LSU basketball recruiting has always been a quandary for Peabody High’s Charles Smith, one of Louisiana’s legendary coaches.
“For whatever reason, LSU has never really shown much interest in recruiting our players. And through the years, we’ve had some good ones,” he said. “I never really understood it, quite frankly. But now I am hopeful things will change.
"Coach (Will) Wade came all the way from VCU to recruit one of my players, Cedric Russell, this year. The distance between LSU and Alexandria is a lot closer. Getting a commitment from the state’s top player is huge. That’s good for high school basketball and for LSU, as far as I’m concerned.”
Smith was among the prominent high school coaches to give Wade high marks for getting a commitment from five-star point guard Ja’Vonte Smart of Scotlandville on Friday. Smith enters the 2017-18 season with 973 wins and eight state titles, along with a special, albeit pointed, perspective on LSU recruiting over four decades.
Russell signed with Louisiana-Lafayette but was a longtime LSU commitment. That Russell’s recruiting process led to a change is just one issue. Smith’s history runs back to 1979, when the Tigers signed Baton Rouge area standout Howard Carter of Redemptorist and passed on the Warhorses’ Paul Thompson, who went on to star at Tulane.
In the past 12 years, two other top Peabody players, Markel Brown (Oklahoma State) and Marcus Simmons (Southern California), left Louisiana without LSU scholarship offers.
“I've had guys who wanted to play for LSU, and they never got that chance,” Smith said.
Smith is not the only one who sees Smart’s commitment to the Tigers as crucial for LSU and likely beneficial for other in-state players.
“Coach Wade is a guy who already knows Louisiana and has recruited here,” Country Day coach Mike McGuire said. “Most recently, he recruited Malik Crowfield from Riverside to play for him at VCU. He knows there is talent here, and he already knows a lot of the coaches. Any time you get a commitment from a top recruit like Ja’Vonte Smart, it generates excitement, not only for LSU, but also for high school basketball.”
St. Augustine coach Mitchell Johnson also knew Wade before he came to LSU.
"Any time you get the best player in your state to commit to stay home instead of leaving, it is huge, but there’s more to it," he said. "Coach Wade is a guy who is always straight with you and tells you what he thinks. He’s a man of his word, and coaches like that.”
Danny Broussard of St. Thomas More enters the season with more than 900 wins. He met Wade for the first time at an event in Lafayette.
“He’s very personable,” Broussard said. “We got the chance to sit and talk basketball for about 40 minutes. I like him, and getting the commitment from Ja’Vonte Smart is so big. He’s a five-star player ... the kind of player who has been leaving the state. When you get a player like him, it carries over. I think you’ll see other great players want to follow.”
McKinley coach Harold Boudreaux provided another talking point as a Baton Rouge coach and former LSU player. Boudreaux said he met Wade for the first time Saturday at a luncheon for former players that included the chance to watch a summer workout by the 2017-18 Tigers.
“It’s no secret that I’ve talked to Ja’Vonte a couple of times in passing, encouraging him to consider LSU,” Boudreaux said. “I know from experience there are so many advantages for athletes staying home to play. It goes beyond his mother and family getting to see him play without traveling.
"LSU, both the basketball program and the athletic department, is a family. There are advantages at age 35 when you come back, as well as the chance to play close to home. I think all this, coach Wade and Ja’Vonte’s commitment, is good.”