RICHMOND, Va. — On Monday, two days before returning to face the team he coached until leaving for LSU in 2017, Will Wade told reporters about the passion VCU fans have for their basketball team.
“The atmosphere there is incredible on any night, but it’ll be turned up even more, I’m sure, for us,” Wade said. “It’s a great place, VCU is a great place. They’ve got tremendous fans.”
Wednesday night, those fans brought it for No. 23 LSU and Wade, the fourth former VCU coach to face his former team in the Siegel Center in the past 10 seasons.
A clause in coach’s contracts at VCU since Jeff Capel was hired in 2002 calls for one of two things to happen if that coach leaves for another job: his new school has to play a home-and-home with the Rams or buy its way out of the series.
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VCU fans aren't holding back on Will Wade and LSU. 😂— Sporting News (@sportingnews) November 14, 2019
Dressed as FBI agents, they're right at the end of the bench harping on Wade's part in the FBI scandal. pic.twitter.com/FlPX5YjERU
All four schools declined the buyout option — which, in Wade's case, would have been $250,000 as it was when Shaka Smart left for Texas in 2013.
The buyout for Capel would have been $75,000 and $150,000 for Anthony Grant, who left the school for Alabama.
Smart was the only one of the previous three to bring a team back to VCU and leave with a win, which happened in 2017, following LSU's 84-82 setback Wednesday night.
As expected, the reception for Wade was anything but warm as the temperature outside the arena dipped below freezing.
When asked about his return, Wade, who kept his composure all evening when it came to the raucous crowd, smiled and said, "It was a blast."
When the laughter subsided, he added, "No, in all seriousness, I know it probably didn't end how everybody wanted it to. But you appreciate the atmosphere and the fans."
For starters, he walked onto the court about 10 minutes before tipoff to a minute-long chorus of boos from a sellout crowd that packed the arena for a 137th consecutive game.
Emerging from a tunnel that led to the court, Wade looked straight ahead when he walked past the student section dubbed the “Rowdy Rams” — many of whom tossed fake $100 bills into the air and held up signs expressing displeasure with their former coach.
The students, who were whipped into a frenzy soon after doors to the arena opened 90 minutes before the game, were joined by five men sitting near the end of the LSU bench.
Wearing sunglasses and fake mustaches, they were dressed in FBI windbreakers and caps.
Wade, who said his plan was to remain cool and collected knowing he'd be seen as a villain, chuckled when asked what he gave the crowd for its creativity.
"Probably an A-plus," he said.
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About 10 VCU fans came to the LSU-VCU basketball game dressed as FBI agents to troll Will Wade, who is under investigation by the FBI for illegal recruiting. #TrollLevel1000 pic.twitter.com/1wA4HAC4It— GlassyLady (@ADvorchik) November 14, 2019
Leaving the court after LSU rallied from a 15-point first-half deficit and came up two points shy of overtime, Wade hugged one of the faux FBI agents — an old friend from his time here.
"Gary Watkins is a good dude; I still talk to him some," Wade said, laughing. "He probably doesn’t want that out there, but I still talk to him. I don’t know that anybody wants to be associated with me here, but he’s a good dude."
Wade said he's maintained other friendships with donors and people at the university — including the man who replaced him, current Rams coach Mike Rhoades.
Wade and Rhoades were assistants on Smart’s staff and were road roommates for four seasons until Wade left for his first head coaching job at Chattanooga in 2013.
“I talk to him, text him,” Rhoades said this week. “Will’s done a great job with that program, he quickly got it rolling.
“He’s a good dude, he works his butt off,” he said. “He’s meticulous in his approach, and you see that in the way his teams play.”
Wade returned the compliment to Rhoades and the fans after a tough night.
"It was a tremendous crowd, tremendous fans," he said. "It's obviously a really, really good program that’s going to keep winning. Now I can go back to rooting for VCU."