Yohan Traore never knew the LSU fight song; he’s got no clue what LSU’s chancellor’s name is and, for the life of him, he can’t understand the famous spelling of “Geaux” among Tigers fans.
He does, however, know Will Wade and his family and remembers the time when he was at his lowest point athletically and Wade called him out of the blue and encouraged him to the point of regaining his confidence.
“I was close with Coach Wade,” Traore said. “He was the one asking about my family and talking to me about everything on and off the court. So, when he wasn’t there anymore, I knew I had to move on. He was the reason I went there.”
Malik Reneau can relate.
In September, Reneau committed to play for Mike White at Florida, but on March 13, White took the job at Georgia; nine days later Reneau decommitted from the Gators.
“When we come to a school it’s because we get to know the coaches,” said Traore, who recently committed to Auburn. “You don’t come for the school; not at first.”
Traore’s sentiments were shared by most elite basketball players who contend that the bonds formed over years of calls, texts and visits rest solely with coaches.
LSU is the most glaring example of this; after firing Wade last month, following accusations of multiple Level I NCAA violations, the Tigers lost all four players committed in the 2022 and 2023 classes.
Elite junior combo guard Marvel Allen backed out of his commitment to LSU after Wade’s firing because there was no connection to Baton Rouge once Wade was gone. There was no rapport with new Tigers coach Matt McMahon, the former head coach at Murray State, which meant there was no trust to draw from.
“That’s the biggest thing,” Allen said. “We go throughout this whole process and make the toughest decision of our lives because it all comes down to who you trust to guide you toward your dream. Then you finally pick that coach and then he’s gone. You can’t just stay there. This is our lives we’re talking about.”
The thought of potentially having to worry about a coaching change never occurred to Mark Mitchell when he committed to Duke.
The Blue Devils knew they were losing Mike Krzyzewski after this season, his 42nd, and had already named Jon Scheyer as his successor.
“Yeah, I guess I’m in a different position,” Mitchell said. “I mean, it’s Duke, so the school and the tradition definitely played a big role, but Coach Scheyer was the main reason I picked them. Duke is Duke, but I look at it as Coach Scheyer is Coach Scheyer.”
Gradey Dick had a similar perspective when he chose Kansas, though he admits it’s harder to think about how you’d feel if your coach left when he’s a Hall of Famer coming off a national title with a lifetime contract.
“Obviously, he’s not going anywhere,” Dick said of Bill Self. “I just knew I had to find the best personal fit and that started with the coach, but I definitely factored in the school. I see people who don’t understand the process say things like guys aren’t loyal when they leave after a coach leaves, but that’s silly.”
It’s downright unfathomable when you consider the high stakes riding on elite players realizing their potential in year one.
Whether it’s true or not, the reality is that most players ranked in the top 25 range in their respective class believe that they have a realistic chance to be one-and-done, or at the very least see it as the goal.
That belief is only magnified when they hear from agents, family and hangers-on that half of the first round picks in last year’s draft were one-and-done players.
To that end, Allen said having the right coach puts you in “the best position possible” to display your talents.
“It’s not as simple as people think,” Allen said. “It could be the right school, but if you don’t have the right coach it’s over. A lot of guys come from nothing, and this is their chance to make it for their family. When people say it’s a big decision that goes over people’s heads. The most important part is to be with a coach who believes in you. That’s how you have the best chance.”