Despite the basketball season ending in March for LSU, there are no days off for coach Will Wade, particularly this summer, while he and the Tiger coaching staff are working hard in anticipation of the highly touted 2018 basketball season.
The summer, Wade said, is one of the most important times of the year for the club as new faces are arriving on campus to gel with the returning players.
A typical summer day for the players consists of an early morning workout followed by a team breakfast, which Wade attends as regularly as possible. While the players are off at summer school, Wade’s morning consists of administrative business, then a shift to recruiting in the afternoon.
In the afternoon, players will return for scheduled workouts with some basketball activity on the courts, followed by a film session. Wade will usually stay and eat dinner with the team in a full 12-hour day.
“Then you wash, rinse and repeat,” Wade said. “This is where you lay the building blocks and groundwork for your team, so it’s very important, even though it may not be the most exciting stuff we do.”
Year two of the Wade brigade will see returning players joined by new additions at the forefront while the organization also tries to make improvements to the PMAC experience on gamedays. Last season, LSU basketball brought in a student section DJ as well as an outdoor tailgate where students could eat.
The ‘I Will Wade For You’ t-shirts became synonymous with LSU basketball. Wade was comfortable being at the forefront in year one but looks forward to what the marketing team can do with the players, both returning and new to sell the program.
“We’re still going to be aggressive, but fans now have a better sense of our players,” Wade said. “I think it’s much more about them, they’re the ones that make the plays and make things happen. Our returners will be featured, you’ve got Tremont, Skylar and Wayde [who] are all guys that fans are familiar with. Everybody is also aware of Ja’Vonte, so it’ll be more player focused, which is how it should be and our guys deserve it.”
A big goal of Wade’s was to improve the facilities at the PMAC and practice facilities. Wade said the program is behind schedule of where he’d like to be.
Immediate adjustments will come in the locker room, where Wade said there will be a little tinkering as well as some touch up work in the offices.
“We need massive renovations to the PMAC and practice facility,” Wade said. “We’re a ways behind, but we’re having discussions and in the process of getting plans.”
Of the returning players, sophomore guard Tremont Waters was the first player out of Wade’s mouth as somebody poised for a big year two leap. Waters had an electric freshman campaign, averaging 15.9 points and six assists per game.
Waters elected to enter his name to the draft but didn’t sign an agent, which allows him to come back to school. Waters had workouts with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Boston Celtics before deciding to some back to LSU.
“I think going through the NBA process has given him a much clearer picture of what he needs to be great at,” Wade said. “He’s really been a phenomenal player since he’s been back.”
Other players Wade mentioned were sophomore forward Brandon Rachal and junior guard Skylar Mays. Rachal was a late bloomer for LSU last year, but it’s his defense that Wade is most impressed with, while Mays has been a model of consistency for other players to look at.
“Rachal really came on for us towards the end of the year,” Wade said. “I want to see what jump he can make. Skylar is a real steady worker, so I expect him to improve just like when I got here last year.”
Joining Waters and Mays in the backcourt will be home-grown freshman guard Ja’Vonte Smart. Smart was a three-time state champion at Scotlandville High and was the Gatorade Louisiana Player of the Year for three consecutive years.
Wade sees all three guards being able to coexist very well together along with returning senior Daryl Edwards.
“We’ve got a lot of options,” Wade said. “It’s no secret that I want to play a little bit bigger on the wings, particularly the two and the three spots. I think we’ll see lineups with three guys like that, who can all play off and on-ball screen, and handle the ball, and make plays with the ball in their hands.”
Wade also expressed his desire to recruit at a junior college level in an attempt to bring experienced, tough minded players that have performed at a college level.
Entering this year as JUCO transfers are junior guards Marlon Taylor and Danya Kingsby, along with sophomore forward Courtese Cooper.
Taylor comes from Panola College in New York, where he was a phenomenal athlete, averaging 17 points and over nine boards a game a season ago.
“He’s really picking things up and working hard,” Wade said. “He can make threes, he’s athletic [and] cuts hard, but he needs to pick up some nuances of the game because he’s only been playing since he was a sophomore in high school.”
Cooper came in at 195 pounds and the team is hoping to get him around 225 by the end of the summer, to compete for minutes in a rotational role. Wade said Kingsby is fast with the ball and has solid instincts.
“They’re all good, solid players but now it’s on us to develop them and put them in a position where they can help us in games,” Wade said.
One big man that will finally be able to help the Tigers in some games is senior Kavell Bigby-Williams. Bigby-Williams was forced to sit out a year after transferring to LSU from Oregon last season and will help in an area Wade penciled as an area of concern last season, rebounding.
Joining Bigby-Williams are five-star freshmen Emmitt Williams and Naz Reid. The combination of the three, Wade said, will solve many of the rebounding issues the team had.
“They all have a presence to them,” Wade said. “Emmitt is just a ball-getter. There’s two or three rebounds in practice where I’ve [said] ‘Oh my goodness.’ Certainly in terms of enforcing inside the paint, Emmitt’s a world class rebounder, Naz is a great rebounder and Kavell has an active body.”
Wade said a big answer to the rebounding issues will be playing bigger at the three. Wade envisions Taylor as well as Rachal, Wayde Sims and freshman Darius Days.
“We need to be bigger at the three where we can crash the glass and put a little resistance up so we can block guys out,” Wade said. “Days is a really good offensive rebounder. He led the Under Armour circuit in offensive rebounds, and he’s translated it to practice.”
LSU also released the non-conference schedule for this season. Wade said it accomplished everything he wanted to get done.
Wade said he’s looking forward to getting the ball rolling on the season with away games at Houston, a game against St.Mary’s in Las Vegas and the tournament in Orlando, which features defending national champs Villanova. Wade emphasized how big the upcoming season’s non-conference schedule is for the program.
“We’ve got some good ball clubs,” Wade said. “It’s a challenging non-conference schedule, but it’s hopefully one we can navigate through.”
Wade takes detail to the extreme, and that’s how he wants his players to think as they head into the season, knowing it takes just one or two different outcomes that change a season.
“I think our guys understand every game is important,” Wade said. “Every little thing can be the difference between being in the NIT or the NCAA [Tournament], or the difference between the NCAA and seeding and the type teams you play and hopefully our guys understand that.”