Editor’s Note: This is the cover story from our 2018-19 Basketball Preview Issue, which is available on newsstands around Baton Rouge now. Click here to order your own copy online or find a newsstand location near you.
[su_dropcap style=”flat” size=”5″]E[/su_dropcap]very notable recruiting class in college basketball has that one athlete that seems to transcend the rest in his ability and potential, making the group of incoming freshmen not just great but potentially elite.
LSU head coach Will Wade’s first recruiting class with the program ranks as high at No. 4 in the country and it has no shortage of talented athletes that bring a multitude of skillsets to the team.
Ja’vonte Smart is a local product who can run the point and score from anywhere in the gym. Emmitt Williams is a strong, gritty rebounder with a great attitude and physical style of play. Darius Days adds depth to the Tigers’ frontcourt that they haven’t seen in recent memory.
But there’s one player in Wade’s prized recruiting class that can potentially provide all that and more with size, ability, basketball IQ and star power.
That’s Naz Reid.
When asked just how good LSU’s star recruit from Wade’s first recruiting class really is, Reid’s teammates almost universally start their answer with a single three-word phrase.
“Oh my God.”
Incoming junior college transfer guard Marlon Taylor had to say it twice before he put together a coherent answer, saying he’s never played with anybody like him.
“Great player,” Taylor says. “He’s 6-10, he can handle, he can shoot. He can do it all.”
There is no shortage of hype for the 2018-19 LSU basketball season thanks to Wade’s star-studded recruiting class and a returning leader in Tremont Waters, but most of the excitement surrounds the 6-foot-10, 250-pound freshman out of Asbury Park, New Jersey.
Reid is a full-grown man in the body of a 19-year old college freshman who actually had to lose some weight before Wade felt comfortable with his conditioning.
But now that he’s under that weight limit, Wade has nothing but positive things to say about the unanimous five-star big man on campus.
When asked if the talk of him possibly earning a first-round draft pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Wade was almost incredulous with his response.
“Could be (a first-round pick)? He will be. He’s a good player. I’m really proud of Naz. He’s down under 250 pounds. He looks phenomenal. He’s lost over 20 pounds. He’s a hard worker, he’s a great listener. The way he sees the game is just tremendous.”
Reid wowed reporters and on-lookers at LSU’s open practice on Oct. 13 with his balanced skillset and scoring ability from anywhere on the floor.
First came expected buckets, shots in the post in which he used his strength to finish. Then he started shooting from behind the arc with a relatively high success rate.
At one point between drills, Reid started playing his own game of Around the World, going around the 3-point line and hitting shots. He ended up hitting four in a row – with the crowd in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center getting more excited with each one – before finally missing one in the corner.
“We’ll have Naz playing the 3, and next thing you know he’s running the play,” Williams says. “Next thing you know, he’ll cross you up and shoot a 3. You’ll be like ‘Yo, did he really just do that? He’s 6-10 with it.’ It’s amazing.”
PERHAPS THE MOST impressive part of his game that he showed off was his ball-handling ability.
It’s not exactly typical for a man his size to be able to control the ball as effectively as he can, and Wade plans on using that to his advantage.
During LSU’s annual media day, Wade said that when LSU wants to play big, they shift Reid over to the 3 and even let him bring the ball up the floor like a point forward if necessary.
“The best way I can put it is like having Tremont at power forward or center,” Wade said. “He’s just a playmaker. He’s got a great feel and great hands. He’s unbelievably diligent, tremendously smart and has great intellect on the court, an unbelievable basketball IQ. He’s gotten in the best shape of his life and it’s showing in how he plays and how consistent he’s been. I couldn’t be more pleased with him or more proud of him for his progress.”
The comparisons to Waters don’t end there.
Wade said the talent that separates players like Waters and Reid from the rest of the college basketball field is their instincts. They have a good sense of where everyone on the floor has been, where they are and where they are going to be.
This combined with good decision-making skills make for an elite basketball player that should have minimal trouble transitioning into the college level because they are able to take the game as it comes and play it at their own pace.
Naz Reid and Tremont Waters are two such players in Wade’s eyes.
“They’re both very talented players,” Wade says. “You know, the best — they’re both similar in the sense that they see the game. The game is very, very slow for them, for Tre and for Naz. It’s very, very slow. They see plays, two or three passes ahead of what most people see. They’re both extremely talented. They’re both well-deserving of any preseason recognition that they have, and now it’s our job to continue to get them better so they can get postseason recognition and our team can get postseason recognition as we move forward here.”
The culmination of Reid’s talents and skills lead Wade to feel comfortable with the ball in Reid’s hands in virtually any situation anywhere on the floor.
In the post he can use his weight and strength to finish around the basket, and around the perimeter he has the option to either take a 3-pointer or effectively drive to the rim with finesse.
Wade says the Tigers feel more than comfortable with Reid pushing the ball up the floor after he gets a rebound. This would allow guards to play off the ball in transition, which could create any number of problems for opposing defenses.
He gives the Tigers immense options on both sides of the floor that, frankly, LSU just didn’t last season.
“Yeah, we like it when Naz gets rebounds,” Wade says. “We let him push the ball. He’s a play maker. I mean, it’s appropriate that we talk about — he’s like having Tremont at a big spot, at a 4 or 5 spot. We move him around, and we’ll play him at the 3 some this year, too, so we can play really big when we do that. We can maneuver him around just because of his unique skill set, and he’s got a very, very bright future ahead of him in basketball.”
THE SPOTLIGHT ON Reid is currently bigger than it ever has been, but that doesn’t mean he’s a stranger to success or attention.
Reid earned national attention early on in his high school career and he’s been a mainstay toward the top of recruiting lists ever since.
He earned the honor of McDonald’s All-American, and he showed off in the yearly all-star game with a 15-point, 11-rebound performance in just 20 minutes.
Just two weeks before that he helped lead Roselle Catholic High School to Non-Public B state title in dramatic fashion.
After assisting Roselle Catholic in erasing a 7-point deficit in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter, Reid put the icing on the cake of the comeback in the final seconds with solid plays on both ends of the floor.
He blocked a shot, hustled down the court and threw down an alley-oop slam dunk to put the Lions ahead 63-61 with seven seconds, a final score that would hold.
Those kinds of hustle plays are exactly what Wade wants from his athletes, especially late in big-time games.
The 22-point championship performance capped off a stellar senior season for Reid as he finished averaging 14.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.
“He’s an unbelievable passer and he scores really well,” says junior guard Skylar Mays. “I think most people think he’s a finesse player, but he can play bully ball, also. I’m telling you, he’s the total package.”
CHOOSING THE LEAVE New Jersey, especially to a destination as far away from New Jersey as LSU, wasn’t an easy decision for Reid to make.
Reid received offers and visits from some of college basketball’s most blue-blooded programs. Kentucky head coach John Calipari visited him twice in 2017 in hopes of adding him to his latest perennially top-tier recruiting class.
He also received offers and visits from Arizona, Kansas, Louisville Seton Hall and UCLA.
Wade had to put all hands on deck to make sure Reid felt comfortable in Baton Rouge despite a different culture, climate and athletes to play with.
Thanks to the athletes Wade already had on board, and the groundwork he began laying since he stepped foot on LSU’s campus, he was able to draw Reid in with a familial feel and a talented cast of supporting characters that should only help Reid look better this season.
“I was able to feel home away from home,” Reid says of LSU. “I really didn’t like to leave Jersey at all because that’s where I’ve been all my life. It was comforting. Coach Wade was able to bring me in basically like a nephew or a son, something of that nature.
“Ja’vonte (Smart), Emmitt (Williams), Darius (Days), Tremont (Waters), Skylar (Mays) and everybody else was able to make me feel at home. Those are my brothers. They were able to bring me in like I’m a brother.”
Wade also drew Reid in with his style of coaching.
The two are kindred spirits in the sense that they would be considered competitive to a fault if they were in any line of work other than athletics.
Reid also appreciates Wade’s hard-nosed attitude and unapologetic approach to coaching. He didn’t come to LSU to be coddled and told he was going to be a star with NBA potential.
He came to LSU to develop into a star, and if Wade has a reputation for anything, it’s demanding his players progress at a consistent pace.
“He’s a sore loser, and I’m… just a sore lose. I can’t lose,” Reid says. “I’m hoping that’s something I hope won’t do much of or at all this season. I’m pretty sure we won’t.
“His style of coaching is just incredible. I’ve had a few coaches, but he cares. You can’t do anything without him being on you. It’s not because you did something wrong and he hates you. It’s because he cares and he knows you can be better.”
The transition has involved more than just getting ready to play at the college level.
Reid laughs he’s not sure he’ll ever get acclimated to the weather in Baton Rouge.
“It’s hot 24/7,” Reid says “It’s a little humid, but I’ll get over it. … I’m still used to the cold.”
Luckily for him, he probably won’t have to get used to it for very long.
Reid may not be at LSU for an entire school year, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to make the most of his time at the institution.
If the goal of a university is to prepare students for their eventual careers, Naz Reid feels like he’s in the perfect place to hone his craft, even if for just a few months.
He entered the Southeastern Conference at a good time to prove himself. Gone are the days of the wretched and memetic SEC Basketball Fever that seemed to plague the conference for years. The league has up to six legitimate contenders for the title this year and depth it hasn’t seen in years.
And if Reid has anything to say about it, the Tigers won’t be finishing their season playing in the National Invitational Tournament.
He wants to go dancing.
“I just can’t wait to get out there and compete against top players and teams,” Reid says. “I’ve played a lot of people in high school, but it doesn’t really compare to college and trying to get to the next level from there.”