BATON ROUGE, La. — Forget convention. Will Wade is in charge now.
Wade isn’t your traditional college basketball coach. This 34-year-old, who was announced as the next LSU men’s basketball coach on Monday, didn’t take a traditional trajectory into the SEC. He never played college basketball. He has yet to coach in the SEC. And he’s only been a head coach for four years.
But Wade isn’t the kind of person to let all those “nevers” define him. He prefers to look at “nevers” as his advantage.
“I come at things from a totally different perspective,” Wade said. “I look at that as a big advantage because I’m able to come at things from a different perspective. I don’t just accept what is a ‘basketball norm.’ I don’t accept that. Why do we do it this way? What can we do to do it better? What sort of system can we put in place to make it better?”
In his introductory media conference and pep rally Wednesday afternoon, Wade gave answers to those three rhetorical questions.
First, there’s the matter of why things are done the way they are done. And Wade, on the vanguard of modern coach-think in college basketball, doesn’t seem to agree with conventional coaching wisdom. In outlining his offensive philosophy, Wade described his half-court game plan as similar to NBA spread offenses reliant on high ball screens and said he’ll instruct his players to shy away from mid-range jumpers. Instead, he only wants his players shooting layups, free throws and 3-pointers. Because those are “the best shots.”
Then there’s the matter of how. How can LSU go about achieving this new-think version of “better.” Well, Wade’s philosophy on this is about as similar to LSU football coach Ed Orgeron’s thinking as it gets.
“Really, it’s all about culture from the start,” Wade said. “You’ve got to establish your culture, you’ve got to establish your guidelines, you’ve got to establish the way you’re going to do things. You’ve got to be absolutely uncompromising in those because that’s what it takes to win. You can’t shortcut that.”
Wade’s culture includes being the most aggressive team on the court and the most attentive team off it. To Wade, everything starts off the court. How players approach their classwork, their sleep habits, their nutrition and their conditioning, that’s what separates the bad from the good and the good from the great.
Prepare for Tigers attack
Which leads to third question: What system can Wade put in place to make the LSU basketball program better? The answer to that question lies in the central theme of Wade’s introduction: aggression.
“Acting for us, we’re going to be aggressive, committed and thankful every day,” Wade said. “Chance favors the aggressive. When you get out of bed in the morning, we’re going to attack the day.
“We’re going to be an attacking basketball team on both sides of the court,” he said. “We’re going to attack the weight room. Everything we do is going to be aggressive. Have you ever heard the expression ‘Good things come to those who wait?’ It’s not true. Only the scraps from he who hustles. You’ve got to go after it.”
Nowhere is that more evident than in the way Wade plans on running his defense. Wade had an aggressive, pressing defense at Chattanooga and VCU, one that puts the pressure on the opposing team to react instead of reacting as a defense. This defensive game plan also creates offensive opportunities with turnovers.
Last year at VCU, Wade’s team created 515 turnovers, the same amount as Kentucky and a mark that ranked among the top 25 teams in the country. Per 100 possessions, VCU had the 32nd-ranked defense in the nation, allowing 95.6 points, according to advanced statistics from sports-reference.com. LSU, by comparison, was 342nd in the nation.
Forward thinking in action
Will Wade’s success might not be sustained over a long term, but it’s about as good in the moment as any other mid-major program in the nation. Now the only question remaining is if he can translate that success to the SEC.
And the way Wade looks at it, he doesn’t have the option of failing. It’s win now or never win for him.
“I tell people all the time, a lot of these guys come from these great coaching trees and coaching families,” Wade said. “I don’t have a safety net. Failure is not an option. There’s nowhere for me to go. We’ve got to be successful.”