BATON ROUGE, La. — It is clear what drew LSU to Will Wade.
Yes, he’s still a wet-behind-the-ears 34 years old, but he made it clear that he won’t allow that to be an impediment when going up against seasoned SEC veterans like John Calipari or Ben Howland.
“The other coaches have more tricks up their sleeve,” Wade said. “We have to bring the most enthusiasm.”
Wade’s introductory press conference was a lesson in bringing the enthusiasm.
Rather than being tucked away in some administration building, he chose to bring the message straight to the people. Wade was formally introduced as LSU’s next head coach in the middle of the student union, where the crowd dwarfed the ones in the student section at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center this season.
— LSU Basketball (@LSUBasketball) March 22, 2017
They gave him a microphone, though it wasn’t really needed.
“He’s got passion, that’s for sure,” said athletic director Joe Alleva. “The players pick up on it… I think (the student union) worked out well. There was a good energy here today.”
So the real question here is not what LSU saw in Will Wade. It is “What did Will Wade see in LSU?”
After all, he left behind a Virginia Commonwealth program that has reached seven straight NCAA tournaments for one that has to reach back to 1993 if you want to string together the seven most recent tourney invites.
But in Wade’s eyes, the evidence is in the PMAC rafters that LSU is a program capable of more. There are four Final Four banners. Ten conference championships. Three of the NBA’s 50 greatest players with their numbers retired.
“We’re going to add to those numbers over our tenure,” Wade said in reference to the Final Fours and SEC titles. “As you go through coaching, you wonder why some places can’t do it consistently. Long ago, I identified LSU as somewhere that was an absolute sleeping giant. LSU has everything you need to be successful. If you can get it going in the right direction, we can make it work.
“That was kind of my thought process going in, and when Eddie (Nunez) and Joe (Alleva) flew up to Richmond to see me, I left that meeting knowing LSU basketball can be successful and will be successful.”
Wade has had his eye on LSU for about as long as guy who has been a head coach for four years can. While recruiting Louisiana in his gig at UT-Chattanooga, Wade realized that he could build something special if he ever got the opportunity.
“The athletes we need, we can find them right here in Louisiana,” Wade said. “It wasn’t just some epiphany I came to. When I started recruiting down here for Chattanooga and saw the level of player, I kept going, ‘This unbelievable.’ You had a sense it could be done.”
And there is a template for success that Wade thinks he can follow within his own football-mad conference.
“Florida’s done it,” Wade said. “There’s a lot of similarities between here and Florida. We don’t have as many players in-state. But there also isn’t eight different high-major programs like there is in Florida. So this can be done. You know you can make it happen. And when I met with everybody, it confirmed my thoughts.”
In other words, Wade’s enthusiasm isn’t empty. Now, he just has to make it spread.