Each year under head coach Will Wade, LSU basketball has seemingly outperformed expectations. Projected to finish third in the SEC, just days away from the 2020-21 season, the Tigers hope that streak will continue.
Yes, there’s going to be a lot of unpredictability in college basketball this season, but there is one thing for certain: LSU returns a whole lot of talent and adds some fresh faces who are expected to contribute right away.
With sophomore Trendon Watford and juniors Darius Days and Javonte Smart back on the floor, Wade returns a nucleus to build around, not to mention the addition of five-star freshman Cam Thomas, who left the prestigious Oak Hill Academy in Virginia as the program’s all-time leading scorer.
“He’s an elite scorer,” Wade said of Thomas on the College Hoops Today Podcast back in August. “He’s going to be somebody who’s going to be one of the premier scorers in the country, and I’m not just talking about freshmen.”
LSU was able to sign the No. 6 recruiting class in the country for the 2020 cycle, highlighted by Thomas, four-star forward Mwani Wilkinson, four-star guard Eric Gaines, Georgetown transfer Josh LeBlanc, UCLA transfer Shareef O’Neal and others. Depth was a major issue last year, but let’s be clear: it won’t be in 2020. The Tigers are loaded.
"It's huge. It's their team,” Wade said on the return of Watford, Days and Smart. “I'm the coach, I set the structure and the daily regimen, but at the end of the day it's their team. It gives you the confidence and ability to schedule like we did."
Smart and Watford, who averaged 12.5 and 13.6 points per game respectively a year ago, were both awarded preseason first team All-SEC honors and were named to the prestigious Naismith Trophy watch list on Thursday.
LSU will open the season at Saint Louis University as part of The Billiken Classic on Wednesday, Nov. 25. The Tigers were originally scheduled to take part in an MTE showcase in Lincoln, Nebraska, but a last-minute schedule change was announced on Friday afternoon.
Finishing last year’s regular season 21-10, tied for second in the SEC, Wade told reporters last week that he was not satisfied with the direction the program was heading. He categorized the Tigers as a team that was “leaking oil” heading toward March, a point in the season they should have been peaking. Because of that, the program committed itself to a structural and cultural change this offseason to be more disciplined as a team.
“I didn't do a good job last year with our group," Wade said. "I did a poor job. I know it sounds crazy. We came in second place, but I didn't do a good job. Sometimes when you go through that NBA Draft process, it's the head coach who learns some stuff too. You learn what the perception of your program is, you get feedback from the players."
Wade feels the Tigers are back on track and where they need to be heading into the season. They focused on leadership and accountability this offseason, and it should lead to a more connected LSU basketball team. From the players to the coaching staff, everyone seems to be on the same page, something that might not have been the case in 2019.
"We've got everything set back right," said Wade. "I'm proud of those guys. All the success we have this year will be owed to them. Changing the structure, our guys are having fun again. We're not handing out cookies after practice now, but everybody's on the same page."