By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
Tremont Waters has welcomed the late October arrival of cool weather to Baton. The New Haven, Conn. native needed a break from the South Louisiana heat.
“It felt like home,” LSU’s freshman point guard said Tuesday at LSU Basketball Media Day.
Finding comfort early will be key for Waters, recently named one of 20 under the radar freshmen to watch in 2017-18 by Jon Rothstein, as he looks to take control of the Tigers’ offense at point guard. Sophomore Skylar Mays played there last year but has moved to the shooting guard spot. Upperclassmen transfers Randy Onwuasor and Daryl Edwards can each play the 1, too, but it’s Waters to whom first-year head coach Will Wade will likely hand the keys early in the season.
Perhaps it’s weeks of practice under his belt – or maybe it’s the drop in temperatures – but Waters’ play has picked up of late, Wade says.
“Tremont the last week to 10 days has really picked it up,” Wade says. “He has looked really good. There is a learning curve, and you know that when you sign up.”
Part of that learning curve is Wade’s massive playbook, which features dozens of sets and counters. It can be plenty for one player to learn, demanding dozens of reps in practice and hours more of mental reps to master just a single position. Waters, as the point guard, has to know them all, while still adjusting to the speed of the game.
“Overall, it’s been a big adjustment,” Waters said. “In college basketball, you have to go up and down the floor a lot more than high school basketball. The coaching staff’s a lot different. I have to learn a lot more new personalities.”
The learning curve goes both ways, though. Wade, upon his arrival in Baton Rouge this spring, quickly targetted Waters, a top-40 prospect nationally in the 2017 class and the highest-ranked unsigned player available when he committed to LSU, because he recognized the unique skillset the quick-footed, quick-thinking 5-foot-11 floor general possesses.
“He sees guys,” Wade says. “It’s like he has five eyes. He’s passing the ball all over the place and sees everyone all over the place. Part of it, too, is our guys have got to learn how to play with him. You got to have your hands ready, you’ve got to be able to catch it, because you never know when it’s coming to you. You may not think you’re open, but he thinks you’re open and he will get you the ball.”
LSU was fortunate to catch Waters in the first place. Recruited by Kansas, Kentucky, and Indiana, among others, he’d originally signed a National Letter of Intent with Georgetown. But when the Hoyas parted ways with John Thompson III in the spring, Waters requested – and was granted – his release. Nearly every school in the country with a spot open – and some without – inquired about Waters, including Duke and Syracuse. Wade joined the fray and won out, selling Waters with his attention to detail and his studious approach to the game.
“After I de-committed from Georgetown, I looked at Coach Wade’s coaching style, what he did at VCU, Chattanooga,” Waters says. “I liked how he studied the game. He doesn’t just look at plays and have you run things that everyone runs. He knows his P’s and Q’s. He reminds me of my father.”
Wade has had to use a father’s discretion in grooming Waters for the role he envisions for him this season. There have been tough moments, growing pains no freshman, no matter how talented, is immune to. In Tuesday’s practice, Wade quickly sent Waters to the sidelines after finding his effort in a defensive drill insufficient, forcing him to lift bricks over his head while doing wall-sits as a reminder to keep his hands up on D. Waters finished the punishment, and minutes later he was driving to the rim, using his quick handles and crafty footwork to finish at the rim above the larger Mays.
Tremont Waters. Crafty. pic.twitter.com/O3SkrVeCRr
— Cody Worsham (@CodyWorsham) October 24, 2017
“When you have the opportunity to roll out there with the freshman point guard at times, he is going to be in there for some clutch situations at some point during the season, there is going to be some ups and downs with that,” Wade says. “We talk about that in recruiting when you commit: We are going to have to grow together and work it out together. He is getting a little bit more toughness to him, not that he wasn’t tough, but he is getting a little bit more grittiness to him that you need to play at this level in college basketball.”
Waters is “one of the more competitive guys” on the team, Wade says. He’s a student of the game, fluent (nearly) in Wade’s complex terminology thanks to extra hours of film. He’s also relishing the presence of Mays beside him in the backcourt. Never before has Waters had the luxury of an additional ball-handler to help share the burden.
“I’ve never played with another point guard that can run the show and handle the ball,” Waters says.” For me, in high school and throughout my career, it’s always been a one guard system, where I was the point and it was set in stone. Just to be able to play with another point guard who can bring the ball up in Skylar, it just takes some pressure off my shoulders.”
Talent and work ethic go a long way, but nothing can make up for experience. Waters will get plenty in year one. Wade is careful not to declare his freshman point guard an All-American in the making, but the potential is there. It just takes time to cultivate it.
“I think early on it is going to be a growing process,” Wade says. “It is going to be a little high risk, high reward. He is going to have a lot of assists all year. I think early on in the year we’re going to see, not high turnover numbers, but he will turn the ball over. But as he adjusts to the speed of the game, the pace, and how things go, what you want to see is improvement where those numbers go down throughout the year and to where we get to big-time assist to turnover ratio. I think we will get there.”