Wade in the waters of success

Young coach looking to channel his inner Dale Brown

After just a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances in nine years under two coaches, the LSU Tigers turned to coach Will Wade in hopes of bringing back the glory years of longtime coach Dale Brown.

During Brown’s 25 years on campus, LSU reached two Final Fours, four Elite Eights, and won four SEC regular-season crowns. After an 18-15 (8-10 SEC) 2017-18 campaign and a bid to the National Invitational Tournament, Wade (109-60) has fans hopeful that the heydays have returned down on the bayou.  

Former LSU coach Dale Brown | Photo courtesy LSU Athletics

Under Brown from 1989-1992, LSU also laid claim to one of the most impressive streaks in SEC history when sharpshooter Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (Chris Jackson) and future NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal combined to win four straight SEC Player of the Year awards. The only other duo in league history to equal that stretch of individual success was Tennessee’s Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld.

Also, no look back at LSU’s past would be complete without mentioning “Pistol” Pete Maravich, whose 44.2 points per game average remains the gold standard of scoring in college basketball history. And 28 games with 50 points or more remains an equally impressive feat considering there was no 3-point shot during “The Pistol’s” era.

No history of LSU would be complete without Shaq | Photo courtesy LSU Athletics

The Tigers’ recent history isn’t quite as heralded, with a lone Final Four berth in 2006 under John Brady being an outlier for a program longing for a return to greatness. While team success has been fleeting, LSU has produced some of the best talent in the SEC, including point-guard prodigy Ben Simmons, who was selected No. 1 by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2016 NBA Draft.

Despite losing several contributors to graduation and transfers, Wade’s recruiting class is filled with elite talent and expected to contribute from day one, and having steady, experienced guard play should help the transition of these talented freshmen.

Skylar Mays | Photo courtesy LSU Athletics

Guards Tremont Waters (15.9 ppg/6.0 apg) and Skylar Mays (11.3 ppg) give LSU excellent balance in distributing and shot-making that will be critical to its success in 2019. The 5-foot-11 Waters’ playmaking abilities have LSU fans harkening back to Jackson’s time in Baton Rouge, while Mays’ willingness to move off-ball creates space for Waters.

With freshman guard Javonte Smart choosing to stay in his native Baton Rouge, Wade now has three playmakers who can stretch defenses beyond their comfort zones. Wade considers Smart one of the most competitive players he’s coached and expects the 6’4” guard’s transition from high school to be seamless.

Most programs’ frontcourt would suffer with center Duop Reath (12.5 ppg/5.3 rpg) and 6’9 forward Aaron Epps’ (9.5 ppg/5.5 rpg) graduating. But the Tigers simply reloaded and have three premier frontcourt options making their debuts this season. Five-star big men Nazreon Reid and Emmitt Williams were implemented as starters immediately upon signing with LSU.

Reid’s double-double in the McDonald’s All-American Game has experts penciling the 6’10” forward in as a one-and-done prospect. Since arriving in Baton Rouge, Reid has lost nearly 30 pounds in preparation for the rigors of the college basketball season. The 6’7” Williams is Wade’s most gifted athlete since he came to LSU from Virginia Commonwealth in 2017 and is an absolute monster on the boards.

Tremont Waters | Photo courtesy LSU Athletics

The tandem of Williams and Reid gives LSU its most formidable frontcourt duo since Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Tyrus Thomas in 2005-06. Oregon transfer Kavell Bigby-Williams and freshman Darius Days provide the Tigers even more size off the bench.

LSU’s non-conference slate includes a November 13 showdown with the Memphis Tigers at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. While friends and family are enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, the Tigers will play the College of Charleston in the quarterfinals of the AdvoCare Invitational in Orlando, Florida. The Bayou Bengals will then play UAB or Florida State the following day. On December 15, the Tigers travel to Las Vegas for a marquee matchup with the Saint Mary’s Gaels of the West Coast Conference.

While the Tigers have several key contributors to replace, the duo of Waters and Graves, with help from Williams and Reid, has the potential for something special. The question is if the kids can be impactful from day one and carry the Tigers to the NCAAs for the first time since 2015. If Williams and Reid are as advertised, the Tigers should be favorites to make the Sweet Sixteen and legitimate contenders for something greater. H&A

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Cover photo: LSU head coach Will Wade | Courtesy LSU Athletics 

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