The LSU basketball program was in complete disarray at the end of last season.
The Tigers won just two Southeastern Conference games with a majority of their losses coming by double digits. That performance resulted in the firing of coach Johnny Jones.
Will Wade, who enjoyed success in two-year stints at Chattanooga and VCU, is now in charge of the basketball program. Preseason practice begins Friday. Wade is putting together a different team with a different attitude.
“We’re a work in progress,” said Wade, at his practice-opening press conference Monday afternoon. “We are getting tougher and we are getting grittier. There are a lot of things to clean up. There is a new normal. The guys know what to expect. You do it or you get left behind.
“Guys want to be pushed and reach their potential. Nobody wants to be a loser. We have given them the map. It’s proven. We’ve won before. If they feel they are getting better, they will work hard. It’s time to get out of the development stage on Friday.”
There are only five returning players from last season’s team – point guard Skyler Mays, wing Brandon Sampson and post players Duop Reath, Aaron Epps and Wayde Sims. There are seven eligible scholarship newcomers on the roster.
“We turned the roster over and we have done what we can,” Wade said. “We’re a good shooting team. But on nights when you are not shooting well, you have to be able to be consistent defensively and rebound the ball.
“We have spent 80 percent of our time on defense. You get in a base defense and you tweak it for your opponents. Our offense is a little raggedy right now.”
Wade had glowing reports on the five returning players. It would not be a surprise if four of these individuals end up in the starting lineup.
“Skylar Mays is one guy who has really improved,” Wade said. “He has lost weight and he is more agile. Sampson’s upper body has changed. At 6-6, he has to be able to guard and rebound. He needs to be strong enough to get through screens.
“Duop is good at catching the ball on the move and playing in space in the middle. Aaron Epps can shoot and offensive rebound. Sims is being cross trained inside. We are not the biggest team down low. We can’t just throw the ball down there and live in the paint. My job is to scheme around that.”
Developing toughness is a necessity for Wade. That quality will help a team deliver victories down the stretch.
“You get from the players what you allow them to do,” Wade said. “We tell them this is how we do it. We do it until they do it right. If you are doing what you are supposed to do, there will be a lot of six-minute games.
“You must be able to physically pound people in the last six minutes. In that time, you are either going to win or whimper down the stretch and get blasted.”
Two newcomers will not be available when practice starts – graduate transfer post player Jeremy Combs and freshman wing Galen Alexander.
“Combs needed to re-stabilize his ankle,” Wade said. “He will be out about six to eight weeks which puts him right up to the first game. Galen is recovering from his knee injury. He is about 75 or 80 percent. He has been doing some modified conditioning.”
There is no doubt about Wade’s goals for this program. He has talked to administrators about improvements needed for the team to be a championship contender.
“There is some work on our arena and our practice facility which needs to be done,” Wade said. “There also needs to be some changes on how some things function for us to be a championship program. That’s what we want. We didn’t come here to get participation trophies.”