BATON ROUGE, La. ― Before his Tigers take the floor for their season opener on Nov. 10, new LSU basketball coach Will Wade wants one thing to be made clear.
His way is the only way.
“‘Buy in’ and all that stuff are buzzwords,” Wade said Monday. “But there’s a new normal. They know what the new normal is. You either do it or you get left behind. It’s very clear where our standards are. We’re not bending on our expectations.”
After a summer of conditioning and body transformation, Wade’s players will take the court for the first time Friday when LSU begins its fall practice session. The session will consist of 30 practices in 42 days, over which Wade plans to install a base offensive and defensive scheme he can adapt on the fly for various opponents.
But before Wade can get to scheming and game preparation, he has to ensure his players will fit this new normal. This means rigorous training regimens, headlined by Wade’s daily “boot camp” conditioning tests. If a player doesn’t pass every conditioning test in a given week, he won’t practice and won’t play.
That’s the sort of attitude Wade said he intends to instill in the team. He wants his players to be tougher and better conditioned than they’ve ever been. Not because it’ll make for better practices. But because it’ll pay off when it matters the most.
“The reality of it is, if we’re doing what we want to do, we’re going to be in a lot of 6-minute games,” Wade said. “It’s going to be two or three possessions with 6 minutes left in the game. You’re either going to figure out a way to win or whimper your way down the stretch and get blasted. We want to be in the position to physically pound people in the last six minutes of the game. That’s what it boils down to. How tough are you going to be?”
Wade estimates that 80 percent of his focus this offseason has been on defense. That focus was merited, as opponents shot 47.2 percent from the field against LSU last season, the second-worst of any school in a Power 5 football conference, and scored an average of 82.9 points per game.
LSU basketball’s defense is far from complete, though. Wade said his team still needs to work on finishing possessions and improving rotations. But he’s noticed progress from when he arrived to this point in the preseason.
Still, all this focus on defense has left LSU a little bit behind on offense. Wade joked that when the Tigers started installing the offense 10 days ago, his players were kicking the ball around the court. Which probably isn’t a good offensive strategy.
That said, Wade is optimistic about what he’s seen.
“We’re a work in progress,” he said. “I see it for what it is. I think we made some big strides with our toughness. We’re getting to where we want to be with that. I think our conditioning has made some big strides. But we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Wade, 34, was hired on March 20 to replace Johnny Jones, who was fired after the 2016-17 season. The Tigers finished the season 10-21.
Graduate transfer forward Jeremy Combs, formerly of North Texas, will miss six to eight weeks after undergoing ankle surgery last week. This puts his timetable for return right around the beginning of the season.
“He had some ankle issues last season at North Texas, and we didn’t think it was stable enough for him to play the whole season,” Wade said. “Our doctors thought this would be the best way for him to play this year. It’s just what we wanted to do.”
Combs averaged 10.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in 2016-17 for North Texas. The senior played for Tony Benford at North Texas; Benford is now an assistant coach at LSU.
LSU also will start practice Friday without forward Galen Alexander. A freshman from Breaux Bridge, La., Alexander is still rehabbing a knee injury, from which Wade said he’s 75 or 80 percent healed.