It didn’t take Will Wade long to reshape his roster — in more ways than one, it turns out — after accepting an offer to take over the LSU basketball program in late March.
Making his presence felt, just minutes after his rousing introductory news conference across campus in the student union, Wade laid out everything to a group of players who were two weeks removed from a brutal 10-21 season that cost fifth-year coach Johnny Jones and his entire staff their jobs.
If the Tigers didn’t know what to expect when they walked into that initial meeting on the afternoon of March 22, they knew by the time Wade was finished.
“It was total culture shock,” guard Skylar Mays said Tuesday. “The culture they’re trying to establish here, I think, is going to be really beneficial for all the guys down the road.”
Guard Brandon Sampson said he knew from the start of the meeting, which came shortly after Wade wowed school officials, media and fans for nearly a half-hour in his first comments since LSU athletic director Joe Alleva lured him away from VCU with a six-year, $15 million contract.
After winning over the crowd in the student union, it was quickly on to the meeting with the players.
Wade easily won that audience as well.
“From Day 1, when he first came in and talked to us, he let us know what it was going to be from that point on,” Sampson said. “That’s exactly what it was. The focus from everybody just went to another level.”
So did the work of the players, who had no choice but to keep up in the gym and the weight room — or risk getting left behind.
“We just have a new definition of work ethic,” Mays said. “We’re working, and we’re excited for what’s to come.”
Only five scholarship players from last season remained on the 15-man roster when the fall semester began in August.
The players who stuck around — Mays and Sampson and forwards Aaron Epps, Duop Reath and Wayde Sims — were joined by eight newcomers, seven of whom will be eligible for the upcoming season that begins Nov. 10.
When Wade set out to reshape the roster, he and strength and conditioning coach Greg Goldin also implemented a plan to shape up the players. Some of them were almost unrecognizable when reporters were allowed in to watch the start of preseason practice.
Mays has shed eight pounds and is down to 202 pounds; Sims lopped off about 15 pounds and is now in the 210s. Reath, a feisty forward who often got pushed around down low last season, added 20 pounds to his 6-foot-11 frame and is up to 244 pounds.
“I feel different. I feel different,” a smiling Mays said. “I’m more agile ... that was a big focus this summer for me. As a team, I feel like we’re going to be a lot faster and play with a lot better pace this year.”
Before the start of preseason practice last week, Wade praised the work of Mays, Sims and Reath, among others, in transforming their bodies.
Mays said Sims, who was his teammate at University High for three seasons, made the biggest jump.
“Yeah, skinnier Wayde,” Mays said. “It’s obvious with him. He’s been working hard; he’s really focused on fine-tuning his body, becoming more versatile.”
The rigorous offseason — which included what Wade calls "road games" in the early morning hours of June and July and a three-day boot camp that players had to pass to begin preseason practice — were huge in their development.
“Man, I’ve never run this much … I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life, and it’s all going to pay off,” Mays said. “We know the work we put in, so we’re confident we’ll be one of the best teams in shape this year.”
Sampson said he could tell that was going to be the case from the moment Wade opened his mouth in that first meeting.
“ ‘It’s on’ — that was my first thought. ‘It’s on … it’s on,’ ” Sampson said. “I could tell from his eyes, just the way he talked to us. It was on, and it was time to crack down."