LSU men's hoop program can only go up as Wade era begins
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) New LSU coach Will Wade is trying to be realistic.
He's inherited a roster with few players who were highly rated recruits and his best hope for scoring comes from a graduate transfer.
So, for now, he's not talking about specific goals, but rather pledging to lay a compelling foundation for Tigers basketball by fielding a team that embodies toughness, hustle, fundamentals and tenacious defense. You know, all those things that teams with a talent deficit have to do to even be competitive.
''Do we have to play perfectly to win? I'd say no, but we're going to have to play very, very well,'' said Wade, who was hired away from VCU last spring following LSU's decision to fire Johnny Jones.
''We're going to have to handle the details very well. Our margin for error is not what some other teams (have) probably,'' Wade continued. ''We've got to be masters at all the little things.''
LSU had an NBA prospect on the roster - Antonio Blakeney - who could have returned after enduring last season's 10-21 record. But Blakeny turned pro, wasn't drafted, and wound up signing a ''two-way'' developmental contract with the Chicago Bulls.
The top returning player is 6-foot-11 Duop Reath, who transferred from junior college in 2016 and last season averaged 12 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. Third-leading scorer Brandon Sampson, a 6-5 guard who averaged 11.6 points last season, also returns.
The best scoring option might be 6-3 guard Randy Onwuasor, a graduate transfer who last season averaged about 23.6 points for Utah State.
In any event, expectations for Wade aren't high in his first season. In the Southeastern Conference's official preseason poll, the Tigers were picked to finish last.
Here are some key story lines for an LSU squad that hopes to prove a lot of people wrong in Wade's maiden season:
WADE'S WORLD: The arrival of Wade gives the Tigers a young, up-and-coming coach who is hoping over time to capitalize on LSU's considerable resources and proximity to a wealth of talent in the Gulf South. Wade has known only winning in his four seasons as a head coach at Chattanooga and VCU. Chattanooga was coming off consecutive losing seasons when Wade arrived and made them winners in his first season. Chattanooga won more than 20 games in Year 2 under Wade, who then took over at VCU when Shaka Smart left for Texas. Wade guided the Rams to a 51-20 record in two seasons and is 91-45 overall as a head coach.
ON THE BALL: With the arrival of one of LSU's top freshmen, 5-11 Tremont Waters, Wade has decided to use a two-point-guard starting lineup in which Waters and incumbent starting point guard Skylar Mays can alternate running the offense. ''It's definitely new to me because I've never played with another point guard that can handle the ball and run the show,'' Waters said. ''I like to have the ball in my hands ... but I feel like it's going to be a good system, a good fit, and Skylar's going to help me and help the team to win a lot of games.''
ONE AND DONE: Although Wade tends to emphasize his long-term vision for the Tigers, Onwuasor said he was so impressed with Wade and his staff that he chose LSU for his one season of eligibility over programs which have won more lately, such as Gonzaga. Onwuasor said he hopes to play professionally - ideally in the NBA but also overseas if that's his best option - and he believes Wade's staff will prepare him best by giving him an opportunity to having a leading role. ''I was comfortable with the coaching staff here,'' Onwuasor said. ''I could trust them. If I ever needed anything after I left here, I knew that they would help me.''
TALENT GAP: Wade asserted that what his team lacks in top-tier recruits, it makes up for with competent players across the roster. ''Listen, our one-through-four or five may not wow you, but our one-through-12 isn't that bad,'' Wade said. ''We've got to get it to where our game is our whole one-through-12, because we've got a lot of guys where there's not a lot of difference. We just need them to play extremely hard, play their role and be good with that.''
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