For a men’s basketball season with potentially so much promise, LSU’s build-up won’t match the hype.
And that’s by design because of a recent surge in coronavirus cases that resulted Gov. John Bel Edwards opting to keep Louisiana in Phase Two of the White House’s plan for reopening the country.
It caused LSU fourth-year basketball coach Will Wade to decide against bringing his entire team back at once for the start of voluntarily workouts.
Instead, Wade plans to stagger the return of his team, beginning with five players on Monday, with another four to five players on July 13 followed by the remainder near the end of the July-early August where they will remain together.
“Our initial approach was to have everybody back and let’s get go to work and do what we do,” Wade said. “I’ve changed my approach to more of an a la carte. Here are the menu options and choose what’s best for you. It’s just a little bit different with some of our guys. I have some kids that are in the (COVID-19) hot spots. I’ve got some parents that are concerned about the spike in cases here.”
Wade stressed player safety remains of paramount importance and that LSU, like it has done in football since the NCAA’s Division I Council allowed on-campus activities to resume, has adhered to strict CDC guidelines and will have a series of protocols in place.
Wade said players will undergo a thorough physical examination and X-ray. Before each workout, a temperature check will be conducted, followed by an exhaustive cleansing of the weight room after each workout.
“I think we’ll be able to take good care of everybody who’s here,” Wade said. “We’re going to be as absolutely safe as we can possibly be in the environment we’re in.”
Greg Goldin, LSU’s strength and conditioning coach for the basketball program, will supervise all weight room workouts, which are limited to eight hours a week in accordance with NCAA guidelines.
Wade said to maintain proper social distancing, no more than four players will be permitted in the team’s locker room at once. When players go into the practice gymnasium facility for shooting workouts, only one player at a time will be allowed along with a manager to rebound.
Managers will also have 15 minutes in between each workout to clean the gym and will be given a strict standard for cleaning the basketballs, Wade said.
Members of LSU’s coaching staff can’t have on-court interaction with players until July 20.
“It used to be a few years ago you didn’t get your guys in the summer,” Wade said. “What we’ve been getting has been good for our players. If we have to go and take a little bit of a step back to make sure we play a season, that’s what we need to do.”
Wade hasn’t gotten a look at the returning players from last year’s team in more than three months since LSU’s season was halted by the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March before the Tigers were able to play either the Arkansas-South Carolina winner in the SEC Tournament.
LSU was in position for a second straight berth in the NCAA tournament under Wade, having finished the 2019-20 season with a 21-10 record. The Tigers’ 12-6 mark was good enough for a share of second place in the SEC race.
There’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding the core of this year’s team.
Junior point guard Javonte Smart, junior forward Darius Days and sophomore forward Trendon Watford opted to test the NBA underclassman waters while retaining their NCAA eligibility. They have until Aug. 3 whether to return to school or declare for the Oct. 16 draft.
Wade said all three players are expected for voluntary workouts with Days set to report Monday followed by a later arrival from Smart and Watford in July.
“It’s so crazy right now, you don’t want them to rob them of a process,” said Wade, whose roster will feature one senior in guard Charles Manning Jr. “Javonte’s had a couple of interviews the last couple of weeks and Zoom interviews. Trendon’s got some set up and the reports I’ve heard on Darius Days are unbelievable. In some ways their process is still ongoing as they’re gathering information, talking to teams and getting feedback.”
The real synergy surrounding this year’s team, though, is rooted what it is currently an eight-member signing class that 247Sports ranks sixth nationally and third among SEC teams.
High scoring five-star guard Cameron Thomas of Chesapeake, Va. is the headliner, but Wade was able to strike a balance in his fourth recruiting class with both size and length in the front court to complement his backcourt signees.
Thomas is joined by point guards in Jalen Cook of Walker High and Eric Gaines of Lithonia, Ga. along with a group of forwards and centers ranging from 6-foot-6 to 6-11 that should help bolster the Tigers interior play and depth on offense and defense.
Included in that aforementioned unit are a pair of Division I transfers in former Madison Prep Academy standout Josh LeBlanc, a 6-7 forward who spent his first 1 ½ years at Georgetown, and Shareef O’Neal, a 6-9 power forward who spent two years at UCLA and is the son of former LSU All-American Shaquille O’Neal.
Wade indicated LSU is planning to file waivers with the NCAA in August so that both players would be eligible to play at the onset of this upcoming season.
After initially being expected to ratify such a measure on May 20 the NCAA, which considers granting such waivers for graduate transfers or in cases such as family hardships or discontinued programs, instead turned down the one-time transfer proposal until at least the 2021-22 academic calendar.
Part of LSU’s improved size is attributed to 6-11 center Josh Gray of Brooklyn, N.Y. who will also reportedly be on campus. The nation’s 190 overall prospect and No. 3 player in New York issued a commitment to the Tigers on April 10. But the graduate of Putnam Science Academy (Ct.), the fourth high school that he attended, apparently has a holdup with his academic records.
“Like a game, everything doesn’t go as planned so you better be able to adjust on the fly a little bit,” Wade said. “That’s part of coaching. This will be more difficult. In talking with the staff it’s going to make us better coaches.
“It’s going to make sure we’re teaching the right stuff. We have to make sure we’re very organized in what’re doing and make sure we’re not wasting one minute when we’re on the court. We have to be extremely efficient with everything that we do.”
LSU remains patient on the pending decision of five-star center Moussa Cisse (6-10, 220) – the nation’s second-ranked center and ninth overall prospect – of Memphis-Lausanne Collegiate School. The Tigers are the team projected by 247Sports to land the nation’s top uncommitted player in the Class of 2020 over Memphis.