LSU Texas Basketball

LSU forward Trendon Watford (2) celebrates after the team's win over Texas in an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) ORG XMIT: TXEG108

Three starters from LSU's basketball team last season will return for the 2020-2021 season, giving coach Will Wade his most talented group since he arrived at LSU.

Forwards Trendon Watford and Darius Days and guard Javonte Smart withdrew their name from NBA draft consideration within five hours of one another Monday, which was the deadline for players to decide whether they would keep their names in the draft or return to school.

Watford, Days and Smart all played significant minutes on last year's team, starting in 30 of LSU's 31 games, before the season ended during the Southeastern Conference tournament because of the novel coronavirus.

LSU might have lost at least one player — if not all three — in a typical year, but the pandemic changed the pre-draft process. The NBA delayed the draft nearly four months to Oct. 16. Teams conducted interviews over Zoom calls. Workouts were nonexistent.

Without as much information or exposure, the three players opted to return for another season. Wade guessed at least one of them would have left school under usual circumstances.

"If this was a normal year, I don't think we have three guys back right now," Wade said on WNXX-FM, 104.5.

Instead, LSU regained three starters from a team that finished second in the SEC last season and ranked ninth nationally at 80.5 points per game. The Tigers returned their top two rebounders, their best assist distributor and three of their top five scorers.

Paired with the additions LSU made through recruiting and transfers, the three players' decisions gave Wade the most talented team of his tenure.

"Top to bottom, this is probably the best roster we've had since we've been here," Wade said. "Now the pressure's on me to make sure we use the roster properly and position our guys properly to have success."

During his freshman season, Watford, a five-star recruit out of high school, led LSU in rebounds (7.2 per game) and finished second in scoring at 13.6 points per game. His production landed him on the coaches' All-Freshman team.

Days ranked fifth on the team last season with 11.1 points per game and was second with 6.8 rebounds per contest. He and Watford accounted for 14 of LSU's 39.7 rebounds per game. The Tigers ranked second in the SEC in the category.

The Tigers' best inside-outside threat, the 6-foot-6 junior ranked third on the team with 39 3-pointers behind former senior guard Skylar Mays (50) and Smart (46).

Smart, a rising junior, started at point guard. While he scored 12.5 points per game, Smart did most of his work as an offensive creator. He led LSU in assists and finished fourth in the SEC in assists to turnover ratio (1.8) with 129 assists and 70 turnovers. He was second on the team in minutes.

The three players' decisions Monday put LSU at the 13-man roster limit and solidified its group next season, but Wade will not know exactly who's available until the NCAA settles waiver requests for transfers Bryan Penn-Johnson, Shareef O'Neal and Josh LeBlanc.

Wade said Monday he believes Penn-Johnson, a 7-foot center from Washington, and O'Neal will receive waivers. LeBlanc, a 6-foot-7 forward from Georgetown, likely will have to wait until the second semester to play.

"We've got great individual talent," Wade said. "We got to bring the team together."

Now, the Tigers will look forward to workouts and a potentially modified season. Four players received physicals Monday night, Wade said, beginning their acclimation period on campus.

LSU plans to start non-contact, shooting drills next week, then play full team scrimmages in late August. When they do, three of its best players last season will be on the floor.

"We're going to have some form of a season," Wade said on WNXX-FM, 104.5. "We had a conference call, coaches' call last week. I feel like worst case maybe we'll start after Thanksgiving.

"When all the students leave campus we'll be able to create a bubble and start. You never know for sure because we have to see what happens with the virus. I feel comfortable we'll have some form a season."

Staff writer Scott Rabalais contributed to this report.


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Email Wilson Alexander at walexander@theadvocate.com