With the arrival of Will Wade as its new coach in late March, the LSU basketball team wiped the slate clean and started anew.
The struggles from a 10-21 season, which included losing a school-record 15 straight games and 17 of the final 18, were all but cleansed when the 34-year-old Wade was hired to replace Johnny Jones.
Wade didn’t even watch tape of last year’s team so he would have no preconceived notions going forward. That task was made easier when only five scholarship players returned after a busy offseason.
Still, he hinted that at least some players might use last year for motivation when LSU opens its season against Alcorn State at 7 p.m. Friday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“It’s an exciting time for our team,” said Wade, who makes his LSU debut after going 91-45 in four seasons at Chattanooga and VCU. “We’re looking forward to showing off our hard work. We’re looking forward for our players to show you how hard they have been working to represent LSU and Louisiana.
“Last year, guys were hurt. Those guys that are back; it really, really hurt them how the season went and how things ended. They want to make it right, and they’re working as hard as possible every day to make it right.”
Senior forward Duop Reath, LSU’s top returning scorer and rebounder, acknowledged that though it’s important to move forward under the new coaching staff, he’ll keep last year in the back of his mind.
“I’m not trying to get it all out of my head,” said Reath, who averaged 12.0 points and 6.2 rebounds in starting 30 of the Tigers’ 31 games. “What happened last year was unacceptable.
“We have to focus on this year. Last year is gone; there’s nothing we can do about it now. We just have to keep going forward and get better.”
On the other hand, sophomore guard Skylar Mays has his sights set solely on what the Tigers have to do to regain some respectability in the Southeastern Conference. They were tabbed to finish 14th in the league.
“I try not to think too much about last year,” Mays said. “We have a whole new coaching staff and it’s a new team, so it’s a fresh start. “We’re focused on what’s going to happen Friday and control what we can control.”
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Mays, who averaged 8.3 points and a team-best 3.6 assists last season, said the Tigers have a lot to be excited about after months of strength and conditioning work — much of it done during pre-dawn hours in the summer.
That was followed by six weeks of preseason practice.
“We’re competitors, so we have the utmost confidence in ourselves,” Mays said. “We put a lot of work in over the summer, and we’re confident in the work we put in. … We feel confident we can win any game, and the sky’s the limit.”
Reath and Mays will start along with freshman guard Tremont Waters. The third guard and power forward spots could be manned by two other returnees — guard Brandon Sampson and Wayde Sims.
Sims likely will get the nod at the four (power forward) for senior Aaron Epps, who’s been battling a foot injury and probably won’t return until next week.
Whatever combination he puts out there, Wade will be looking for an improvement from an 84-74 exhibition loss to Tulane on Oct. 31, when he lamented his team’s poor defensive showing.
“If you’re going to climb Mount Everest, your first step needs to be the biggest and the boldest,” he said of his team’s opener. “You can’t be tiptoeing up the mountain. You first step has to be big, bold, out there and ready to go.”