NCAA LSU Michigan St Basketball

LSU interim coach Tony Benford, left, greets guard Tremont Waters late in the Tigers' loss to Michigan State in the Sweet 16 on Friday in Washington.

WASHINGTON — So, what’s next for the LSU basketball program?

In the aftermath of Friday night’s Sweet 16 loss to Michigan State that eliminated the Tigers from the NCAA tournament, there are more questions than answers — specifically when it comes to suspended coach Will Wade.

Aside from that issue, which seems as if it might not be settled for a while, events happening soon may complicate matters even more.

One way or another, there’s little doubt the next month or two will determine whether the Tigers can stay on an upward trajectory following back-to-back postseason appearances, or take a step back toward mediocrity following a mercurial rise under Wade.

While the 80-63 setback against Michigan State was a bitter pill to swallow, considering the Tigers were vying for a spot in the Elite Eight for the first time in 13 seasons, one of the hardest things for LSU players to do was come to grips with the uncertainty of the program’s situation.

• In addition to one key piece of this year’s team completing his eligibility, several members of LSU’s talented 2018 recruiting class could at least test the NBA waters — if not leave altogether — and some players could seek other opportunities by transferring out of the program.

• Then there’s the question about the two prospects LSU picked up in the early signing period last November, and the potential recruits LSU is pursuing to fill out this year’s class — a process that was ongoing when Wade was sidelined.

• Finally, will the remaining members of Wade’s staff stick around long enough to see the resolution of his situation?

After what had to be a restless night followed by an early wake-up call Saturday for a chartered flight home, the uncertainty likely hit home when the Tigers' plane touched down in Baton Rouge.

Regardless of what happens between now and the end of May, interim coach Tony Benford said the first order of business will be the easiest of them all.

“The main thing right now is making sure these kids know they have to go to class,” he said Saturday. “They know that … they know they have to go to class and make sure they’re taking care of all their business in the classroom.

“That’s what they have to do right now. … They have to take care of that, stay focused on that.”

Finishing the semester strong is always a priority, but it’s possible it could be even more important this time. It could serve as a release from the court after a disappointing end to a successful, but oftentimes rocky, season.

Benford said the staff planned to hold a brief meeting once the team returned home to spell out those responsibilities.

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Soon after that, he said, players will have to make choices regarding the NBA draft.

“Some of our guys have some hard decisions to make,” Benford said. “We have several players who have got to decide what they’re going to do.

“They’ll probably check with their families and kind of see what’s out there as far as their draft status and things like that, decisions they have to make.”

That list likely would start with sophomore guard Tremont Waters, who put his name in last year's NBA draft pool before returning to school, and freshman forward Naz Reid, a 6-foot-10, 250-pounder who is projected by some experts as a first-round pick in the June 20 draft.

Waters was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference pick and co-defensive player of the year in the league, while Reid was named to the all-freshman team.

Others, like freshman guard Javonte Smart and freshmen forwards Emmitt Williams and Darius Days, could at least put their names in, as Waters did last season, and return to school.

The NBA’s early entry deadline is 10:59 p.m. April 21. The deadline to withdraw and retain college eligibility without an agent is May 29, 10 days after the completion of the league’s draft combine.

Under a new rule the NCAA adopted last August in the wake of the college basketball scandal, players can hire an agent and still return to school if: They get an evaluation from the NBA's undergraduate advisory committee, are invited to the draft combine, go undrafted and inform their athletic director by the Monday after the draft they intend to return to school.

That process might not be as easy as it sounds. Only 69 players received combine invites last season. Waters did not get one a year ago, nor did former LSU standout Antonio Blakeney when he turned pro in 2017.

Benford said he'll encourage their players to use the advisory committee to obtain an informed opinion about their chances of being chosen in the two-round, 60-man draft.

Benford reiterated Saturday what assistant Greg Heiar told The Advocate last week: The staff is focused on making sure the entire team doesn’t scatter at one time.

“Yeah, the focus has to be on the guys, because you can lose all of them if you’re not careful,” Benford said. “The main thing is to make sure they make the right decision whatever they decide to do.

“We don’t want them to make any rash decisions. Let’s just see how it plays out with regards to the staff and get the proper feedback from some people.”

So identifying who definitely won’t be returning, along with senior forward Kavell Bigby-Williams, is a big piece to the puzzle.

Recruiting is another tricky proposition as long as Wade’s situation is unresolved.

Last November, the staff signed James Bishop, a two-way guard from Mount Saint Joseph High School in Baltimore, and Charles Manning, a junior-college shooting guard from Florida SouthWestern State College.

Those two could be in limbo because, under NCAA rules, they could ask for a release from their national letter of intent if Wade is removed as the Tigers coach.

LSU is also believed to still be in the hunt for five-star power forward Trendon Watford of Mountain Brook, Alabama; four-star shooting guard Lester Quinones of IMG Academy in Florida; and perhaps a junior-college player or two.

The spring signing period begins April 17.

While the coaching staff was locked in and focused on the SEC and NCAA tournaments, Benford said they were still getting inquiries from their recruits — which could be viewed as good or bad.

“A lot of them have been calling, wanting to know where everything’s at,” he said. “The kids we signed and the ones we’re after, we’ve had contact with them.

“They’re kind of out there, too, just wanting to know where things are. We can’t tell them anything that we can answer, but we are still working some talented players.”

Of course, LSU is open to negative recruiting considering the Wade suspension.

Said Benford: “That’s part of it. When you’re in the situation we’re in, you’re going to get that a lot. Negativity, that’s the way of the biz.”

As far as Wade’s staff goes, Benford said he plans to visit with the administration Monday to see how they'll proceed.

“Right now, as coaches, we’re kind of in limbo,” he said. “Recruiting is going on, and we don’t know what we’re allowed to do and what we’re not allowed to do."

Benford and Heiar each have one year remaining on the three-year contracts they received in 2017, while Bill Armstrong’s contract is set to expire in June.

Benford’s name already has been linked with Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams, who could be in line to get the Texas A&M job.

After working for Williams at Marquette from 2008-12, Benford may be a candidate for a spot on his A&M staff.

“I’ve seen the tweets and stuff like that all over the news,” Benford said. “He’s a great friend. I talked to Buzz, but we haven’t had any conversations about that.”

Will Wade
Tony Benford
Naz Reid
Tremont Waters
Skylar Mays

LSU roster


G Daryl Edwards Sr.

F Kavell Bigby-Williams Sr.

Likely to return

F Cortese Cooper* So.

G Marshall Graves Jr.

G Skylar Mays Jr.

G Will Reese So.

G Marlon Taylor Jr.

Exploring options?

F Darius Days Fr.

F Aundre Hyatt* Fr.

G Javonte Smart Fr.

F Naz Reid Fr.

G Tremont Waters So.

F Emmitt Williams Fr.

* Redshirted in 2019

Signed for 2019-20

G James Bishop

F Charles Manning

Important dates

April 17: Late signing period begins

April 21: NBA Early Entry Eligibility deadline, 10:59 p.m. CDT

April 22: College basketball federal corruption trial starts in New York. Will Wade has been subpoenaed to testify.

May 14-19: NBA draft combine

May 29: Deadline to withdraw from draft and return to school if an athlete hasn’t signed with an agent

June 20: NBA draft

Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.