In his first interview since his introductory news conference last week, new LSU men’s basketball coach Will Wade spoke Monday with The Advocate about how his first week on the job went. Wade discussed his initial meeting with his new players, re-recruiting the two players who signed with the Tigers last November, filling out his coaching staff, his vision for the program going forward, how he was offered the job and more:
Since your introductory news conference last Wednesday, what has your week been like?
Wednesday you can pretty much throw out because it was mostly media and stuff. I met with the team after that, and Thursday I spent the majority of the day meeting with our players one-on-one for 20, 30 minutes — more with a few of them. It was just spending time meeting with those guys and getting their thoughts on things … talking about our road map: where we’re going to go and how we’re going to make the transition.
On Friday, I spent most of my day working on staff and talking to people on the phone. Then I visited (fall signee) Galen Alexander and his mother, spent some time in Lafayette with them. Saturday, I continued to talk and work some guys and went to Natchitoches and spent most of the afternoon and night with (signee Brandon Rachal) and his family. Sunday, I did more work going over our depth chart and then started on recruiting. We have one scholarship available next year, but I’m looking at 2018 as well. Monday was spent mostly with players and continuing to hammer out some staffing issues.
How close are you to filling out the staff?
I’m pretty close on one of them. (Editor’s note:The Advocate reported Tuesday and LSU later confirmed that former North Texas coach Tony Benford will join the staff.) And the other ones, I’m going to take my time. The most important thing you can do is get it right, so I want to be quick but not rush into anything. We’re working on it and spending time on it every day. When you want good people, other people want good people and when other people you want have a good job sometimes it takes a while to maneuver through some things. So we’ll get a good group that fits our personality here and fits what we do.
Will the first hire be the recruiting coordinator?
I don’t necessarily have to have that (now). I don’t look at it that way, so the first one needs to be a good one, the second one needs to be a good one, the third one needs to be a good one. You want to find the right guys and find guys you feel comfortable with. The first one we’ll hire here I feel very comfortable with; I’ve never worked with him, but one of my close friends in the business has and had nothing but rave reviews. I feel good about the level of interest we’ve had and the quality of the people that want to be at LSU.
Are you going to the Final Four and the coaches’ convention?
No. If I go there, it’ll get a little too hectic. In my mind, I’ve got it narrowed down to 10 or 12 guys, and I’ve just got to work through that. It’s about picking the right guys to fit together. It’s just like you want to fit your team together properly, you want to fit your staff together right. You have to vet a lot of people and talk to a lot of people and understand how the staff dynamic is going to go.
How did things go with Alexander and Rachal?
It was very positive with both of them.
The spring signing period starts April 12. How do you feel where you are right now with that? Will you use the one scholarship you have right away?
We’ve got plenty of time. We’ve identified some guys and, if we get the right guy, we’ll certainly use it. We don’t want to lose it (for this season). We’ll evaluate it and make sure we get the best guy.
Are you pursuing guys you signed at VCU if they can get a release from their letter of intent?
We’re looking at every option out there, but we’re not going to do anything if they don’t have a release or that sort of thing. At this point, you’re looking at anybody and everybody out there, and we’re looking all across the world. We’re looking at kids overseas; we’re looking everywhere.
What do the next couple of weeks entail?
Getting my staff filled. My strength and conditioning coach will be here this week. That’s a big piece of what we’re doing, so next week we’ll do more workouts with our guys and be on the court with them. Then we’ll get them in the weight room and get them shifted into the mindset of what we’re tying to accomplish so, you know, we’re just trying to keep things moving forward.
June 5 is when summer school starts, so that’s when I want to have a fully operational and high-functioning program in place. Now, between now and then we’re going to get a lot done. Until we have our complete staff in place, you can’t really go full steam ahead.
How much time do you get with the players now?
On the court, two hours. But I’m just trying to spend quality time with them off the court. We’ll get to the on-court stuff, but I’m just spending time with them off the court and getting to know them, getting to know their stories, getting to know their families. I’ve been talking to their parents and that sort of thing, which is important at this point.
After looking at this team last year, obviously you’ve already looked at it a lot …
We played LSU (in November in The Bahamas), so obviously, I remember that. I told our guys everybody’s getting a fresh start. The slate is clean. … I haven’t watched any film. I haven’t even looked at a stat; well, I did when I interviewed, but it’s not like I have them memorized.
I told them I’m going to judge you on everything that happens from here going forward. So what’s happened in the past, that’s the past … good or bad. We’re going to judge you on what you earn and how hard you work from last Wednesday moving forward. I’m not into looking in the rearview mirror; we’re looking straight ahead out the windshield and what’s in front of us.
What were the players like in your first meeting?
(Deputy athletic director) Eddie Nunez did a great job running the program in the interim, getting the players to class and making sure everything went as smoothly as possible. I would say they’re probably relieved to just have a new face up there, whoever it was, with somebody to start moving things again. These guys are eager to work and eager to get better.
We’ve certainly got a task ahead of us to make that happen, but I did sense that they’re eager for a fresh start. Any time you lose a lot of games like that, it’s not a whole lot of fun for anybody. When that happens, it’s easy to get down, and I think sometimes you get a little hope when something, or somebody, new comes along.
Do you have a sense on whether Antonio Blakeney will return or apply for the NBA draft?
No. I’ve talked to him and talked to some of his people. I’m going to meet with him again this week, so we’ll see where that goes.
We heard you’re a big fan of scheduling big games. Do you plan on doing that here?
You have to be careful; it’s a little bit different. I get into scheduling; my hands are all over the scheduling part of it, so we’ll start attacking that here in the next couple of weeks. We’ve got a lot of games to schedule.
The ACC is going to a 20-game conference schedule next season. Do you think the SEC will do it as well?
Not this year, but it’s all going to be up for discussion in any league because they need TV inventory. We’ll see what the SEC wants to do; it’s all about what’s in the best interest of the league and the schools and getting the most teams possible in the tournament.
Speaking of the SEC, five teams got in the NCAA tournament and three made the Elite Eight. How do you feel about testing yourself against those teams?
It’s great. You want to play the best and compete against the best. We’ve got really, really good teams in this league, good coaches and good players, good programs. So it’s our challenge to build our program up to that level.
When did athletic director Joe Alleva offer you the job?
They asked me Monday night; they didn’t ask me Sunday when they came up and met with me. They had to go back; you know, there’s a lot of politics where you have to run things up the food chain, on Monday. I was actually on the phone with a recruit when Joe called. I put the recruit on hold and told Joe I was on the line with an important recruit and that I’d call him back. I didn’t know what it was, so when I called Joe back, he said, “Well, is this recruit going to play at LSU?” That was kind of how we started.
I wanted to talk to my wife (Lauren) about it to make sure she was OK with everything, and we went from there. It was pretty quick after that. I had to get over to our players’ apartments and get with the guys, but sometimes you can’t stop what happens on Twitter. Some people found out about three minutes before I made it to our players, which was disappointing, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.
You and Lauren’s first child, a girl, is due in May. So that means you’ve got a lot coming up here real soon, right?
We’re going to have to try and figure that out. She went back to Richmond to take care of things, so she had me looking at houses for her Sunday. I looked at three houses, so that was part of my day as well.
Where did you eat the first night you were in town, and what did you have?
Went to Juban’s and had gumbo, crab cakes and a steak. The crab cakes were great.