LSU basketball coach Will Wade stopped by Tiger Rag Radio on Tuesday night for an eight-minute conversation with Jeff Palermo and Cody Worsham. During the chat, he touched on the hiring of his new staff, the progress of his players, and the development of the program heading into the summer months.
Here’s a transcript of the interview. (Editor’s note: Bolded portions of Coach Wade’s answers indicated emphasis added by Tiger Rag for particularly interesting answers.)
Tiger Rag: What has been your first ‘Welcome to LSU’ moment?
Will Wade: There’s been a bunch of them. Really, whenever you’re out and about, people coming up and talking to you about the history of the program, how excited everybody is about where we can head in the future and build towards. Every time you’re out and about, whether you’re eating a meal or running around doing some errands in different areas of the state, the passion everybody has – everybody has a story about LSU athletics and LSU basketball and how it’s touched so many parts of the state and many people’s lives and created a lot of memories. It keeps you going, it keeps you working hard, hopefully we can add to some of those memories in the next couple of years.
Tiger Rag: The news yesterday came out you’d hired Bill Armstrong from Ole Miss. You now have a complete staff in place with Greg Heiar and Tony Benford. When you were assembling this staff, what were the criteria? As you sifted through the resumes, what stood out about these three guys?
WW: I hired Coach Benford first. I had an extreme comfort level with him, just from the time he was with Coach (Buzz) Williams at Marquette. I know Coach Williams well. He spoke very highly of him. I knew the state of Texas was going to be a fertile in recruiting, as well as here in Louisiana and the rest of the Deep South. I felt Coach Benford brought a lot of natural ties in Texas, having recruited there well at Marquette and having been the head coach at North Texas the last five seasons. I felt like he crossed off a lot of boxes: he’s a former head coach, he’s somebody who was familiar with an area we want to recruit, has very good relationships, and he’s an extremely hard worker. He’s in the office at all times, just really, really good worker. And he does a phenomenal job with our big guys. I’ve always coached the big guys wherever I’ve been. I enjoy coaching bigs. It takes a lot for me to give that up. I’m still going to be pretty involved in it. But I have a lot of comfort with Coach Benford down there.
Coach Heiar is somebody I’ve known for a long time. I’ve been down at Chipola and seen his teams down there. He was 169-15 as the head coach at Chipola. That’s doing it, now. That’s a winner. Everywhere he’s gone, he’s won. As you follow his career, he left Chipola and went to Southern Miss. Southern Miss was coming off some rough years. They turned it around with Coach (Larry) Eustachy and Coach Heiar. They won big there, won 20-plus games a couple of years. Then he went to Wichita State. He got to Wichita State six years ago, and that’s when Wichita State really took off, started making consistent NCAA Tournament appearances. He brings a lot to us in recruiting. He has deep, deep junior college ties. We’ll be able to get involved with some of the best junior college players in the country. He’s a blue collar, gritty guy, hard worker. The one thing that stuck with me when I watched him at Chipola, and has stuck out since he’s been here, you ask our guards – Cody, wait until you interview our guards – you ask them about the guard workouts, how much better they’ve been getting, how hard they’ve been working. He’s the best I’ve seen in the country at individual development, particularly with the guards. He does an absolutely phenomenal job with those guys, and works extremely hard with those guys. I thought it was important to have somebody who can get us better, just like Coach Benford can do and Coach Heiar can do.
As I looked at that final spot, there was a lot of different ways we could go with it. I had a bunch of different folks who had a high level of interest in it. I just felt most comfortable with Bill. He’s somebody I’ve followed from afar for a while. He’s somebody who knows the SEC. At the end of the day, he’s got great ties in Mississippi and Memphis. He’s born in Alabama. Georgia, Florida, he’s recruited all over, and he’s got really good ties in those areas. And he’s somebody who’s been in the league. He’s going to help us with scouting, with the different intricacies of every school and every team.
I feel really, really good about our staff. I’ve got my strength and conditioning coach, video, ops. We hired Tasmin (Mitchell). We’ve got a good group of people. We’re going to look to add one more administrative guy here in the next couple of weeks. I feel really good about where we’re going with our staff, and I feel really good about those three assistants – as you can probably tell.
TR: I know you’ve been out on the road recruiting a lot, but how much time have you gotten to spend with the team. How have workouts gone, and how do you assess the roster in front of you for next season?
WW: I tell our guys all the time. We’ve got a lot to work with, but we’ve got a lot to work on, too. We’ve got some good pieces. Every minute we’ve been in town, we’ve been spending time with them. A lot of times, I’ll go out recruiting in the afternoon, and I’ll spend the morning in the gym with the guys, trying to help those guys out, or in the weight room, wherever it may be. I feel like we’ve got some good pieces. We’ve got to mold it and work hard and get better in certain areas.
I like the progress four or five of our guys have made thus far. We’ve got two or three who are teetering on if they want to jump all the way in and make all that progress, or if maybe it may be a little too challenging for them. We’re fine either way. I like to tell people all the time, in our program, you’re going to sink or swim. There’s nobody going to be floating. You’re not going to float. You’re going to sink, or you’re going to swim. One of the two. There’s nobody that’s just going to float on top of the water with us.
We’ve got a lot of guys that are swimming. The vast majority of them are swimming and swimming fast, which is what you want. We’ve got to continue to bring a couple more of those guys along. We certainly feel we’ve addressed some of those needs in recruiting as well. We feel good about the guys we’ve got coming. We feel like they’re going to be where we can throw them in the deep end and they’ll swim.
TR: When you have roster turnover like you’re enduring right now, who will you look to for leadership on this roster?
WW: The first step in leadership is you have to take care of your own house first. Cody, I can’t tell you something if I’m not willing to do it myself. You’ve got to be consistent with your daily approach. You’ve got to be consistent with everything you do.
Aaron Epps and Wop (Duop Reath) have both been some of our more consistent guys. Skylar Mays has been one of our more consistent guys. When you start looking at leadership, you start looking at guys who do the right thing all the time, who do it every day.
We call Epps “Everyday Epps.” You can set your watch to him. He’s consistent, he works hard every day. Skylar Mays does the same thing. Wop does the same thing. We’ve got some other guys who are working really hard as well, but those guys stand out.
Leaders emerge. You don’t have to name a leader in May, right now. They’ll emerge as we continue to go through things, as things get a little more challenging, things get a little harder, we’ll continue to figure out who’s going to step into those roles for us.