LSU men’s basketball head coach Will Wade speaks July 31 during a St. Mary Outreach fundraiser at the Petroleum Club of Morgan City.
—The Daily Review/Zachary Fitzgerald
LSU men’s hoops seeks NCAA tourney bid
Will Wade and his LSU men’s basketball team are eyeing an NCAA tournament berth for the 2018-19 season one year after a promising turnaround for the program.
Wade spoke July 31 in Morgan City at a St. Mary Outreach fundraiser at the Petroleum Club of Morgan City.
The 2017-18 season was Wade’s first season as head coach at LSU and an “adjustment period just getting to know our players, getting to know how basketball is in the SEC,” he said. The team finished the season with an 18-15 record overall, 8-10 in the SEC and a berth in the NIT.
Prior to Wade’s arrival, LSU was 10-21 during the 2016-17 season and just 2-16 in conference play.
Wade hopes the 2018-19 LSU team is headed to play in the NCAA tournament.
“We don’t want to play in the NIT anymore. It was a great experience last year,” he said. “It was better than where we’ve been. It was a good stepping stone for us.”
The team’s goal this coming season is “to compete at the top of the SEC” and “work our way in the NCAA tournament,” he said. “Once you get to the NCAA tournament, anything can happen.”
LSU has “a great mix” of experienced returning players “who have been through those battles in the SEC” and talented newcomers who want to “help LSU basketball get back to the top,” he said.
The Tigers’ 2018-19 recruiting class was ranked No. 3 in the nation. The class includes two five-star freshmen recruits in 6-foot-10 forward Naz Reid of Roselle, New Jersey, and 6-7 Emmitt Williams of Lehigh Acres, Florida.
“They’re both big guys who will help us on the front line ... get us some rebounds down there, bring some toughness to us,” Wade said.
Other new players straight out of high school are guard Ja’Vonte Smart of Scotlandville Magnet, 2018 Mr. Basketball in Louisiana, and forward Darius Days of Gainesville, Florida.
Adding a homegrown player, such as Smart, helps the team as a whole.
“He helped recruit those other guys. Ja’Vonte just has unbelievable leadership capabilities. He’s somebody that a lot of guys love to follow,” Wade said.
LSU also has three junior college transfers in guard Danya Kinsby, forward Courtese Cooper and guard Marlon Taylor.
“We’ve been able to work those guys out this summer for the last eight weeks,” Wade said of all the newcomers. “As good as we felt about them on paper and recruiting them, we feel even better about them after working them out and being able to spend time with them.”
The newcomers have great character and have come together well to “really form as a team” with the returning players, he said.
Sophomore point guard Tremont Waters, who led LSU in scoring as a freshman with 15.9 points per game, has “made a huge jump this summer” in terms of improving his game, Wade said.
Junior guard Skylar Mays, senior guard Daryl Edwards, junior forward Wayde Sims and junior guard Marshall Graves have all made substantial improvements as well.
Wade expects the Tigers to be more competitive this year with the upgrades to the team’s roster. Also, Wade and his staff will be able to use their experience from last year to get better.
“I think we’ve got a much better feel as a program for how the league functions, how things are in the SEC, what other coaches do, what some of their tendencies are,” Wade said.
Prior to arriving at LSU, Wade had served as head coach at Virginia Commonwealth University from 2015-17 and head coach at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga from 2013-15. He led VCU to two NCAA tournament berths, advancing to the second round in 2016.
—Information from lsusports.net contributed to this article.