DESTIN, Fla. — Contrite yet still confident, LSU men’s basketball coach Will Wade spoke Tuesday to reporters on day one of the Southeastern Conference Spring Meeting. It was his first time answering media questions since March 7, the day before he was suspended by LSU for declining to meet with school officials to discuss reported allegations of illegal recruiting offers aimed at Tigers guard Javonte Smart.
Wade admitted that there were “some mistakes that I made” in refusing to talk to LSU officials in March about reports of a wiretapped conversation between him and convicted college basketball middleman Christian Dawkins.
“As I look back, that Friday where we were going to meet with the administration, I think I made a poor decision on how I handled that,” said Wade, wearing a purple LSU windbreaker as he addressed a room full of reporters. “If I could go back and do it again, I would have taken the meeting.”
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Wade did not speak to LSU officials in March on advice of his initial legal counsel, Michael McGovern. He later hired another lawyer, Steven Thompson, who encouraged the meeting that resulted in Wade’s April 14 reinstatement.
“Any time you get lawyers involved, things get drawn out,” Wade said. “So certainly (I) wish looking back on things we could have gotten into a room together a lot quicker than we did. Certainly I respect LSU’s decision based on that. I think that was a mistake I made and something I did in haste.”
Wade stopped short of answering specific questions about the allegations of “the Smart thing” or a “strong-ass offer” to land the player in question, or whether there has ever been an exchange of money between his current staff and a player or player’s representative. Wade’s name was also mentioned last year in another wiretapped conversation between him and Dawkins discussing another highly ranked recruit, Balsa Koprivica, who ended up committing to play at Florida State.
LSU basketball's Naz Reid chose to come to Baton Rouge for everything but money.
“I can’t get into the meeting because of the confidentiality in there,” Wade said. “But I can assure you everything you can think of was addressed in that meeting with LSU and the NCAA, and that ultimately led to my reinstatement.”
Asked whether or not he was quoted accurately in the Yahoo! Sports story regarding “the Smart thing,” Wade again cited the confidentiality of meeting he had with LSU and NCAA officials that led to his reinstatement.
“I've not heard the recordings so I do not know,” Wade said. “I don't think any of us have heard the recordings.”
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Wade refuted allegations that surfaced April 29 during Dawkins’ second trial by former University of Arizona assistant basketball coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson. In a secret FBI recording, Richardson alleged that Wade told him about a $300,000 deal to land former LSU forward Naz Reid.
“It is absolutely false,” Wade said. “It did not happen.”
Wade said it was difficult having to watch from home as LSU made a run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, eliminated by eventual East regional champion Michigan State.
"I'm not a very good fan,” Wade said with a wry smile.
“I put myself in that situation, so you've got to live with it,” Wade said. “It was what you would think. I was yelling at the TV. Didn't throw my remote, but … I was disappointed too because of my situation. It took away from some of the great things our team did, some of the great players we had. The story was more about me sometimes than it was about our players. We have phenomenal student-athletes, so that was very difficult."
They had to wait a while, but it was worth it.
As part of his reinstatement, Wade forfeited performance bonuses from his team winning the SEC regular-season championship worth about $250,000. He also agreed to contract changes making it easier for LSU to fire him for cause if he commits a Level I or Level II NCAA violation, or if the NCAA infractions committee gives LSU formal notice that Wade was involved in a Level I or Level II infraction.
“When we came out of that meeting, I knew to be the coach at LSU there were certain things that were going to need to happen,” Wade said. “So I was fine with that. I was happy to give that up to be the head coach at LSU."
Since Wade’s suspension began LSU replaced Joe Alleva, the man who hired him to coach the Tigers in 2017, and replaced him with Baton Rouge native and former Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward. Woodward has given qualified support to Wade, saying on WNXX-FM 104.5’s “After Further Review” show earlier this month that Wade has LSU’s backing “and it will be that way until it is not.”
“I've had good meetings with Scott,” Wade said. “Like I said earlier, I don't know Scott, so it's a trust-building process. I need to build trust with Scott and that comes through action. Trust is following through on what you're going to say you're going to do it. It's really going to take time with Scott to continue to build trust and build upon the foundation that we've started.”
Despite his off-the-court issues, Wade is building the nucleus of what could be another talented team.
The Tigers last week got the commitment of five-star power forward Trendon Watford from Mountain Brook, Alabama. And while Reid and All-SEC point guard Tremont Waters have left for the NBA draft, four other players — Skylar Mays, Marlon Taylor, Emmitt Williams and Smart — have said they will return next season.
"I have a sign on our practice facility wall that says chance favors the aggressor,” Wade said. “We've obviously played very aggressively on the court. We've been very aggressive in recruiting. I think I've come off as a little bit brash, to be honest. I think that's rubbed some folks the wrong way and that's my fault.
“So, will it change the way we recruit? We're still going to recruit the best players we can to LSU, but I need to make sure that I'm confident about what we're doing and I'm confident about what we're selling, but there's a line that you can't get up to and I think maybe sometimes I've gotten to that point where it's a little bit too brash.”
Wade said he is confident in the way he and his staff have run the basketball program.
“I look forward to starting my third season at LSU and trying to lead LSU back to the NCAA tournament and back to back SEC championships,” he said.