Wilbekin follows his heart (and Danny Manning) to Wake Forest
Mitchell Wilbekin always has been Danny Manning’s kind of point guard.
So when Manning left Tulsa for Wake Forest, it was only natural that Wilbekin would follow.
Now the freshman guard is looking to step out of the shadow of his big brother — Southeastern Conference player of the year Scottie Wilbekin —and make a name for himself in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“It’s the ACC — it’s the best conference in the country by far,” Wilbekin said. “Wake Forest has a lot of basketball tradition, a lot of players in the NBA and I know (Manning’s) offensive style and I’m comfortable with it.”
The uptempo, screen-heavy system that Manning runs seems to mesh perfectly with Wilbekin — who says he operated a similar system the past few years while averaging nearly 15 points last season at The Rock School in Gainesville, Florida.
“The ball-screening offense the last couple of years at my high school, that’s really all we did. That was our offense,” Wilbekin said. “That was kind of what I was looking for in college.”
He thought he found it when he signed to play for Manning at Tulsa. But after Manning led the Golden Hurricane to their first NCAA tournament since 2003, Wake Forest made a strong push for him and he took the job April 4.
Wilbekin was released from his letter of intent and reopened his recruitment, receiving offers from Virginia and South Florida. But Manning also had a spot open for him in Winston-Salem.
“He says we’re just going to get up and down, play fast, use a lot of ball screens and play hard defense, pressure the ball,” Wilbekin said.
It certainly helps, Manning said, that Wilbekin grew up playing against his big brother — who averaged 13 points while leading Florida to the Final Four.
“I like his DNA,” Manning said. “He’s been following his brother around and his brother had a (darned) good year last year. ... The one advantage that he has over a normal freshman is having lived a college type of lifestyle, in terms of working out, because he’s always tagged along with his brother. He’s been playing against really good competition since he’s been in the ninth grade.”
Now he’s ready to test himself against the best in the ACC.
He steps into a crowded backcourt that already includes two-year starter Codi Miller-McIntyre, steady junior Madison Jones and long-distance threat Miles Overton.
Those three along, with talented big man Devin Thomas, form the core of a team that made steady progress during each of the past two seasons under former coach Jeff Bzdelik — whose resignation in March cleared the way for Manning.
With those players on the roster, Manning isn’t facing a total rebuilding job. His task is to find a way to propel that group to even greater heights.
And Wilbekin hopes to fit in with those returners and play an important role in that process.
“We have a lot of talented players. Coach obviously knows what he’s doing,” Wilbekin said. “His calm demeanor is really something I appreciate, and he knows so much about the game from all his years at ever level being successful. So I’m really just trying to come in and work hard and find a spot.”