Wayde Sims was an LSU Tiger.
Not just because he attended the university or even because he played basketball for the program. No, his ties with LSU went much deeper than that.
Sims entered the LSU family at birth. His father, Wayne, spent four years playing under legendary basketball coach Dale Brown from 1987-91, playing with the likes of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (born Chris Jackson), Ricky Blanton and a young Shaquille O’Neal.
As a result, there was little debate when Sims was growing up where he would play college basketball if given the chance. LSU was always the first option.
“He grew up LSU.” Wayne told Tiger Rag when Wayde signed his letter of intent to play for LSU. “We go to all the basketball games, football games. It’s in his blood.”
Wayde Sims attended University Lab, meaning he spent his high school career playing right down the road from the Pete Maravich Assembly Center he one day hoped would be his home court.
It’s there that he began to turn his dreams into a reality.
Playing along side his future LSU teammates in Skylar Mays and Marhsall Graves, Sims helped lead the Cubs to three consecutive Louisiana High School Athletics Associaton Class 3A state championships, standing out as one of the top prospects in the state in the process.
In two of those trips to the Top 28 high school basketball tournament, Sims earned two Most Outstanding Player awards to go along with his state titles.
He earned the honor of Louisiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year, awarded annually to the top high school basketball player in the state as a junior after averaging 17.6 points and 9.5 rebounds per game while shooting 62.8 percent from the field.
His senior year went even better, statistically, as he averaged 21.2 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game.
“The combination of him and Skylar (Mays) were awfully fun to watch in high school,” said LSU volleyball coach Fran Flory, whose son played with the duo at University Lab. “They fed off of each other and neither one of them tried to upstage the other. I always respected that because they were both superstars, but you would never know it if you were around them. They never acted the part.”
His play earned him the interest of former LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones, who knew Wayne intimately, both due to their mutual roots in DeRidder, La., and because Jones served as an assistant to Brown during Wayne’s time playing at LSU.
There was no drama on Wayde’s long-awaited signing day. Everybody in the building knew where he was going.
On Sims’ senior night at University Lab, Flory remembers his parents handing out cups that said “From a Cub to a Tiger,” signifying the journey he had just finished and the new one he was about to embark on, officially, as an LSU Tiger.
“That was his goal in life,” Flory said. “that he was going to follow in his dad’s footsteps.”
The transition wasn’t easy. LSU struggled in Sims’ first year with the program, going 10-21 with just two Southeastern Conference victories.
Sims showed promise in the during his freshman season. He averaged 6.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game while earning about 19 minutes of playing time per game. He scored in double-digits eight time, showing value in the post on both sides of the ball.
But that would be the one and only year he would play under the coach who recruited him and who knew his family so well. Jones and LSU parted ways after the poor season, and the administration brought in a young, up-and-coming coach in Will Wade.
Transitioning between coaching staffs usually isn’t easy. Athletes who committed to play up to four years with a program under a specific coach all of a sudden have to adjust to a brand new group of coaches and personnel they didn’t choose to play for.
This transition didn’t seem to be difficult for Sims, however. If anything, he made Wade and his coaching staff’s job easier.
“He was one of those guys that everybody liked,” Wade said. “He had a way about him where if you were around him, you felt engaged with him and you just love him. He embraced us from the start, and we embraced him.
“He was just growing and growing and growing. That’s what’s so tough. He was on a big-time upward trajectory. It’s just tough when they’re taken too soon.”
He continued to grow through his sophomore season, earning 10 starts and tallying his first career double-double against Sam Houston State despite playing just 20 minutes.
Just days before his death, Wade referred to Sims as perhaps the most improved player on the team entering the 2018-19 season.
He looked forward to seeing what Sims could do with the talented roster the Tigers are expected to play with this season, and Sims looked forward to showing off what he could do.
“I’m really excited,” Sims said in a player availability media session two days before the scheduled start of practice. “I think we’re going to have a really good season this year. We’re going to come out and do big things.”
He had spent the offseason working on his shot and improving his guard play. He wanted to contribute to this potential powerhouse team in any way he could, and he looked forward to surprising people with how good LSU would be this season.
Unfortunately, that’s the last time he would speak to reporters, and he would never get an opportunity to show off the skills he developed during the offseason.
Friday, September 28, 2018, was supposed to be a celebratory day for the LSU basketball team. It was the first day of practice.
The team had a scheduled 6:30 a.m. workout, they’d go to class and then the Tigers would get their first chance to show off with a 45-minute practice session in front of the media before working behind closed doors.
It was supposed to signify the start of a new season for a new team.
But none of that happened on Friday, September 28, 2018, and now that date will be seared into the hearts of his family, friends and teammates for the rest of their lives.
“I told the team this morning, this is a day they will never forget,” said LSU athletics director Joe Alleva. “They will never forget this day. It will live with them forever.”
In the first hour of that day, Baton Rouge Police responded to a shooting near a Subway restaurant on Harding Boulevard.
A fight broke out, and when Sims stepped in to help a friend, he was shot and killed, police said.
“Early this morning, I got the call that you never want to get as a head coach,” Wade said. “We rushed down to the hospital, and they let us know of the news on Wayde when we got to the hospital.”
Sims’ life had abruptly come to an end. The news of his death sent shockwaves throughout the LSU and Baton Rouge community that will reverberate long after.
Wade then had the unenviable task of informing his team of what happened. Instead of working out at 6:30 a.m., the team listened as Wade broke the tragic news, with the entire coaching staff and counselors on hand to help them begin the grieving process.
The news affected every corner of the athletics department. Some, like the football team, had to find a way to either grieve quickly or use it as motivation as it prepared for a football game the next day.
“The news was shocking on Friday,” said LSU football coach Ed Orgeron. “Our guys were really hurt, and it was a travesty. We feel for him, his family and the basketball team.”
Every available head coach on staff was in attendance at the press conference, as were several administrators including university president F. King Alexander to show support and solidarity for Wade and the entire LSU basketball team.
Flory said there was no other option.
“That is what we do,” Flory said. “It is who we are. It was what LSU stands for. Blood makes you related, but loyalty makes you family. …We will forever stick together here.”
Now Wade and the Tigers must find a way to move forward, but never forget.
Wade acknowledged moving forward will be a long and difficult task, one that will likely outlast the upcoming season. But remembering Sims will never be a problem.
He was a loyal friend. One who would help his teammates move in as he got to move in early. He’d give them rides to run errands if they didn’t have a car.
He was fearless. When on a high-ropes obstacle course, he’d encourage his teammates who were afraid of heights, telling them that they could accomplish their goals even if they were afraid, all with a smile on his face.
He was a favorite son of Baton Rouge basketball, with all its history and culture. He proudly sported tattoos that let people know where he was from, with a “225” area code on one arm and a Tiger on the other. He listened to and promoted Baton Rouge music because he was proud to share their hometown.
He was a jokester and a prankster who always knew how to put a smile on the face of whoever he was around.
Wayde Sims was an LSU Tiger, and he also was much more than that. Those who knew him will never forget that.