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LSU coach Will Wade coaches against East Tennessee on Wednesday, December 18, 2019, at LSU's Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge.

Every time the LSU men’s basketball team wins a game, CBSSports.com college basketball writer Jon Rothstein sends out this tweet:

“Will Wade. American Gangster.”

What Rothstein means by that is in the eye of the beholder. You could say he’s saying the LSU coach is a bad (as in good) dude or a bad (as in bad) actor.

A lot of college basketball observers have set up camp on the latter. They have tried and convicted Wade based on the “strong-ass offer” he was caught on an FBI wiretap describing to Christian Dawkins in 2017, presumably for former LSU guard Javonte Smart. There’s another wiretapped quote that has Wade saying: “We could compensate him better than the (NBA) rookie minimum.”

These are potentially damning quotes. Quotes that have had Wade baking under the heat lamp of an NCAA inquisition for 2½ years now.

Two. And. A. Half. Years.

Investigators from the Complex Case Unit interviewed Wade two weeks ago on behalf of the NCAA’s Independent Accountability Resolution Process. When the NCAA sends your case to the IARP and they sic the CCU on you, it’s NBG (no bloody good) … IMO.

To even the most passionate LSU fan, it would seem the clock is tick, tick, ticking on the Wade era in Baton Rouge. If the NCAA hands down a notice of allegations to LSU that ranges between Level I or Level II allegations (Level I being the worst), the school is contractually within its rights to dismiss Wade.

If Wade is worried about any or all of this, he hides it well. After his first Tipoff luncheon of the season Thursday at L’Auberge, I’d like to guide Wade over to a poker table and see whether his pulse ever goes above 50 before he shows his cards.

Wade is the Alfred E. Newman of college basketball. He’s steadily built a consistent winner out of what at times has looked like a coaches’ graveyard of a program, all the while wearing a “What, me worry?” grin that no doubt infuriates the hot sauce out of his critics.

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“You guys can probably tell, I don’t really care what people think,” Wade, while grinning, said last week at a preseason news conference. “That doesn’t bother me very much; it doesn’t bother my guys very much. We’re pretty insulated over here from everything that goes on, and we just lock in and focus on our team and focus on winning.

“At the end of the day it’s about winning, and we’ve won. We’re the winningest program (in the SEC) the last three years. We’re the only team to be in the top four the last three years, and I think it’s the first time in 34 years we won NCAA tournament games in back-to-back (appearances).”

Wade is accurate on all three counts. He’s done something over the past four seasons that only Dale Brown managed to do in a 15-year span from 1979-93: made the Tigers a postseason-worthy (NCAA or NIT) team four straight years or more. Yes, there was no NCAA tournament in 2020 because of the pandemic, but at 21-10 LSU was a lock to earn a bid.

The question isn’t whether Wade is a good coach or a good program-builder. He has proven to be that. The question is whether the program he has built at LSU rests on shifting sand. It’s entirely possible Wade will have to be red-carded and sent off like an offending soccer player.

If an entity as big and powerful as the NCAA wanted to exact a pound of my flesh, it probably would keep me up night. But Wade looks well rested. A coiled spring, perhaps, but one at rest. Either he’s come to terms internally with the possibility that he isn’t long for LSU, or he’s sure that he’s going to outlast whatever slings and arrow the alphabet soup of college athletics’ enforcement arms can throw at him.

This next quote suggests that it’s the latter:

“At the end of the day, everything else will take care of itself if you win,” Wade said. “That’s what we try to focus on; we try to do everything we can to give ourselves the best opportunity to win and not worry about the distractions.

“Truth be told, the distractions are usually stuff I have to deal with. Nobody else in the program really has to deal with the distractions, it’s usually me that has to deal with it. I’m built for that; that’s what we’re good at, that’s what we do, and our players don’t even know most of the time what’s going on.”

I don’t know if that’s American gangster talk from Wade, but it’s very Alfred E. Newman.

What, Wade worry? If the NCAA enforcement folks are waiting to see Wade sweat, they should remember that winter is coming.

Email Scott Rabalais at srabalais@theadvocate.com

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