Epps making strides in Wade’s system

Bryan Lazare, TigerBait.com Senior Writer
Tiger Bait

One month away from his first game as LSU basketball coach, Will Wade is beginning to get an idea about the starting lineup.

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AP Photo/L.G. Patterson

However, Wade stressed that nothing is set in stone.

“The rotation changes daily like the stock market,” Wade said. “There are two guys I feel very, very comfortable with. I trust their toughness and their body of work. The other three change all the time.”

Wade did not identify those two players. But, he did greatly praise senior post player Aaron Epps at his weekly preseason press conference Tuesday. Epps plays the power forward position, a spot very important in Wade’s offensive scheme.

“Next to point guard, the ‘four’ position is the most critical position we have,” Wade said. “That position requires you to make a lot of decisions. Basically, you are a ‘two’ or a ‘three.’ You need to be a good shooter. I am more likely to play a smaller guy at ‘four.’ It’s really a wing, a fourth guard.

That person has to be the most versatile player. If you put a bigger guy on him, you play on the perimeter and drive around him. If you use a smaller guy, we use him in the post.”

Epps, who is 6-foot-10, has been nothing more than a role player during his time at LSU. Epps received his most playing time last season and averaged six points and four rebounds in 17 minutes per game. Epps did make 49 percent of his field goal attempts, including 44 percent on 3-pointers.

“Epps is the best shooter of the group (power forwards),” Wade said. “He shoots the ball so well, I am disappointed when he misses. Epps is a weapon. He will shoot 40 percent from three and he runs to the rim to rebound. That player has to be a real good offensive rebounder.”

Epps seems to be a far more confident player than he has been at any time in his Tigers career. Epps certainly seems like he is prepared to have a huge senior campaign.

“Coach (Wade) is expecting a lot out of me,” Epps said. “I have to work a lot every day. I had to improve on everything from last year – being a leader, playing harder and getting stronger. Getting stronger was the most important thing. I was 180 as a freshman and now I am 220. Coach wants me at 225.

“Coach wants me to shoot a lot more this year. There were no plays for me last year. I would just get shots in the flow of the game. This year, coach wants me to make open shots and crash the glass. I have to find ways to make my teammates better. Coach likes to get out there and run more on offense.”

Obviously, Wade wants to find that ‘stretch-four’ player – one who can beat his defender either outside or in the post. Former coach Johnny Jones experimented with Epps as a small forward early in his LSU career.

“The ‘four’ has always been my natural spot,” Epps said. “It was the position I played until I got here. All of us have to play better defense. We didn’t make it as urgent as we should have last year. This is a new year with a new coach and a different system. Defense is our No. 1 thing.”

Sophomore Wayde Sims is another returning player who is working primarily at the ‘four.’ Sims averaged seven points and four rebounds in 19 minutes per game last season. Sims made 50 percent of his field goal attempts.

“Sims knows how to play, how to move,” Wade said. “The ball always finds him. He’s a good shooter. There is not a lot of difference in our guys. There is not much difference in ability level. Who works the hardest each day will play the most.”

Sims admitted that his role in Wade’s system is not much different from the one he had under Jones.

“I am still a ‘four,’” Sims said. “I am playing out on the perimeter a little more. I can shoot the 3-ball. The offense is set up for us to have four guys on the perimeter all the time. After last year, I got in the gym. Coach Wade worked with me on my footwork and finishes around the rim.”

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