Will Wade didn’t need a primer on Louisiana high school basketball when he accepted the LSU head coaching job 15 months ago.
During his introductory news conference, Wade spoke about the local talent, saying he and his staff would try to pluck the best players from inside the state’s borders before broadening their scope.
Wade knew what was here because he recruited Louisiana hard during his first four years as a college head coach — first at Chattanooga, then at VCU.
He hit on a few and missed out on some others, including LSU sophomore-to-be Brandon Rachal, a Natchitoches native who signed with former coach Johnny Jones’ staff and honored his commitment after Wade replaced Jones.
“We can find (players) here in Louisiana … they’re all over the place,” Wade said that afternoon. “If we can get the best players from Louisiana every year, we’re going to be in really good shape.”
His view of the state’s basketball talent, while not as highly recognized as the prep football players that are produced annually, will be on full display in the NBA draft Thursday night.
According to mock drafts, as many as four standouts who played their high school ball in Louisiana are projected to be chosen in the two-round, 60-pick draft — and at least one mock has all four going in the first round.
Regardless of whether that actually happens, it could be an unusually productive year for the state.
Jacob Evans made a phone call after settling into his hotel room. A couple of minutes into the interview, the former St. Michael the Archangel…
“I think we’re going to have four guys drafted from Louisiana,” Wade said Tuesday. “Unfortunately, none of them played for LSU. The biggest thing is you’ve got to have the in-state talent, and you’ve got to get the in-state talent to play at whatever school you’re at.”
The foursome that shows up in most mocks are Texas A&M forward Robert Williams (North Caddo), center Mitchell Robinson (Chalmette), Cincinnati forward Jacob Evans (St. Michael the Archangel) and Tulane guard Melvin Frazier (L.W. Higgins).
Former LSU guard Brandon Sampson (Madison Prep) also declared for the draft but likely won’t be selected and doesn’t show up in any mocks.
While most mocks have three Louisiana players going in the first round, NBADraftRoom.com has all four coming off the board in the first 30 picks: Williams (15th, Washington), Robinson (17th, Milwaukee), Evans (27th, Boston) and Frazier (28th, Golden State).
By comparison, this year’s bumper crop could equal the number of picks from Louisiana in the past eight drafts from 2010-17.
Those players are Greg Monroe (Helen Cox) in 2010, Elfrid Payton (John Ehret) in 2014, Jarell Martin (Madison Prep) in 2015, and Damian Jones (Scotlandville) in 2016.
Louisiana hasn’t had more than one player chosen in the same draft since Danny Granger (Grace King) and Brandon Bass (Capitol) went in 2005.
That will certainly change Thursday night.
The buzz around Frazier has gotten higher in the last month, starting with an eye-opening performance on the first day of the NBA pre-draft camp in Chicago.
“It shows we have good players here in our state,” Wade said. “We have (NBA) guys that work out in our gym every morning, like Garrett Temple and Langston Galloway, before our players get in to lift weights. Jarell’s back, too.”
Temple, who played at University High and LSU, completed his eighth NBA season in April. Galloway, a Christian Life graduate who played at St. Joseph's in Philadelphia, finished his fourth NBA season. Neither player was drafted.
“We’ve had some really good talent here,” Wade said before chuckling. “We just have to make sure they play for LSU. Then hopefully we can move them on to the draft from there.
“But it’s really good for our state. … It shows kids that if you put in the work, here’s what you can do.”
While Wade is still fairly new to the state, two long-time Baton Rouge-area prep coaches, Kenny Almond and Gary Duhe, have seen a lot of athletes come and go in their sport.
But neither could recall seeing four players from the Louisiana prep ranks go in the same draft.
“It says a lot, but Louisiana’s always had great players,” Almond said. “We had Robert Parish and Karl Malone come out of here, and there have been a lot of others. But four really says a lot about the players and coaching in this state.”
Duhe added: “It’s harder to go in the NBA draft because there are only so many picks, but I believe that basketball is like football in this state. Per capita, Louisiana has more athletes go to the NFL than almost any other state every year, and I think we’ve been ahead of the curve in basketball, too.”