When Wake Forest star center Olivier Sarr announced he would be putting his name in the NCAA Transfer Portal and exploring his options for his final year of eligibility, national basketball analysts immediately pegged him as the most highly-coveted transfer on the market.
This morning alone, Eric Bossi of Rivals.com said Sarr was “perhaps the best player to hit the portal yet.”
“The transfer portal continues to be active and one of the most recent entrants is perhaps the best player to hit the portal yet,” Bossi said. “Wake Forest big man Olivier Sarr is the biggest potential prize of the the 2020 transfer cycle. A third team All-ACC player as a junior while averaging 13.7 points and nine rebounds a game, Sarr has an impressive blend of seven-foot size, athleticism and game. … Sarr hasn’t yet commented about who he has heard from, but as soon as he starts sharing information, I’d expect to see some big-time programs in the mix.”
And the Wake Forest staff – headlined by new head coach Steve Forbes – knows they have an uphill climb ahead of them in their recruiting efforts to bring him back to Winston-Salem.
In an appearance on the More With Les Podcast with Les Johns of 247Sports on Monday afternoon, Forbes acknowledged that Sarr is going to have the “who’s who” recruiting him during his time in the portal, adding that the Wake Forest staff is going to have to put their best foot forward if they want to keep the 7-foot center on campus.
“He’s going to have the who’s who recruiting him. I get it,” Forbes said. “But that’s the people we have to beat anyway to be good, right? We’re going to swing for the fences and put our best foot forward, and we’ll see where it goes. I don’t expect it to be a real fast process, I don’t know. We’ll just have to play it by ear. I’m not going to pressure him, I told him that. I’m just going to continue to get to know him.”
Those recruiting efforts began almost immediately, with Forbes and the entire Wake staff visiting the star center at his home in North Carolina on Sunday.
“Recruiting is different right now; you can’t go see kids, but you can see your own kids,” Forbes said. “The whole staff, we drove yesterday to visit with Olivier face-to-face. I thought it went really well. As you guys know, he’s a fabulous, fabulous young man. I just love him. We were there for a couple hours, I thought we connected well for the first time. We talked on the phone, but not face to face [until Sunday].
“We had video there, laid it out for him. You know, how we’ll be different, how he’ll be different, how we’ll play him. Those things are important. I went through a lot of things in a house doing a home visit, you know? Then I got on FaceTime with him and his parents in France, had a good visit. We started out well, but Olivier had to do a lot of translating. I don’t speak French [laughs]. I told him if he came back, I’d try to learn. … We sat there and just visited with ourselves for about 30 minutes, laughed about fishing. I’ve got a good fishing picture I’ve got to send him. I’m really disappointed I sold my bass boat last year, I should’ve kept the darn thing, especially if he likes to fish. But that part went well.”
“Ultimately, I’ll tell you this, and I’ll tell Wake fans this: I want him to come back because he wants to come back. I don’t want him to come back because someone talks him into it. I want it to be in his heart to come here. And Wake is deep in his heart, I can promise you that. … We hit it off really well.”
Forbes added that Wake assistant coach Randolph Childress – an individual Sarr is reportedly close with and hoped earned the head-coaching job at the school – will be retained and is actively recruiting the 7-foot center back to Winston-Salem.
“This past weekend, having Coach Childress back to calm some nerves a little bit, too. I’m not going to lie, that helped a ton,” Forbes said. “He reached out to help re-create the roster again. … It’s going to be a process to piece this thing back together in unprecedented times. I only got the job Thursday, but I think we’re making some solid progress in a very short amount of time.”
In an appearance on College Hoops Today with Jon Rothstein this afternoon, Forbes reiterated that Sarr will be highly sought-after and understands that he will have a difficult decision to make, but genuinely hopes he decides to return to school.
“I went to visit with Olivier last night, he’s still here in North Carolina. I had a tremendous visit with him, a couple hours with me and my staff. Outstanding young man,” Forbes said in the interview. “Obviously he’s a really good player, and he had a lot of really good feelings about Wake. You know, it’s hard. You lose your coach, you don’t know the guy coming in. I can’t be with him every day. But I felt good about it leaving. He’s going to have everybody in the country recruiting him, but we put our best foot forward and continue to do that. In the end, I told him, “I want you to come back because you want to come back. I don’t want anyone to talk you into it, I want you to feel it in your heart that you want to be here.”
At the time of his decision to put his name in the NCAA Transfer Portal, Sarr told Jeff Borzello that he will give Wake Forest a chance, but wants to be able to pick his own coach.
“It’s actually a tough decision,” Sarr said in the ESPN interview. “I want to give Wake Forest a chance and listen to what he has to say. I’m entering the transfer portal because I want to listen to all the options. I want to be able to pick my own coach, not have one chosen for me.”
The biggest factor in his recruitment? Winning. After “some tough years” at Wake Forest, Sarr wants to be a part of a winning program. Whether that can be in Winston-Salem next year under Forbes, or if it needs to be elsewhere, that will be the next step in his decision-making process.
“My drive is winning,” he said. “Everybody knows there’s been some tough years with Wake. I tried my best individually to improve and work on my game, but really, in the next program I’m looking for a winning program. A winning team with ambition. A team that plays with intensity.”
While we wait for Sarr to announce which schools have reached out – Kentucky is expected to be one – and his future plans, check out his highlights below:
Come on down.