New LSU coach Will Wade praised the work of his team’s five returning players last week during his opening-of-practice press conference.
Following three days of practice, Wade expressed his satisfaction with a different group of Tigers players. The three freshmen, who have been practicing so far, showed they are ready to contribute immediately.
Wade signed two of the players – point guard Tremont Waters and post player Mayan Kiir. The third freshman is wing Brandon Rachal, who was signed by former coach Johnny Jones. Galen Alexander, the fourth freshman on the roster, isn’t expected to practice until Sunday as he recovers from knee surgery.
“Practice has been good,” Wade said. “The one thing that has stood out to me is that three freshmen are going to be able to help us. You never know how they will be when they face live practice. They all bring different things to the table and that’s a positive thing. You never know until you coach them.
“Waters is tremendous with the ball in his hands. We turned the ball over three times when a pass hit someone in his hands and he wasn’t ready for it. Rachal is a pit bull. He understands defensive techniques. Kiir definitely has a high motor which makes up for mistakes.”
“It has been a total culture shock,” Mays said. “There is a new definition of work ethic and working hard. I am surprised at how much attention to detail (Wade) has. Every little thing matters. This is going to be really beneficial for all the guys down the road. We are developing a lot of winning ways.”
Mays is attempting to be a better defender this season. He struggled trying to stay in front of opposing point guards during his freshman campaign. Mays is working both on and off the ball.
“The biggest thing for me is improving on the defensive end,” Mays said. “I want to be the guy who defends the other team’s best player. I have lost some weight (ten pounds) and I feel more agile. It is different being off the ball. I do think of being a more versatile guard.”
Sampson agreed with Mays about how much Wade concerns himself with the little things. In addition, Wade stresses defense.
“(Wade) has attention to detail,” Sampson said. “On day one, he told us this is how it’s going to be and it has. Practice has been defense, defense, defense. Offense is going to take care of itself. My biggest focus is on being a better defender. He is real tough on us. I am glad that’s how he coaches us.”
The Tigers were a poor defensive team the past two seasons under Jones after the departure of Jordan Mickey, who provided a presence around the rim. Wade will not allow such a performance now.
“I know we need to get better on defense,” Wade said. “You have to have a foundation for who you are. We are going to defend, rebound and turn our defense into offense. That’s how we’ll build our program.”
Wade and his staff have high expectations for every player on the team. Wade is attempting to turn his roster into a group of highly competitive individuals.
“These guys want to be good and that’s a real positive,” Wade said. “There hasn’t been any real resistance. I hope that allows us to grow very quickly. We have high, high expectations for them on the court and how they represent us off the court.
“Everything has to be competitive. There are winners or losers. This is a competitive world. When they leave here, they either get a job or they’re unemployed. There must be consequences when you lose. It should be like a five-alarm fire when you get beat. The guys we have are excited in what we are doing.”
Wade has not set any goals for this season yet. He simply wants his team to get better each day.
“Our defense is getting better,” Wade said. “The offense has a way to go. We are turning the ball over too much. We’ve got some hidden talents that will give us a fighting chance. We’ll have a punchers’ chance to compete in every game.”
According to Wade, graduate transfer post player Jeremy Combs is on schedule with his recovery from a leg injury. For the past two days, Combs has been running on a treadmill.