LSU Coach Will Wade Talks Relationship With Texas Coach Shaka Smart, SEC-Big 12 Challenge

Glen West

After a thrilling 84-82 SEC win over Florida on Tuesday, LSU basketball switches gears from six straight conference wins and seven overall, to its final non-conference game of the season, taking on Texas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

For Will Wade, the man who has led the Tigers to a 22-2 conference record over the last two seasons, Saturday marks the first time he'll coach against one of his mentors and friends, Shaka Smart. Wade was an assistant coach under Smart at VCU for four years, a stretch that included a Final Four run in 2011.

Wade said Thursday that his four years as the assistant coach at VCU is what helped him grab a head coaching job at Chattanooga so early in his career, a job that propelled him back to VCU and then to LSU.

"I certainly wouldn’t be a head coach as fast as I was if it wasn’t for Shaka. We’ve known each other for a long time," Wade said. "Obviously, he had a lot of success at VCU and a lot of us assistants were able to kind of ride those coattails and parlay that into some head coaching jobs for ourselves. I’ve worked with him longer than anybody else I’ve worked for as an assistant so a lot of the things we do in our program are built around what he does."

One of the top priorities for Wade as a head coach is to spend as much  time as possible with his players. It's something he's routinely talked about as an important development for a team's chemistry on and off the court.

That element to his coaching style is something he picked up from Smart, admitting it took him a while as an assistant coach to understand why Smart was so invested with his players at VCU.

“Spending time with the players. How important your relationships are with the players. Being able to spend time with them. Being able to relate to them," Wade said. "When you’re an assistant you think you know everything and he would always tell me, ‘I can’t wait until you get a head coaching job.’ I’d walk in and say, ‘Coach this is crazy what we’re doing, I don’t know what the heck you’re doing, this makes no sense,’ and he would say, ‘just wait until you’re a head coach.’ I’ll be darned if I don’t do about 80-percent of the stuff he did that I thought was nuts."

The two keep in touch with another throughout the season and have even scrimmaged one another in the past during Wade's first year with the Tigers and Smart's third year with the Longhorns. 

"We certainly stay in touch and follow them and root for them and wish them nothing but the best, except for Saturday," Wade said. "Certainly I’ll ask him what he thinks of our team and he’ll ask me what I think about their team."

The team's decided not to scrimmage one another this year because of the matchup but Wade said there won't be much the other team does that the coaches won't notice immediately because of similar schemes and philosophy. A lot of what Wade and LSU do now is predicated on the success Smart and Wade had at VCU.

"They still run some of the bread and butter stuff, but they don’t run the hooks and stuff that I learned from him," Wade said. "They do a lot of stuff from the elbows and try to get their bigs to play from the elbows. He’ll know just about every play call we call out. We have new stuff that he hasn’t seen, it’s not like we haven’t added some stuff from when I was with him. But he’s watching film, there won’t be many secrets.”

One thing Texas does offensively which LSU tries to avoid is taking tons of three-pointers. Wade said about 40% of the Longhorn's shot attempts come from beyond-the-arc, something the Tigers will desperately need to be able to stop while simultaneously keeping that edge on the glass.

"They’re solid, their rotations are solid, ball-screen defense is sharp, they shrink the floor," Wade said. "It’ll be a challenge scoring and getting our pace going. We can’t get barraged by threes. We have to do a good job there, they have some good shooters. While doing that, we can’t have Jericho Sims sitting there having a dunk fest. He’s a good player, one of the most improved in the Big 12. We can’t have him dunking all over us because we’re huddled around the three-point line.”

Sims, while not a huge scoring threat, averaging 9.3 points per game, has pulled down 52 offensive rebounds in 18 games, nearly three per game. It will be up to the big man rotation of Darius Days, Emmitt Williams and Trendon Watford to continue to dominate the glass, an area the Tigers rank No. 2 in the SEC, averaging 40 per game.

LSU tips off with Texas at 1 p.m. on Saturday with the game available to watch on ESPN.