It’s going to be a bitterly cold evening in Richmond, Virginia, on Wednesday night.
It could be even chillier in the Siegel Center, the downtown home of the VCU Rams basketball team, when Will Wade walks into the building.
LSU’s third-year coach was cheered when he roamed the Siegel sidelines for four seasons as a VCU assistant, then returned after a two-year stint as Chattanooga's head coach to succeed Shaka Smart when he left for Texas.
In six total seasons there, Wade helped VCU to a 162-57 record and five NCAA tournament appearances. The highlight was an improbable run to the 2011 Final Four before the Rams fell in the national semifinals.
But everything changed on the evening of March 20, 2017, when Wade accepted an offer from then-LSU athletic director Joe Alleva to become the Tigers’ head coach.
While Wade and wife Lauren still have many friends in the area, he’s not expecting a warm welcome in his return to the Siegel Center.
“I do think most of the fans were not real pleased with me,” Wade said of leaving VCU for LSU and a six-year contract at $2.5 million per year. “They’re not real happy about the move, and I’m sure they’ll let their feelings be known when we show up there.”
As part of the $1 million buyout to get Wade, who had signed an eight-year contract worth $1.5 million annually just one year earlier, LSU had to schedule a home-and-home series with VCU within three years of his leaving — or pay a $250,000 fee.
Even without Tremont Waters, Bowling Green had its hands full with the LSU basketball team’s backcourt Friday night.
Not playing wasn’t an option for Wade and the bill comes due Wednesday night when LSU calls on VCU, who will come to Baton Rouge next season.
“LSU could have bought it out, but I wanted to play,” he said. “It’s a good series for us … they’re a good team, a good program. LSU would have paid the $250,000.”
Wade isn’t the only former VCU staff member returning this week.
Strength and conditioning coordinator Greg Goldin, director of operations Nelson Hernandez and former video coordinator Alex Wharton made the move with Wade, and former VCU student-manager Tyrone Green replaced Wharton this season.
There are lots of memories there for Wade, for sure, especially with the four players he recruited that will be on the floor Wednesday night: De’Riante Jenkins, Malik Crowfield, Isaac Vann and Marcus Santos-Silva.
Jenkins and Crowfield, a LaPlace native who played at Riverside Academy, played on Wade’s last VCU team that went 26-9 in 2017 and Vann was a redshirt freshman. Santos-Silva signed with Wade before he left for LSU.
Otherwise, there won’t be much time for reminiscing. Wade likely won’t even get to visit his favorite restaurants because his team flies in late Tuesday afternoon and departs right after the game.
“It’ll be pretty action-packed,” he said of the whirlwind 30-hour visit.
Wade will likely try to squeeze a few minutes in with old friends, some of whom have made the trip to Baton Rouge to spend time with him and Lauren.
For the first two years of his tenure as LSU’s basketball coach, Will Wade put the keys to the car in the capable hands of Tremont Waters.
“I’m still close with some of the major donors … I still talk to those folks from time to time,” Wade said. “A couple of them have come down for football games. And Lauren has some friends she still keeps in touch with.”
Like when he went to his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, to play Vanderbilt during his first year at LSU, Wade is trying his best to downplay his return to Richmond.
He knows the challenge is a big one, starting with a VCU team that was ranked 25th in the AP preseason poll and has started 2-0 with a 72-58 beating of Saint Francis and a 59-56 victory over North Texas on Friday night.
“The No. 1 thing is they’re a really good team with some experienced players, a top-25 team,” Wade said. “The second thing is they hardly ever lose at home.”
VCU has a 265-44 record in Siegel Center since its opening in 1999 and the cozy 7,637-seat facility is working on a streak of 136 consecutive sellouts.
“The place is special, they love their basketball,” Wade said of the VCU fans. “It’s a passionate fan base; it’s a place that supports basketball at a very, very high level.
“It’s going to be a hostile environment. Will the emotions be highly-charged? Absolutely, there’s no doubt about that.”
But, he emphasized, it’s much more than Will Wade going back to Richmond.
“At the end of the day, it’s about our team going on the road to play a ranked team in a very tough environment to see how we handle ourselves early in the season,” he said. “It’s about LSU playing VCU … that’s what it is.”