LSU men’s basketball coach Will Wade said Monday he is still waiting on the decision of three players who have put their names in for the 2020 NBA draft but left open the possibility of returning for the 2020-21 season.
Meanwhile, Wade and his staff are trying to navigate the tricky trickle of players returning to campus and beginning their uncharted attempts to prepare for the season during the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking on a video conference Monday to announce a neutral site game with Louisiana Tech on Nov. 24 in Bossier City, Wade said the deadline remains Aug. 3 for players to decide to stay in the Oct. 16 draft or return to school.
LSU is waiting on word from forwards Trendon Watford and Darius Days and point guard Javonte Smart. A fourth player, forward Emmitt Williams, already has announced he will stay in the draft.
“Though the NBA pushed back the draft and everything that goes with it,” Wade said, “Aug. 3 is the deadline. We’ll know on or before (then).”
Meanwhile, LSU is in the process of bringing players back to campus while trying to devise a way to prepare for a season that is uncertain to go on as scheduled.
“We’re taking it very, very slowly,” Wade said. “I don’t think we’ll be up and running until the first week of August. We’ve got six players in now, and we’re trying to do it in manageable chunks. The guys have been great so far following the protocols, and we’ve put in a lot of checks.”
Wade said the first players returned to campus June 28. Another group is scheduled to come in July 13 and yet more players at the end of August. The interim has been filled with lots of video conferences with players and parents.
“We’re taking the approach that when you feel comfortable and safe, you can come back at that time,” Wade said. “We’ve got some kids who have underlying health conditions, so there are a lot of different factors on when people come back. You can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach.”
LSU is also still waiting on the recruiting decision, reportedly next week, of five-star prospect Moussa Cisse, a 6-foot-10 center from Memphis, Tennessee. LSU has been seen as a frontrunner for Cisse, but lately recruiting services have been projecting him as more likely to stay home at the University of Memphis.
Wade, like all coaches, is prohibited from talking about unsigned players, but he expressed his happiness with a recruiting class ranked No. 6 nationally by 247Sports.
LSU signed 6-3 five-star shooting guard Cam Thomas, 6-6 four-star forward Mwani Wilkinson, 6-3 four-star guard Eric Gaines and 6-foot three-star point guard Jalen Cook from Walker.
“I think we’ve got a very, very balanced class,” Wade said. “We needed more ball handlers, and we attacked that with Gaines and Cook. We get Cam Thomas who went to Oak Hill (Academy in Virginia) and is their all-time leading scorer. Wilkinson we’re extremely excited about.”
LSU also has two transfers: 6-7 forward Josh LeBlanc from Georgetown, who played locally at Madison Prep; and 6-9 forward Shareef O’Neal from UCLA, son of LSU great Shaquille O’Neal.
Wade was optimistic about the 6-9 O’Neal's progress after he had heart surgery in late 2018.
“He was a top-40 player coming out of high school,” Wade said. “Last year at UCLA he never felt fully recovered or comfortable. But from what I can tell talking to him, this is as good as he’s felt basketball-wise in four or five years.”
Tickets for the LSU-Louisiana Tech game at the CenturyLink Center in Bossier City go on sale Thursday at the arena box office and on TicketMaster. Cost ranges from $15-95.
Both coaches expressed the importance of playing quality non-conference competition.
“We have a tremendous fan base in the (Shreveport-Bossier City) area,” Wade said. “Unlike football, we play a lot of different nights, so it’s important for our program to travel and play other venues in the state. It’s an area where we wanted to go and play an attractive team like Louisiana Tech.”
“The opportunity to play LSU is a great one,” Tech coach Eric Konkol said. “We have many alums there. Shreveport-Bossier City is only an hour away from us. It’s a challenge and opportunity we look forward to.”