3.29.19 LSU sweet 16

LSU freshman guard Ja'vonte Smart (1) defends the basket during the Tigers' 63-80 loss to Michigan State in the Capital One Arena on Friday, March 29, 2019.

It may sound contrary to the norm, but the core of this season's leaders for the LSU basketball team will be a trio of underclassmen.

Aside from senior guard Skylar Mays, sophomore forwards Darius Days and Emmitt Williams and guard Javonte Smart return to the Tigers as three of the more experienced players on the roster and will be leaned upon heavily to contribute on and off the court.

The role of being a leader is one that all three have embraced and will look to build upon as they grow themselves.

"Last season we faced a lot of adversity, a lot of close games, and now we're just trying to preach to these new guys like (freshman guard James Bishop), (freshman forward Trendon Watford) and (junior college transfer Charles Manning) that it's not going to be easy. It's going to be a tough road," Smart said.

In terms of on the court, three of LSU's top five contributors in minutes played are gone, and all three newcomers along with LSU’s three sophomores will need to fill that void. Smart and Bishop are tasked with replacing guard Tremont Waters, and down low, LSU is going to use a combination of players to make up for holes left by Naz Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams.

A big key is how will Watford, a five-star forward with size and athletic ability, adjust to the college game, and can both Williams and Days make the strides expected of them while mentoring younger players.

"I'm just going to try and take what was poured into me last year by guys like Wayde (Sims) who took me under their arms like a little brother and showed me how to do it," Williams said. "The biggest thing is when we say something to the younger guys it's not like 'hey you're doing this wrong' but more of that big brother-little brother mentality."

Days worked hard in the offseason on his conditioning, something that kept him off the court at times last season and was mentioned by both Days and LSU coach Will Wade as a big improvement to his game.

When called upon in the 2019 season, Days provided a spark off the bench but couldn't go for long stretches and only averaging 14.6 minutes per game. But in those minutes, Days averaged 5.3 points and 4.0 rebounds, showing he has the potential to be a major factor in the Tigers front court.

“The number one thing with Darius [Days] is that he needs to stay on the court,” Wade said. “Last year he was one of the best offensive rebounders in the entire country. He’s our best three-point shooter statically speaking. He shot 42% from three, so we just have to keep him on the court.”

The biggest improvement to Williams’ game has been his shooting range, something that was rarely shown in 2018. While his range will be a big difference from last season, Wade still expects Williams to provide the same energy and tenacity that he did last season but with more versatility this season.

"He can make shots now," Wade said. "I think you'll still see that junkyard dog tough guy who's out there getting rebounds but is going to help space the floor a lot better now with his expanded range."

The Tigers open their season on Nov. 8 at 7 p.m against Bowling Green in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

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