Will Wade: LSU hosts Southeastern basketball

LSU head coach Will Wade during the game against SLU at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge, La. Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (Photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

With one eye on the future and one on the past, the LSU men’s basketball team will hope to build on its success of a year ago when it begins preseason practice Friday.

While there’s much excitement around a team that reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament with 28 victories — tying for the second-most wins in school history — there will be a tough day right off the bat.

After the first practice, Will Wade, his staff and the Tigers won’t be on the court Saturday.

Instead, they’ll pause to reflect on the one-year anniversary of forward Wayde Sims’ death — spending the day with his parents, Wayne and Fay.

There will be time, Wade said, to get the NCAA-allotted 30 days of preseason practice in before opening the season against Bowling Green on Nov. 8.

Wade said the team will visit the gravesite Saturday and continue to honor Wayde Sims’ memory throughout this season with the No. 44 patch they wore after his death last Sept. 28.

“He’s still a part of this program,” the Tigers’ third-year coach said. “This would be his senior year, so he’s still there with us. His locker is the same as it was.

“Heck, I’ll think about him a lot leading up to the first practice. We lost a young man who'd be starting practice for his senior year and getting ready to graduate. I’ll have a lot of thoughts … I’m sure our players will, too. It’ll be a tough week.”

When the Tigers get back on the court, they’ll set out to build on last season’s 28-7 record — which included a 16-2 Southeastern Conference mark and the league’s regular-season title.

Wade lost two of his top stars in point guard Tremont Waters and forward Naz Reid to the NBA draft, as well as senior forward Kavell Bigby-Williams, but he has lots of talent returning.

In addition to Skylar Mays and Javonte Smart, the Tigers bring back guards Marlon Taylor and Marshall Graves, forwards Emmitt Williams and Darius Days, and two players who redshirted — guard Aundre Hyatt and forward Courtese Cooper.

The newcomers are five-star forward Trendon Watford and forward Deshawn Thomas and guards James Bishop and Charles Manning. Thomas and Manning are junior-college transfers.

“It’s a new season … it’s time for us to start,” said Wade, who actually practiced his team for 10 days prior to an 11-day tour of Spain last month. “Nothing that happened in the past matters. What matters is we start Friday and move forward from there.”

Wade said Taylor, who had a screw inserted in his foot this summer, will be full-go for the start of practice.

Hyatt, however, will be sidelined until mid- to late-October after injuring his knee in Spain. Wade said Hyatt didn’t need surgery, just some rest and rehab.

Wade, who this offseason put in a new offense that calls for the Tigers to be more up-tempo, said the first goals are to build on the foundation they put down in the summer and become a more cohesive unit.

“We need to keep the same traits we’ve had in the past — toughness and being in great shape — and get this new group to improve individually and collectively,” he said.

Following the Spain tour in which LSU won three games after dropping its opener to the Dominican Republic national team, Wade said the emphasis is on point-of-attack defense going into the preseason.

He said the Tigers worked on defensive fundamentals the past 2½ weeks with an emphasis on 1-on-1, 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 work.

“We’re trying to break it down into smaller groups,” Wade said. “We’re trying to get really good in three areas as opposed to being OK in a bunch of areas.”

Offensively, Wade liked what he saw in Spain as LSU averaged 101.8 points, including 106.3 in its three wins. The Tigers shot 38 percent from beyond the international 3-point arc the NCAA has adopted for this season.

“As long as we limit our turnovers, the offense is going to be plenty good enough,” he said, noting LSU gave it away 18 times in the loss to the Dominican Republic. “We’re going to be a better-shooting team; this new stuff on offense will help us.”

As for himself, Wade is happy to be back after missing the final five games of last season. He was suspended by LSU for 37 days after declining to meet with school officials to discuss reported allegations of illegal recruiting offers.

“I’m excited to be back on the practice court,” he said Thursday. “I’m excited to be with our guys, trying to do what we do to make our team get better as quick as we can.”

LSU 2019-20 key dates

Sept. 27: Preseason practice begins

Oct. 16: SEC media day (Birmingham, Ala.)

Nov. 2: at Louisiana Tech (exhibition game)

Nov. 8: vs. Bowling Green (regular-season opener)

Jan. 4: at Tennessee (SEC opener)

Jan. 25: at Texas (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)

March 11-15: SEC tournament (at Nashville, Tenn.)

Email Sheldon Mickles at smickles@theadvocate.com