tournament berth at other programs. He’ll get to it eventually, he said, probably when the NCAA allows recruits to have on-campus visits again.
Optimism has followed Forbes to Winston-Salem. But it’ll be paired with realism for a new coaching staff and a group of players, both returnees and new additions, still trying to gel. He pointed to the scene from the team bus on "Bull Durham," where Crash Davis teaches Nuke LaLoosh about some of the go-to sports clichés. Specifically, play them one day at a time.
Forbes said there’s truth to that. And for this Year One, like all the others, that will be more true than ever.
“You just run your own race," Forbes said. "We have our expectations and our standards that we expect every day in practice. You know, you live by those and you try to win each game, and at the end of the year you add them all up and you hope that it’s enough to get in the NCAA Tournament.”
We have our expectations and our standards that we expect every day in practice. You know, you live by those and you try to win each game, and at the end of the year you add them all up and you hope that it’s enough to get in the NCAA Tournament.