Mere hours before the start of LSU’s annual preseason media day, the Associated Press announced its preseason Top 25 poll with the Tigers checking in at No. 23 with 187 voting points.
It didn’t take long into his meeting with the media for LSU head coach Will Wade to give his thoughts on the honor.
“Probably a bit generous,” Wade said of the ranking. “It’s not where you start it’s where you end. It’s not where you start it’s where you end. Just because you have a number next to you doesn’t mean anything except you probably have a bit of a target on your back.”
The Tigers are the fifth team representing the Southeastern Conference in poll, though Wade would argue that ranking is unearned.
The Tigers have a couple key returners in guards Tremont Waters and Skylar Mays, but a bulk of their expected playmakers are new to the squad, entering the program as freshmen or transfers.
Though he was hesitant to say he and his coaching staff have the backcourt figured out, Wade pointed to the trio of Waters, Mays and incoming freshman and Scotlandville product Ja’vonte Smart as LSU’s ideal starters on the perimeter.
Waters enters his sophomore season as a leader on the team after a freshman campaign that allowed him to test the NBA waters before ultimately deciding to come back.
Now he’ll have two guards playing with him with proficiency playing the 1 and facilitating the offense, allowing him to do more off-ball work.
Coming off the bench, Wade said he was also very impressed with the play of transfer junior Marlon Taylor before he broke his pinky finger last week, keeping him out essentially until the start of the season.
Taylor showed immense athleticism during LSU’s open practice last Saturday before the LSU-Georgia football game, and he had apparently impressed Wade with his use of that athleticism.
“Marlon, before this injury, was really, really coming on,” Wade said. “He’d had his best week of practice, and he was really coming on. I was really feeling good about him.”
Taylor shrugged off the fact that he’ll have to miss the last few weeks of practice before LSU’s season opener against Southeastern on Nov. 6.
It’s not nearly the hardest thing he’s had to overcome to LSU for what’s been what he called “the best experience of my life.”
“I mean, it’s just adversity,” Taylor said. “Nothing new. I just have to move past it. I can’t wait to get ready and back on the court.”
A bulk of the newcomers on this squad will play in the post, and that’s because Wade and his staff made a concerted effort to supply the Tigers with big men after finishing dead last in the SEC in rebounding last year.
Freshman phenom Naz Reid is expected to play the biggest roll as a newcomer with NBA Lottery aspirations, a big body and a versatile style of play.
Wade said he’s comfortable with Reid pushing the ball up the floor and expects him to play the 3 when the Tigers want to play big this season.
“We can maneuver him around just because of his unique skill set,” Wade said. “He’s got a very, very bright future ahead of him in basketball.”
LSU will also have the luxury of finally getting to use Oregon transfer Kavell Bigby-Williams, a 6-foot-11 rim defender who, according to his teammates, also serves as a tenacious rebounder.
The Tigers have shortage of options in the post behind Reid and Bigby Williams either, with five-star recruit Emmitt Williams and Darius Day waiting in the wings.
“The good news is, we have four or five options down there, and we’ve just got to find two of them that are good on a given day. Last year we had basically two options, and they both had to be good. So we’ve got some options.”
In what has become typical fashion, Wade continued to harp on the fact that the Tigers need to get better on defense.
It’s rubbed off his players as well, including the younger guys who know exactly where their head coach wants the to improve.
“Practice has been going pretty well,” said freshman forward Darius Days. “Coach has been sticking defense into our brain. Defense, defense, defense. Everything else will take care of itself if we take care of defense first.”
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