BATON ROUGE, La. — If the empty bottle of Canadian Mist whiskey discarded on the men’s room floor can be submitted as evidence, LSU fans came to the PMAC to party Friday night.
Last year, pity parties were the only kind being thrown in the building named after the most electrifying player in college basketball history. One particularly unmemorable game last season featured more LSU players on the floor (5) than fans in the student section (4).
It’s different now. Will Wade has arrived. Heck, he even brought a DJ with him.
Elbow room was sparse in the student section, and by the end of the season the rest of the the place may feel the same way too. LSU drew its largest crowd for a season opener in the last 20 years — 11,856 fans, at least one of whom had extra fortification.
“It was exciting,” said junior guard Brandon Sampson. “I don’t even remember [the last time like this]. It was a good feeling. I’m glad everyone was here. It’s really different. I give it all to our fans. The student section was crazy… it’s going to be fun.”
The Tigers won’t be rolling many of their opponents as easily as they did lowly Alcorn State, but regardless of future outcomes there is a promise of excitement that hasn’t been felt here in a long time.
Sure, there was the Ben Simmons thing two years ago. But that experience was shrouded by a feeling of fraudulence, sort of like a prom date both sides accidentally agreed to before considering better options. Simmons’ words since his departure have only proven those misgivings to be true.
But this? This feels real. This feels sustainable.
And it’s because the Tigers have players like freshman point guard Tremont Waters. Generously listed 5-foot-11 in the program, he was jaw-dropping in his debut. Waters opened his career with 27 points, 6 assists, 5 steals and 5 rebounds.
But those are just numbers. They don’t describe the 3-pointer he hit while falling towards his backside, the behind-the-head assist he dished to Duop Reath while saving a ball that was heading out of bounds, the guys he crossed over with his dribble, or the crisp alley-oop he threw to Brandon Sampson.
To see him play once is to want to see him play again.
“The crowd got into it,” Waters said. “It was just a great time.”
Seconds after the buzzer, Wade grabbed the microphone and thanked all of them for coming.
“There’s a lot of [entertainment] options for people,” Wade said. “For people to come out, it was a leap of faith. Yeah this guy’s been talking all this stuff for 8 months, but is this thing for real? Hopefully they left feeling good.
“We’re not going to win every game. But you saw a workmanlike effort. Guys that were into it. A bench that was into it. I think the LSU people, the people of Louisiana respect that.”
If this keeps up, it won’t be long before Wade’s the one getting the thanks instead of giving it.