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Will LSU Wade Out of Basketball Mediocrity?

Today was a good first step, there’s a lot more ahead.

Atlantic 10 Basketball Tournament - Championship
I took WHAT job?!
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Joe Alleva is not exactly the most popular person among the LSU faithful, but let’s give some credit where credit is due: he did a good job on the basketball hire. Now, I know there’s reams of evidence on the other side which justify your vendetta against the AD, but just for today, Alleva gets credit for a job well done.

Now, let’s be clear. Will Wade is not a superstar, nor is he a sure thing. LSU didn’t go to another successful big school and money whip a great coach into taking our job, much like how South Carolina resurrected their program with Frank Martin.

If you asked a neutral basketball fan to sit down and list the best coaches working in college right now, it would take quite a while before that list got to Will Wade. As of yet, his story is mostly unwritten.

The good news is, he is off to a good start. Wade was a promising assistant at Harvard under Tommy Amaker and then at VCU under Shaka Smart. Wade was on the 2011 staff which made a surprising run to the Final Four, and he parlayed his success into a head coaching gig at UT-Chattanooga, later coming back to VCU when Smart left for Texas.

He won right away as a head coach, despite taking over a losing team in Chattanooga. The Mocs went from 8-10 in conference play to 12-4 in Wade’s first season. He would go 15-3 in his next year before going to VCU, where he would guide the Rams to 14-4 conference record in consecutive seasons.

Wade has a 91-45 record as a coach, 55-15 in conference play. He’s never finished worse than second place in his conference and only once failed to make a postseason tournament (okay, his only postseason tournament at UTC was the CBI).

That’s a nice resume, even if there is a concern that he doesn’t stick around anywhere for very long. Given LSU’s recent history, that would be one of those good problems. I would gladly take a coach so successful that he bolts for an even better gig over what we’ve had for the past quarter century.

While he did take over a losing program in Chattanooga, he has never had to deal with a full-scale rebuild like he does at LSU. Let’s be honest, right now, VCU is a better program. The difference is, LSU has the potential to be a better program, and Wade is getting off of the mid-major hamster wheel.

He is now charged with fixing problems he has not yet faced as a head coach. He has to regain the trust of a fan base that feels betrayed and has demonstrated their displeasure by their total apathy. Wade needs to figure a way to reignite the spark of LSU basketball, and that might take some time.

LSU has already tried the slow program build under Brady and Johnson, and the quick fixes of big time national recruits on Johnny Jones. So far, nothing has worked. The PMAC remains a near empty cavern, a mere shadow of its former self as the Deaf Dome. It is up to Wade to figure out how to bring back the talent, but more importantly, to bring back the fans.

However, this does represent a bit of a philosophical shift for Alleva. Wade has no LSU ties and, true to his word, the culture was not a concern. He also didn’t go the retread route, as a fanbase collectively exhales over dodging the Tom Crean bullet. LSU hired a young coach still climbing the ladder, someone whose legacy has not yet been written. There’s risk in that, but there is also that proverbial upside in Wade.

Wade’s first recruiting task may be to convince Antonio Blakeney to come back for his junior year. Blakeney tested the NBA waters last season before coming back to school, and by the end of this season, seemed to have tuned out his coach. He’s likely to be tempted again but likely could use another season to impress the scouts.

That’s not a requirement for success for Wade, but if he can bring back LSU’s star player, it would be a good first step to building some trust with the fanbase. However, this is more than a one-year rebuild. The losing seasons are not going to stop now that Jones has left town, there’s a pretty barren cupboard right now.

The good news is, for the first time in a long time for LSU basketball, tomorrow doesn’t look as bleak as yesterday. Wade, if nothing else, promises something that has been missing in Baton Rouge. Hope.