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Cougars hire Greg Ackles as new basketball coach

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WAKE FOREST — Wake Forest announced the hiring of Greg Ackles as their new boys basketball head coach Friday May 22.

Ackles is a graduate of Elizabeth City State University and Grand Canyon University. He was a former assistant coach at Camden County High School and Lakeland High School in Suffolk, Va.

He was the head coach at Southern Vance High School from 2013-18 where his team won a conference tournament championship by beating Franklinton in 2016 and qualified for the state playoffs three times. The past two years, he served as head coach at Vance-Granville Community College. Ackles will teach Health and Physical Education at Wake Forest High School.

“I want to thank Patti Hamler and Coach Mike Joyner for having faith in me to lead the basketball program,” Ackles said. “My family and I are excited to join the Wake Forest community and we are looking forward to building a winning basketball team.”

Wake Forest athletic director Joyner commented on Ackles’ success as a head basketball coach, which led him to land the job as a Cougar.

“I have known Coach Ackles for a few years and saw the success he had at his last two coaching stops,” Joyner said. “We were looking for a coach to come in and mold our young, talented players into a group that can consistently compete at a high level in the NAC 6 conference and be a consistent state playoff qualifier. We also wanted someone who could get out and build relationships in the community and create some excitement about Cougar basketball again. He checked all the boxes.”

Wake Forest principal Hamler expressed her thoughts on bringing Ackles on at the high school.

“Wake Forest High School is truly a community school,” Hamler said. “We were looking for someone to get out and build relationships with the community. From his experience, he fits the mold. When asked to describe himself, he replied energetic, motivated and passionate. We have a group of players who are hungry and want to win.”

Ackles is coming into a faltering program at Wake Forest. The Cougars have only mustered up 23 wins the past three years with no playoff appearances during that span. Wake Forest is coming off its worst season in recent history with a 5-20 record.

“Our expectation is to win,” Ackles said. “The culture has to change. Right now, it’s a matter of figuring things out. I’m watching film on how the guys played last year. I’m going to Zoom call the players throughout the week and we’ll see how we go from there.”

This will be Ackles’ second stint as a head coach of a varsity basketball squad and his first time coaching in the 4A class. He said that his time at Southern Vance helped him prepare for this moment.

“I was extremely nervous at Southern Vance, but it was a learning experience,” Ackles said. “Coaching college basketball was a goal of mine. We were trying to turn the program around up there at Vance-Granville, but my passion is coaching high school basketball.”

Wake Forest will have their work cut out for them this winter. This past season, the NAC 6 conference had four teams with at least 15 wins or more. Heritage won the conference, with Rolesville, Wakefield and Knightdale all right behind them.

The Cougars on the other hand finished last in the NAC 6, only winning one conference game. Ackles said he hopes that will all change this year.

“At the end of the day, it’s about competing and playing hard,” Ackles said. “The one thing I’ve learned over the past 15 years of coaching is that playing hard erases a lot of mistakes. My job is to come in and get the players to understand that they have to show the other teams that we can compete. We have to play harder than everyone else to give ourselves a chance.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ackles said he is unsure of when he will get to meet his players in person or get to start workouts with them. For now, he is relying on his own personal experience and looking to the community for support until sports are allowed to resume again.

“I know how I coach and I’m extremely passionate about basketball,” Ackles said. “I can help guys get better and improve. I hope we can get the community behind us. I want to sell out basketball games like this school sells out football games. I know this community is very supportive of this high school. We want to turn things around and see these kids be successful. As long as the young men are making progress in the classroom and on the court, we should turn out fine this year.”