By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
LSU basketball made national news last week by landing a commitment from a big-time point guard in 2018.
Don’t forget about the big-time point guard the Tigers already have on campus.
Tremont Waters arrived in Baton Rouge this summer as the nation’s No. 32 overall prospect in the 2017 class, according to ESPN, a 5-foot-11, 167 pound playmaker from New Haven, Connecticut. He’s already packed eight pounds onto his sleight frame, under the supervision of strength coach Greg Goldin. Will he be ready to make an impact in the SEC from day one?
“Uh, yeah,” Tigers head coach Will Wade told me on AFR yesterday. “A big one. We’re counting on that.”
The 2017 Gatorade Player of the Year in Connecticut, Waters averaged 25.3 points, 4.6 assists and 4.6 steals per game as a senior at Notre Dame High School. He shined at last summer’s NBA Players Association Top 100 camp, taking home Co-MVP honors after leading all participants in assists. At LSU, says Wade, he’s hit the ground running.
“He’s still learning everything that goes in with college basketball, the speed and pace of the game,” Wade said. “But boy, he’s a tremendous learner. He has a phenomenal background. His parents raised him in a tremendous way. He’s a great listener. He applies things. He’s very coachable, which means he’s going to have a very quick learning curve with everything we’re doing.”
Wade said last week on the SEC Coaches’ Teleconference he plans to play two point guards together on the floor, meaning Waters could team up often with sophomore incumbent Skylar Mays (8.3 points, 3.6 assists per game in 2016-17). LSU will also count on Waters at the point of attack defensively. He’ll be the focal point of Wade’s pressure-oriented defense, which will look improve by leaps and bounds by a unit that was, according to Wade’s calculations, the second-worst defense among BCS schools since 2002.
“He’s electric with the ball in his hands, he’s feisty defensively, he gets low and gets underneath the ball, hard to get around,” Wade said of Waters. “Offensively, the game is played at his pace. He does a great job finding guys off ball screens, being able to make proper reads. He can really, really shoot the ball. He’s somebody we’re counting on in a huge way. We have a lot of confidence in him. Our team has a lot of confidence in him. He’s going to be a major part of what we do this year, and moving forward in our program.”
Sampson, Reath focusing on the boards
Wade said he’s pleased with the progress of his two leading scorers returning from a year ago: Brandon Sampson (11.6 points per game) and Duop Reath (12.0 points per game). Sampson is a former top-50 prospect from Baton Rouge who put up efficient offensive numbers a year ago, upping his average to 12.1 points per game on 46.7 percent shooting from the field and 38.5 percent shooting from 3 in SEC play. The junior is buying in to Wade’s defensive-minded approach this summer, and it’s fueling his all-around game, his coach said.
“Brandon’s progressing well,” Wade said. “He looks like a different player. He’s sitting down, he’s guarding. His confidence defensively has made him even more confident offensively. We’ve challenged him to rebound quite a bit better. He’s answered the bell with that. He’s working harder, he’s getting grittier, he’s getting grimier. I think he’s positioned himself to have a breakout season this year.”
Unlike Sampson, Reath saw his scoring numbers dip, ever so slightly, in league play, to 10.5 points per game. He stayed steady with 6.2 rebounds per game both in and out of league. Heading into his senior year, Reath is focused on being more efficient scoring the ball and more tenacious rebounding it, Wade said.
“Wop’s just a worker,” said Wade. “He gets in and punches that clock every day. He gets after it, and really takes pride doing a great job. We’re working with him to continue to expand his post game, make him a little more efficient, not shooting quite as many midrange jump shots. He’s worked hard to get his 3-point percentage up, get cleaner looks from 3. We’re challenging him to be a better rebounder, too.”
Packing on Pounds
Another major point of emphasis this offseason for Wade has been bulking up his roster. The Tigers actually ranked fourth nationally in average weight last season, but subtract 285 pound Brian Bridgewater and 300 pound Elbert Robinson, and the rest of the squad has room on their frames to beef up.
That’s why Wade instructed strength coach Greg Goldin to have the Tigers in the weight room five days a week this summer, an increase over Wade’s typical four-day regiment. The results are already evident.
“Coach Goldin, he’s the best in the country at what he does,” Wade said. “We’re very fortunate to have him. We’ve been stacking on weight. Tremont Waters is up eight pounds. Most of our guys are up somewhere between six and 10 pounds. They’ll be up 12 to 14 pounds by the end of the summer.
“We’re changing the way we eat. We’re changing the way we sleep. It’s a total overhaul of all those systems that will allow us to put on the weight and look a little bit better when we line up starting in November.
“We’re going to be in phenomenal shape. I feel confident we’ll be bigger, we’ll be faster, we’ll be stronger when November rolls around. We want to be fast and physical with everything we do.”