Senior guard, No. 2 scorer in App State history graduates after historic career


Hiatt Ellis

Senior guard Justin Forrest poses outside of the Holmes Convocation Center March 28, 2022.

Dan Davidson, Former Sports Editor

After serving as the face of the App State basketball program for five years, one senior guard reflects on his historic career before leaving the Mountaineer family. 

“It’s been great being a focal point on this team. It’s been an honor,” said senior guard Justin Forrest. “It’s been a fun experience and one I’ll never forget.”

Growing up in Decatur, Georgia James and Sonia Forrest raised Justin. James Forrest, who earned All-ACC first team in 1994 at Georgia Tech, instilled an intense work ethic and unwillingness to be complacent in his son at an early age. 

“He’s always been a hard worker. He’s always the underdog,” James Forrest said. “I kept him away from all of the hoopla … and just made sure he was fine-tuned to go to college and make a difference.”

James Forrest played professional basketball overseas during the early stages of his son’s life. He and his wife had to rely on others at times to help raise their son, including James’ best friend Marcus Woods. 

“I was still playing professional over in Europe, and he started getting him in the gym at four,” James Forrest said. “I’ll never forget, I was in Treviso, Italy, about to play a game when my best friend called me, and he said ‘Hey man, I just wanted to tell you something. He played his first game. We got us one.’”

Justin Forrest played on his high school basketball team at Greenforest McCalep Christian Academy, where he won back-to-back Class A-Private Boys State Championships as a junior and senior. In the 2017 championship, Forrest dropped 36 points en route to a 24-point win over Southwest Atlanta Christian. 

Outside of high school basketball, Forrest played for his father’s Amateur Athletic Union squad, Team Forrest. James Forrest established Team Forrest in 2010 out of a desire to coach his son. However, James Forrest quickly learned that simultaneously being a coach and father brought its own challenges. 

“A lot of times, he thought I hated him,” James Forrest said. “There were moments where we would play games, and we may win a game, and I may still be pissed, and he would be like ‘Why is he still not happy?’ But the beautiful thing about it, he understood what I was saying, so by the time he got up to Boone, nothing could faze him.”

Forrest made an immediate impact after arriving at App State, playing in all 33 games his freshman year, 27 of which he started. Forrest led the team in steals with 42 while scoring 13.5 points per game, good for second most on the 2017-18 team. 

Senior guard Justin Forrest runs the offense in App State’s 15-point victory over Little Rock Jan. 29, 2022. (Hiatt Ellis)

The highlight of his freshman year came Nov. 22, 2017, against James Madison, where Forrest poured in 36 points, four assists and two steals.

Forrest continued to improve as a sophomore and junior, increasing his points per game average to 16.2 and 17.3, respectively. Forrest also increased his assist per game average in both years as the Mountaineers began to win more. Through Forrest’s first two years, the Black and Gold finished a combined 26-39. However, the team improved to a winning record in Forrest’s junior year, finishing 18-15. 

“Going into my junior year, a lot of people were trying to get me to transfer, saying I should leave because I had two decent years up at App,” Forrest said. “When coach Kerns got hired, I was one of the first people he called, and he told me he wanted to stay as well as that family environment. Once you move in with a family, you don’t want to move out.”

Forrest came to App State with the goal of turning around the program. He saw the challenge of playing basketball at a school traditionally known for its football program as an opportunity rather than a hindrance. 

“That was the one thing we wanted to focus on is make sure we went somewhere where we can actually help change their program,” James Forrest said. “They loved him up in Boone, and we stuck with it. It ended up perfect.”

Forrest and the Mountaineers continued to win during his final two seasons, achieving three-straight winning seasons for the first time since 1997-2000 to conclude Forrest’s career. After starting his career 26-39, Forrest stretched out a 54-42 record over the next three years to finish just one game under .500 for his career. 

Forrest, along with his teammates and head coach Dustin Kerns, turned the App State basketball program into a winning culture. They won the most Sun Belt games in program history, achieved the highest seeding in the Sun Belt Tournament in school history and won their largest total of games since 2009-10. 

In 2021, the Black and Gold claimed the Sun Belt Tournament Championship and earned a ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000. The following year, App State competed in back-to-back postseasons for the first time in program history. 

“Winning that Sun Belt Championship was not only good for us individually but for the basketball program at App. It was needed to let people know that App basketball is on the map,” Forrest said.

The culture of App State basketball has also changed in the Holmes Convocation Center. In Forrest’s final season, the Holmes Center set a new season attendance record of 42,620 as it became one of the premier atmospheres in the Sun Belt.

Looking back on his career, Forrest recalls several memories partially defining his career as a Mountaineer. From his 19-point second half in a victory over East Carolina to his game-winner over rival Georgia Southern to App State’s improbable run to the NCAA Tournament, Forrest leaves Boone with a trove of memories. 

“I was really down on myself at halftime because I wasn’t able to be out there producing for my team, but they just kept giving me confidence,” Forrest said of the ECU game. “So many moments like that.”

In Forrest’s final game in the black and gold, App State fell to USC Upstate 80-74 in The Basketball Classic. Forrest was a gametime decision due to a right wrist injury and was hampered throughout the game. Sidelined for much of the second half due to his injury, Forrest’s career came to a close as the Spartans defeated the Mountaineers. 

“It was kind of a shocker. We weren’t really expecting that,” Forrest said. “Everybody was hugging each other … just telling each other we’re all family at the end of the day for the rest of our lives no matter how a basketball game turned out.”

James Forrest expressed the pride he has in his son after seeing his collegiate career conclude. The 1993 ACC Tournament MVP is proud of his son for blazing his own path and leaving behind a legacy in Boone. 

“You just don’t see these things often, so you’ve got to be a certain kind of person,” James Forrest said. “It’s one of the things we talked about … wherever you go, just make sure when you leave, they know you were there. And I think everyone in Boone knows who Justin Forrest is.”

After wrapping up his career as a Mountaineer, Forrest will pursue professional basketball opportunities in the United States and abroad. 

“Might try and get some NBA workouts, and if not, pursue overseas basketball,” Forrest said. “Definitely continue to play basketball in some way, shape or form.”