Since taking over as LSU’s basketball coach last March, Will Wade has been on a non-stop mission to get the program back on track.
For the tireless 34-year-old Wade, who directed a massive roster overhaul in addition to building a staff and recruiting, there were on-court sessions in the summer as well as strength and conditioning drills when the fall semester got under way in August.
On Friday, Wade’s team enters a new and critical phase of his rebuilding job: Six weeks of preseason practice that will take the Tigers up to their Nov. 10 season opener with Alcorn State.
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Under NCAA rules, Wade can practice his team on 30 of those 42 days to prepare for the season. Included in the important six-week stretch are two closed-door scrimmages against other universities, rather than just one scrimmage and an exhibition game.
“The team is a work in progress,” Wade said Monday afternoon during a news conference previewing the start of practice. “There’s a lot of work to do when we get started with practice Friday.
“We’ve got a lot of work, a lot of things to clean up,” he said. “I do think we’ll be tougher, we’ll be a lot grittier. We’re excited to get going on Friday and get out of a developmental stage and more in a team stage.”
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While the heavy work has been ongoing for the past four months, there was one bit of business to take care of this week before regular on-court practice sessions begin.
The Tigers were required to participate in a three-day boot camp that began at 6 a.m. Monday. Wade said healthy players who don’t pass the rigorous, three-session conditioning test won’t be allowed to practice Friday.
It’s all part, he said, of changing the culture of a team that went 10-21 one year ago, which led to the firing of fifth-year coach Johnny Jones. LSU went 2-16 in Southeastern Conference play and had a school-record 15-game losing streak.
“We’re making progress,” Wade said. “If you don’t pass this (boot camp), you don’t practice and you’re not going to play for us. We did our first one this morning and it went well.”
The only players that didn’t participate in the boot camp and won’t be available for Friday’s practice are forwards Jeremy Combs, a graduate transfer from North Texas, and Galen Alexander.
Wade announced Monday that Combs had surgery Sept. 18 to stabilize an ankle injury he sustained last season and will be out 6-to-8 weeks. He said Combs could be back for the opener with Alcorn State.
“We didn’t think it was stable enough to make it through the whole season,” Wade said. “Our doctors thought this gave him the best opportunity to play this year, which is what we wanted to do.”
Wade said Alexander, a true freshman from Breaux Bridge, is about "75, 80 percent" recovered from knee surgery that ended his senior season at Lafayette Christian Academy last December.
He said Alexander has been doing modified workouts and conditioning work while trying to make his way back.
Combs and Alexander are two of LSU’s eight newcomers to the team — seven of whom will be eligible this season. Only five scholarship players from last year’s squad — guards Brandon Sampson and Skylar Mays, and forwards Aaron Epps, Duop Reath and Wayde Sims — are back.
Wade said the players made strides this summer in getting tougher, which should help with the myriad defensive problems the Tigers had a year ago.
LSU was 2-17 when it allowed 80 points or more and wound up giving up 83.0 points per game. The Tigers ranked 335th out of 351 teams nationally in scoring defense and were 326th in field-goal defense.
“We’ve spent a ton of time trying to shore up our defense and just getting in a base defense that we can then tweak for each opponent,” Wade said. “We spent 80 percent of our time on defense, which is critical. … The defense is much improved.”