Coach Will Wade Talks LSU Basketball Newcomers, Improvements of Returning Players
LSU coach Will Wade couldn't be happier with what he's seeing in the early practices out of his team. Wade said multiple times how much deeper and athletic the Tigers are in 2020 and brought in a former player to get an outsider's perspective.
Former guard Skylar Mays went to watch LSU practice one day last week and Wade said one of the biggest takeaways Mays had when watching the practice is how aggressive and athletic the team seems to be when hitting the boards and driving in the lane.
"Gollee coach, you got five guys above the rim on every play and on every shot," Mays told Wade. "We've got a roster of 13 guys that can all play and it makes practice competitive. Sometimes it takes some perspective from somebody else to see the difference in our depth and athleticism."
There are legitimately nine players that, if the season started today, Wade would feel comfortable plugging in an SEC game and provide meaningful minutes. Last season, LSU went seven or eight deep at times and even that was a stretch.
Some of that newfound athleticism and depth comes with the additions of both transfers and freshmen alike that will undoubtedly make the purple and gold a preseason top 25 team. On the transfer side, LSU brings in Bryan Penn-Johnson, Shareef O'Neal and Josh LeBlanc.
While LSU is still waiting word on the transfer waivers for O'Neal and LeBlanc, Penn-Johnson has been approved by the NCAA and figures to be a key cog in the paint on both ends of the floor. At 7-foot-1, Wade says the Washington transfer will be able to affect shots on the defensive end and be an anchor for offensive rebounds.
"Penn is gonna affect more shots than he blocks, very cerebral player, very smart player," Wade said. "He understands our philosophy and he's used to playing a matchup zone, he's used to playing in a zone. Penn has an advanced understanding of what we're doing which has helped him adjust quickly."
Wade is extremely excited by all of the freshmen on the roster, particularly the on-ball defensive capabilities of Mwani Wilkinson and Jalen Cook.
"Jalen Cook might be the best on-ball defender I've seen since I was at VCU and we had Briante Webber, who's the second all-time NCAA steals leader," Wade said. "Cook is as good as I've seen at hounding the ball and guarding the ball."
From an offensive perspective, LSU brings in Cameron Thomas to replace Mays and Wade has been on record saying that Thomas is one of the best scorers he's seen at the high school level in all of his years recruiting. Wade said it's gotten to the point in practice where if Thomas shoots the ball and it doesn't go in, it's a disappointing result.
"He's gonna get points," Wade said. "Remember the shots that Tremont [Waters] used to hit? Those are the kind of shots he can make while he's getting fouled. He's the real deal. As soon as the ball leaves his hand you think it's going in. The part I'm excited about is he gets fouled, he's a 90 plus percent free throw shooter, he's able to get in the paint and score a lot of different ways."
LSU also returns a plethora of veterans from last year's team including guards Javonte Smart and Charles Manning as well as forwards Trendon Watford and Darius Days. Watford in particular, was a huge addition for Wade as he just as easily could've elected to enter the NBA Draft but instead decided to return for one more season of development.
On the floor, Wade says Watford is shooting the ball extremely well and has the capability to shoot 38-40% from three, which would open up the driving lanes.
"Trendon's done a phenomenal job, the first thing is just leadership. He's more vocal leading, he's talking to guys and has a great way about him," Wade said. "He's playing a lot more physical, whether it be posting up or rebounding and the area that fans will be excited about is he's shooting the ball really well."
The season is just over a month away and the team seems to be coming together faster than anticipated. With a deeper, bigger and stronger team, the 2020 season figures to be one full of excitement for the purple and gold.