WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — Several players left Wake Forest early this offseason. Jaylen Hoard came aboard.
The Demon Deacons' highest-rated recruit in a decade was always going to play an important role this season. With four players exiting since the end of the season — two turning pro, two others transferring — Hoard figures to be the centerpiece of a team trying to reach just its second NCAA Tournament since 2010.
The 6-foot-8 forward — a consensus top-25 prospect and native of France who played high school ball in nearby High Point — was recruited by roughly a dozen power-conference schools before committing to Wake Forest last August.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Hoard said coach Danny Manning and his staff "know what they're talking about. They play at the highest level, so that's where I want to be. ... There was no better teacher for me."
It helped that the Demon Deacons already had something of a built-in French connection: Rising sophomore 7-footer Olivier Sarr is from Toulouse and played for the French under-17 and under-18 national teams before coming to Wake Forest.
That made for some easy bonding for Hoard, who was born in the southern France city of Carnon, the son of two basketball players. His father, Antwon, played at Murray State before starting an 18-year professional career overseas while his mother, Katia, played at Washington and was on the French national team in 1994.
Hoard also has international experience, averaging 22.4 points for France two years ago at the under-16 world championships and scoring 41 points against South Korea.
"Jaylen is an extremely talented player, extremely versatile and we're going to use him all over the court," Manning said. "Defenses will dictate kind of how we use him, but he's going to have the chance to have an impact from Day One. We expect him to have an impact from Day One, and we're excited about coaching him. He has tremendous upside in his skill set and I'm not just talking offensively. Defensively, the way he moves, his comfort level at the 3-point line, in between, at the basket."
For the Demon Deacons, it also seemed as if Hoard was the local prep star they couldn't let get away: He spent the past two years playing at Wesleyan Christian Academy, roughly a 30-minute drive from campus, and was a regular visitor there.
"Basically, I came on campus a lot of times before, so my official visit wasn't anything huge," Hoard said. "I came down here any time I could, every time we had a weekend off or something for a game, I would come down here to watch them play, watch them practice."
Many of those players Hoard watched practice are no longer there. Guard Bryant Crawford and big man Doral Moore left early for the NBA draft but were not selected. They are playing in the NBA Summer League. Also, guard Keyshawn Woods is a graduate transfer at Ohio State and Donovan Mitchell also transferred out.
Hoard likely will team with Chaundee Brown — a four-star sophomore who formerly was the program's highest-rated recruit since 2008, before Hoard usurped that role this year — as the focal points for the Demon Deacons. Hoard says he has been told he can play "pretty much anywhere" because of his lengthy frame and shooting touch from outside.
"That's what the coaches always tell me — use my versatility because I can dribble, shot, pass," Hoard said. "Play all around the court."
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