BATON ROUGE, La. — The LSU men’s basketball team opens the 2017-18 regular season Friday when it hosts Alcorn State at 7 p.m. CT in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Coming off one of the worst seasons in school history and a last-place finish in SEC play, LSU’s season opener marks the official beginning of the Will Wade era in Baton Rouge after the team parted ways with former coach Johnny Jones in March. The development of Wade and his staff will be a story worth monitoring. But when it comes down it, the season hangs on the shoulders of his players.
Of the 15 players, Wade has an interesting cross section of experience to deal with. He has five scholarship and two walk-on holdovers from a season ago, headlined by seniors forwards Duop Reath and Aaron Epps and sophomore point guard Skylar Mays. Another two players are freshman signed under Jones’ watch: forwards Brandon Rachal and Galen Alexander.
The other six are Wade pickups. Guards Daryl Edwards and Randy Onwuasor and forwards Jeremy Combs and Kavell Bigby-Williams are Division I transfers, while forward Mayan Kiir and guard Tremont Waters are freshman who were late additions to LSU’s signing class.
Below is a breakdown of what to expect from the players on LSU’s roster:
The guaranteed starters
- Point guard Skylar Mays
- Point guard Tremont Waters
- Forward Duop Reath
- Forward Aaron Epps
Heading into Friday night, Wade was only ready to name three starters Wednesday: Mays, Reath and Waters. Epps would be his starting power forward were he healthy, but it doesn’t look like the senior will be able to go. That leaves an interesting trio of options for LSU in the starting lineup.
A senior and former JUCO transfer, Reath was LSU’s second-leading scorer and leading rebounder in 2016-17, averaging 12 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. He profiles as the center in Wade’s scheme, bulked up and ready to play on the low block. Reath also stands as one of the most important leaders on the team, earning praise from Wade throughout the preseason.
As a freshman a year ago, Mays led the Tigers with 3.6 assists per game across 25 starts and 31 games played. The 6-foot-4 Baton Rouge native played primarily as a point guard last season, but will rotate between point guard and shooting guard with the arrival of Waters.
Waters, a freshman from New Haven, Conn., was a 4-star prospect and the top-rated recruit for LSU’s class of 2017. At 5-11, Waters is the smallest member of LSU’s team, but his ability to distribute and shoot makes him a valuable offensive piece in Wade’s fast-paced attack.
The question mark
- Guard Brandon Sampson
Sampson was one of the stars of LSU’s squad a year ago, averaging 11.6 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. With Antonio Blakeney moving on to the NBA, Sampson was expected to step up for his junior season and be the Tigers’ leading scorer. But after a rough scrimmage versus Tulane and because of questions about his defensive ability, Sampson isn’t a lock to be in the starting lineup for the season opener.
If he can sort out his defensive questions, Sampson should be a dynamic scoring option for LSU playing from the shooting guard/small forward position. At 6-5, Sampson is a tough matchup for smaller 2-guards because of his size and for bigger 3-guards because of his speed and athleticism. Getting Sampson on track should be Goal No. 1 for this team, as his presence on offense could be the difference in a few wins.
- Forward Wayde Sims
- Guard Daryl Edwards
- Forward Jeremy Combs
- Guard Randy Onwuasor
The final returning scholarship player, Sims is one of the main candidates to start at power forward while Epps recovers from his injury. As a freshman in 2016-17, Sims started five games and played in 31, averaging 6.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. As of Tuesday, Wade listed Sims as a starter, but he went back on that Wednesday after Sims had a “bad practice.”
If Sims isn’t the power forward Friday versus Alcorn State, the starter may be Combs. A graduate transfer from North Texas, Combs averaged 10.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in his injury-shortened 2016-17 campaign. The senior has been recovering from injuries for most of fall practice but has been full-go for at least a week. Wade said Combs is probably “around 90 percent” right now, but added that Combs’ 90 percent is better than 100 percent of some of his teammates.
Edwards and Onwuasor are both 6-3 transfer guards. Onwuasor was one of the nation’s most productive scorers at Southern Utah last season, averaging 23.6 points per game to lead the Big Sky. Edwards was a leader on a Northwest Florida State College team that made it to the junior college elite eight last season.
- Guard Brandon Rachal
- Forward Galen Alexander
- Forward Mayan Kiir
Along with Waters, this trio makes up LSU’s class of freshman for 2017-18. Rachal and Alexander are holdovers from Jones’ last recruiting class, while Kiir signed with LSU after Wade was hired.
The 6-5 Rachal is in the mix with players like Sampson to contend for the 3-guard position. The Natchitoches native was a two-time state champion and was named to multiple All-Louisiana teams during his high school career.
Another Louisiana native, Alexander could play the 3 or the 4 for LSU this season. The freshman battled through injuries as a high school senior and has missed time in the preseason rehabbing ailments as well, but he should be ready to play Friday. Expect to see Alexander play a handful of minutes, especially with Epps unavailable.
Kiir seems like the player most poised to give Reath breathers when he’s tired. The 6-foot-9 Bradenton, Fla., product by way of South Sudan and Melbourne, Australia was a 4-star prospect who ranked in ESPN’s Top 100 recruits. Kiir committed to VCU while Wade was the head coach there and reopened his recruitment shortly after Wade left for Baton Rouge. Nine days later, Kiir announced his intention to follow Wade to LSU.
The LSU men’s basketball team opens up it 2017-18 regular season Friday night versus Alcorn State in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Check back to SEC Country throughout the week for more hoops updates.