A once-in-every-four-years foreign tour allowed by the NCAA is just what the LSU basketball team needed to get the upcoming season off to a good start.
The opportunity to form an identity a month before preseason practice begins was the main objective of a 10-day trek across Spain that ended Thursday night.
Getting to play four exhibition games in Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona and the cultural experience for his players were other benefits that made the trip a huge success, coach Will Wade said Friday.
Wade said his fourth foreign trip was his best — on and off the court — even though LSU's four-game exhibition slate started with a loss to a Dominican Republic team that will participate in the upcoming FIBA World Cup.
“It was good,” Wade said of the trip. “Of the four trips I’ve been on, this one had the best competition from top to bottom. So, I thought the competition on the court was good and challenging.
“Off the court, our guys spent a lot of time together … they hung out and had a good time,” he said. “This was the best balance I’ve seen of a team on one of these trips where, when it was time for business (playing games), we played basketball and we played pretty well.”
After a 92-88 loss to the Dominican Republic, Wade’s new motion offense took off and scored more than 100 points in wins over the Valencia All-Stars (111-86), Barcelona All-Stars (107-78) and FC Barcelona Silver (101-77).
Averaging 106.3 points in the final three games was one of the highlights for Wade as was the Tigers shooting 38 percent from beyond the international 3-point arc.
The NCAA rules committee this spring moved the 3-point arc back 16¾ inches to match the international distance of 22 feet, 1¾ inches, with the switch taking effect this season.
“Offensively, we were very good,” Wade said. “We shot the ball a lot better and we obviously scored quite a bit in averaging more than 100 points a game.”
On the flip side, Wade wasn’t as complimentary of his defense — which will be a point of emphasis when the Tigers return to work after having a week off to get settled for the start of the fall semester Monday.
“We were solid at times; we sped people up, but I’m concerned about our point-of-attack defense,” he said. “We’ve got to get better there. We can’t put ourselves in rotations so much, which hurts us, and it hurts us in being out of position for rebounding.”
Individually, Wade said he was by far most impressed with newcomer Charles Manning, a 6-foot-5 guard who was ranked as the nation’s fourth-best prospect by JUCOrecruiting.com last spring.
“He was just tremendous, just absolutely tremendous,” Wade said. “He just effects winning on both ends. He’s always in the right place offensively and defensively, and he doesn’t ever try to do too much.
“Whatever we ask Charles to do, he does at a very, very high level and he does it consistently. He’s dependable and is the same guy every day, so I was excited about how he played and how he handled himself there.”
Manning scored 14 points against FC Barcelona Silver and had 11 against the Barcelona All-Stars.
Wade also mentioned 6-9 freshman forward Trendon Watford, who led the team in scoring. He was in double figures in all four games, with a high of 19 against Valencia, and averaged 15.8 points per outing.
“Trendon played well and led us in scoring, but everybody had moments,” Wade said, listing freshmen guards Aundre Hyatt and James Bishop among the standouts. “Everybody had moments, now it’s just about putting it all together with the consistency we need.”
The only players who didn’t participate were guard Marlon Taylor, who had surgery on his foot earlier this summer, and recently-signed junior-college transfer DeShawn Thomas, who joined the team just before the Tigers departed for Spain.
Wade has one more scholarship available, but he said it’ll likely remain open through the fall semester so he can add a possible mid-term transfer to the roster.
Overall, he said the Spain trip will serve as a good starting point for the start of preseason practice Sept. 27.
“We have good film. … We’ve got a lot of stuff we know we need to get better at and know that we need to correct,” Wade said. “Now, it’s on us to get to work.”