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October 22, 2018

Will Wade

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

WILL WADE: Excited to be here, and our guys are moving forward. We're making progress. About halfway through practice, halfway to our first game from when practice started, and we certainly got some things we need to continue to get better at, some things we need to continue to work on, but we're making progress.

You know, our big emphasis here moving forward is we've just got to build better habits every day, and we've got to have a better attention to detail, something you guys have heard me talk about quite a bit. I think that's really important when you're going to have a younger group and you're going to be relying on some younger guys that your attention to detail is really good and that we build habits and earn the right to win. We've got to continue to learn, continue to process things and continue to improve and get better.

I like where we are. We're without Marlon Taylor right now. I know Shelton is on a cruise. We miss Shelton. He's on a cruise. Make sure he gets the audio there, Scott. In honor of Shelton, since he always likes to know about our injury report, Marlon broke his pinky last week, and it doesn't sound like it's a major issue, but he broke it basically right on the knuckle. I'm not a doctor. But we went in and had it -- we had to put a plate in there. He broke it on -- we put a plate in there the next day basically. He's out two to -- should be two to three weeks. We hope to have him back, we should have him back for the first game against Southeastern. That's the hope.

Certainly we're disappointed because Marlon, being a transfer, he's going to miss a couple of these opportunities with some of the scrimmages and some of the other things that we're doing with the team. His first live action will really be against Southeastern or maybe that next game against Greensboro. I'm not really sure. It just depends how he heals. He's the only guy really that we have out right now, and we're going to move forward and keep practicing and keep getting better and keep preparing for the first game.

Q. When you look up and down the roster, how much more athletic do you guys feel this year compared to what you were a year ago?
WILL WADE: Well, certainly we've got some more athleticism. I think it really helps us down low. We just have some more big bodies, too, which helps. We're not quite as physical as we need to be right now, and I'd like to be a little bit more physical team than we are now. But certainly you've got a couple 6'10" kids, 6'10", 6'11" kids, you've got some 6'8" bodies that are live bodies and can make things happen. I like that we've got multiple guys that can get down there and work and make things go for us down low.

But our athleticism is hopefully going to be an advantage for us. That's one thing we really miss with Marlon. He may be our best athlete, can be a lockdown wing defender for us. There's a lot of things he can do for us to really, really help our team. We need to get him better to help with that athleticism, but I definitely think that's something we've got a little bit more of this season.

Q. Do you have anything on you guys being in the AP preseason top 25? Considering you have so many new faces on the team, that's probably a sign of respect.
WILL WADE: Probably a bit generous, but it's not where you start, it's where you end. Just because there's a number next to you doesn't mean anything except you've probably got a little bit of a target on your back as we start the season here. We're not going to concern ourselves with that or worry about that. It's about how you produce and what you do moving forward. It's not necessarily about where you start, it's where you're going.

I said this at the SEC media days, and I think this is true: I like who we are but I love who we're going to become, so we've got to be working every day to earn the right and build the right habits and have really good attention to detail so we can hopefully live up to that and be even better than that.

Q. How have you seen Ja'vonte Smart develop over the off-season? We've only gotten to see him once, but it looked like he improved his shot.
WILL WADE: Yeah, Ja'vonte has really played at a high level offensively. He's really good shooter. I'd like to say -- he's a hard worker. Even between when he won the state championship and when he got to LSU, he would go to the gym at Scotlandville every morning at 5:30, 6:00 in the morning and make 500 jump shots before school started. He's continued that routine and working once he's gotten here, and he's a blue collar hard-working guy. He brings an edge to us, especially on the perimeter. He's got a very, very good way about him, so we're very pleased with his progress thus far.

Q. You mentioned the scrimmages. Can you elaborate on the plans for that a little bit?
WILL WADE: No, like the NCAA rules, they're closed scrimmages, so we can't talk about what goes on or what happens. We've had one, and we have another. That's about what I can say.

Q. It's obviously a good problem to have instead of not having enough talent, but with so many guys that you've brought in, as the old saying goes, there's one ball. Do you ever worry about keeping people satisfied or trying to get them to buy into a concept of what you're trying to do overall?
WILL WADE: Yeah, we spent a lot of time talking to our guys about that. We've been honest with our guys from the front end, hey, this is what we expect, and we're playing to win, and if you can help and contribute to winning, then you're going to play more, and if you're not going to help and not going to contribute to winning, then you're not going to play as much.

But I think our guys are in a really good place. They have a very solid understanding of what our expectations are and what our expectations are for us to win, and then it's on them to perform. I tell them all the time, I don't decide playing time, you decide the playing time based on how you practice, based on how you prepare, based on how you react in certain situations. And so the one thing I do like about our team is we've got a lot of different parts that we can fit together a lot of different ways, which I think is really, really important. We can play really big. We can play really small. We can play really fast. We can play where we're just huge and just try to maul you in the paint a little bit. So we've got a lot of different styles of play.

You know, the way it'll work, some nights some guys will play more, and the next game may call for something different and guys who didn't play as much the night before may play more the next game. We always tell them stay ready so you don't have to get ready and be prepared and be ready to roll and be ready to help the team when your number is called.

Q. I know you've talked about this before, but how have you seen the chemistry between Tremont, Skylar and Ja'vonte grow, even over these last couple weeks headed into the season?
WILL WADE: You know, we've started playing them together more in practice. I don't think it's any secret that's probably our best backcourt right now. I guess I should have mentioned Daryl Edwards has been a little banged up, so he's been in and out of things. But he'll be fine. There's nothing major with him.

You know, those guys, any time you've got three guys who have played point guard before, you've got three guys who can handle the ball, it's like I tell them all the time, if we get a lead, we should be very difficult to come back on because we should be getting good shots. We should not be turning the ball over. We should not be giving extra possessions with those guys out there.

But I think they're adjusting to playing well together. Tremont is really the point, and the other guys play off of him, but those are three guys we expect to be double digit scorers and big contributors for us.

Q. You talked about one of the guys I'm going to ask about, but Waters and Reid have both received some preseason hype for what Waters did last year and then what Reid could potentially do. What have you seen from those two even though they're different positions?
WILL WADE: Well, they're both very talented players. 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.

But they're talented guys that work hard, and they have a very, very high basketball IQ and an advanced understanding and knowledge of winning and what it takes to win at a high level.

Q. Just kind of going off that, having three guards that can demand the ball so much, but Naz, too, can create plays for other guys, how --
WILL WADE: Yeah, we like it when Naz gets rebounds. 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.

Q. How did you get Will Reese on the roster? What's the story there?
WILL WADE: I'll tell you one thing, for you guys who don't know, Will Reese was on our baseball team, and Coach Mainieri actually said something to me about him at one of our head coaches' meetings, and he was an all-state basketball player, Anacoco, and he's from Leesville, and Coach Mainieri said something about him, he was a pitcher for the baseball team, and I think he kind of topped out about 88 and he needed to be about 92, and so Coach Mainieri said something to me about him, and believe it or not -- I don't want to get into all this, but at a state All-Star Game, he was roommates with Wayde Sims, and so we started asking around to Wayde, and then Will, then Reed Vial, who was a walk-on for us last year, were good friends an campus, they had known each other in some of the same circles on campus, so we started just asking around and doing some research, and then I invited him to a couple workouts in the spring and said, hey, look, this is what you'd be getting into.

He's a good player. He's got good length. He's got -- very, very smart, very, very intelligent. He can apply something the first time you say something to him. He's somebody that, you know, early on here, depending on how Marlon heals, he's somebody we could play early on here in the season. He's somebody that could see some -- he's somebody that could see some spot minutes as we move on here. I have a trust with him. He's a sharp guy, knows how to play. Very, very good defender, very, very good positioned defender, and he can shoot it a little bit. But yeah, we did a little research, and he was a really good high school basketball player, and I think baseball just kind of took him as an athlete hoping to turn him into a really good baseball player, and that didn't work out, and it's very beneficial for us.

I don't say this in a bad way, but he's like the perfect walk-on. You can't draw them up any better. Great student, smart, awesome in the locker room. The guys like him, always on time, dependable, just practices hard, always where he's supposed to be. You know, I'll tell you what, we put him out there in a game situation against another team, and he was pretty good. He was pretty good.

I mean, he would have been a scholarship player for me at Chattanooga. If I was head coach at Chattanooga, he's somebody I would have had on scholarship there.

Q. What's the interaction been like with fans in terms of the excitement and the expectations for the season as opposed to like a year ago?
WILL WADE: Yeah, we appreciate all of our fans. I think everybody is excited. What's our season ticket numbers now? Are we at about 6,400, 6,500, somewhere in there? I think that's huge. Our goal was 7,000. 7,000 would put us top 5 in the league in percentage of arena. The numbers get skewed because Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky obviously have huge arenas, but I think what's important is the percentage of the arena that you fill, and 7,000 season tickets would be, I think, the most since the mid-'90s or early '90s, and I think to be in the top 5 in terms of percentage of arena would be huge, and we want to be a top that's at the top of the SEC in everything that we do.

I think our fans were great last season, and there's no doubt that they'll put out when you can put a good product out there, and that's our job, to continue to put a good product out there and move forward. But I definitely sense that people are excited. People like teams that win, and I think there's certainly expectations that we're going to win this year, and that's what we intend to do, and we're excited about that.

It's really about -- that's what we play for. We play for our state. We play for our fans. We play for our university, so it's exciting. Isn't that right, Tremont?

Q. I thought it was funny at SEC media days the announcer kind of joked that Tremont was the best quarterback in the SEC behind Tua.
WILL WADE: I said Burrow.

Q. Obviously to kind of hear that, they have a lot of praise for this guy. What do you think the biggest difference is, I know you touched on it with the IQ and understanding of everything, but what's the biggest difference between how much he's matured from last year to this year?
WILL WADE: Can he leave? No, no. He's awesome.

You know, I just think the pace of the game -- so you go from high school, you play 32 minutes in a high school game, 40 minutes in a college game. A lot of the high school rules are pretty stringent, so you may not start practicing until the 1st of November. Well, we'll be playing games the first week of November, and they'll be starting practice in a lot of states. So just the longevity of the season, the strength and conditioning needed, the way you have to take care of your body. He played 36 minutes a game in the SEC, a really good league, and I think just his understanding of the pace of the game, how it works and then how you have to take care of your body so you're at your best every possession. You can't take off possessions. You can't rest because when you rest, you get exposed a little bit. And I think he's been able to -- not that he was exposed last year, but we needed him. There was no -- we had to have him. We had to have him out there.

This year he knows that -- how he takes care of his body and how he eats and how he sleeps and how he recovers and the cold tubs and does norm attack and game readies, and all that stuff will have a direct correlation with how he plays. He just has a more mature approach, which is what you'd expect from somebody who's been here a year. He's been a more vocal leader. He's been talking more to our guys. He speaks up in film. When I say something, he says, yeah, Coach is right about this. I didn't listen to this last year, but Coach is right; you guys got to figure this out or it'll come back to bite us. I think he's growing with his leadership and his understanding and just the pace.

Last year, for example, in our plays, a lot of times he throws that little cross-court hook pass. He hooks it. Last year it kind of floated, and it would get there, but the shot would maybe be halfway contested because -- now he's just whipping it, and it's right there and the shot is uncontested. It's an easier pass for him, and it's an easier shot for our offensive player.

Q. Last year you talked about you may be a little bit limited in the way you can win games. With the guys on the roster now, have you kind of seen a change in that? Are you going to be able to win in multiple ways now?
WILL WADE: I hope so. I think we can play big. I think we can play small. We've messed with some pressing. We're able to press a little bit, get up and down the court, create some tempo. We spent some time working on some zone so we could change up and have a little bit better change-up defense. Our 1-3-1 was pretty good last year. We didn't have more of a traditional -- 1-3-1 is pretty much all or nothing. They're either going to miss a corner three, they're going to get a steal or they're going to dunk it. There's not a whole lot in between with that defense.

We've got a little bit more of a traditional 2-3 and some different variations of that. I think we'll certainly be able to guard different ways. I think our players, we can mix and match them a little bit, a little bit different. We're not going to be undersized at the 4, which will help, which will help with our rebounding, and so I do think we can play a bunch of different ways. We can play really fast, we can get into a tractor pull and play in the high 50s, low 60s if we needed to, as well, although we want to get going.

Q. When you first started practice you talked about you weren't worried about the offense, you were going to be able to score, but you were worried about the defense --
WILL WADE: I'm still not worried about our offense, but I have heightened worries about our defense.

Q. How difficult is it for the new guys, the freshmen who you talked about high school basketball where I'm sure they don't have to play much defense --
WILL WADE: Well, the biggest difference is we're not playing solitaire, so it's a team -- you've got to have team defensive concepts. It's not necessarily just one-on-one. And so we've got -- just get -- the biggest thing we've got to focus on is our guys know their jobs, now we've got to get them to work as one and act as one and play as one defensively because every time that ball moves, every time that ball is dribbled, everybody has got a job to do, and everybody should be moving.

Our guys know what they need to do. Our point-of-attack defense has got to get a lot better on the ball, being able to maneuver through ball screens and just not get whipped on the ball, not give up middle so much and just let them come down the middle of the lane. You know, we'd certainly have more shot blocking back there, but we don't want to just invite people to come to the rim where we've got to block shots. That's an area where we've got to continue to get better and continue to improve.

I like our guys' effort on the defensive end. We're trying hard. We've just got to try hard and have a little bit better attention to detail and have a little bit better habits with our close-outs and with what we're doing.

Q. You mentioned paint defense; just how big of a role is Kavell to you guys in the paint?
WILL WADE: He is. We've got to keep the ball out of the paint. Our post defense is probably our weakest spot right now. We just let the ball inside too easily, and when that happens, there's a lot of bad things that happen. Your defense has to collapse. You're giving out kick-out threes, you foul a lot. That's the main issue with our defense right now, I just think we're going to foul a lot. So we've got to play without our hands. We're got to move our feet. We've got to play lower. I tell our guys every day, we've got to play lower, we've got to play harder. The low man wins offensively or defensively. Whoever is lower is usually going to win, whether it's rebounding, defense, whatever it is. So we've got to play lower defensively and be able to win some of those one-on-one match-ups.

But I do think Kavell will help us in the back line, but we obviously don't want to funnel everything to him and just ask him to block shots. When he comes over from the weak side to block a shot now, if he doesn't get it, now you've got a guard who's got to crack down on the weak side on a big to get the -- it puts you in rotation defensively, which if he doesn't block it, you give up tip dunks, you give up fouls, you've got Tremont checking out a seven-footer, which he can do and he's improved that and done a good job, but it just puts you in some tough spots.

Q. Just for you as a coach, how different is this year, I guess, to -- when you have to handle a team that's not sneaking up on you, there's expectations, accolades. Do you have to treat it at all differently?
WILL WADE: No, we coach them the same way. It's basketball players. We're coaching them the same way. Everybody knew when we got into this, hey, this is what we all signed up for, and this is what we all want to do. We're going to work hard every day to get better, and there's certain expectations, there's certain standards, and you're going to rise up. It's like I tell them all in recruiting, you become us, we don't become you. That's from Bill Belichick, not me. You become us. So this is who we are, this is what we do, and it's your job to do what we do. If we become you, then we'll take on some poor habits most of the time.

Q. Speaking of expectations, have you guys as a team had your meetings yet, setting your expectations? I know you guys usually keep those in house --
WILL WADE: No, we haven't done that. I'm going to do that the week of the first game. I've got some stuff I'm going to do with all that. We were going to go on a retreat, but we had to reschedule that with some circumstances and things. We'll do that the week of the first game.

Q. And then just how do you feel like the leadership on the team is developing? I know you've got Sky and Tremont but didn't know if others were stepping up.
WILL WADE: Yeah, I think Ja'vonte has certainly stepped up, Daryl is somebody who's a good leader for us. We've got a good group of guys, good nucleus of guys.

Q. You mentioned that you have your best backcourt kind of figured out. How is competition in the front court playing out, and do you feel like --
WILL WADE: Well, the front court is a little more -- I don't have the backcourt figured out necessarily, but I feel -- we've got four guys back there I feel very comfortable with, and I felt Marlon before this injury was really, really coming on. He'd had his best week of practice, and he was really coming on. I was really feeling good about him, and that had given us five guys back there. You've got a pretty good backcourt if you've got five you feel pretty good about playing. I think Daryl has done a good job, but he's just been injured and he's kind of in and out of practice, but I really trust him in games. I know what he can do, and I've got a high level of trust in him.

But the front court is a little bit more by feel. Some guys are better some days, some guys aren't quite as good some days. So the good news is, like we've talked about, we've got four or five options down there, and we've just got to find two of them that are good on a given day, whereas last year we had basically two options and they both had to be good, and so we've got some options. We've just got to do it by feel and see who's ready. But it's our job as coaches, it's my job as a head coach, we've got to grow them up. Me and Coach Benford coach the bigs; that's the group I coach. I've always coached bigs. I enjoy coaching the bigs. It's on us to grow them up. We don't get better, that's on me, and so it's on me -- it's on us to work with them and teach them through film and teach them on the court and correct things and get our guys better.

Q. You're not the first team to have to deal with a tragedy and probably won't be the last, but it does kind of empower you to maybe help others in the future who may go through something similar. I was wondering if you could touch on what has been the most instructive or helpful over the last few weeks since you lost Wayde.
WILL WADE: Yeah, well, I hope I don't have to help anybody else through a similar situation. You know, Wayde meant a lot to us obviously off the court. Everybody has heard that. But on the court, the more we practice, the more we play, the more you miss him and wish he were out there. Not that we didn't value everything he did before. We had a high sense of value in everything that he did before. But it's pretty glaring with him not there sometimes.

But I think just the outpouring of support from everybody at LSU, from our administration, our fans, everybody just kind of wrapped their arms around our team and Wayde's family, and really just the resources that we've had -- I think our counseling -- there's a guy Bruce Buggs here who's done a great job, Joel Fish, who works with our team, and we've brought in a guy, Bob Delaney, who was an NBA official, and I think those guys have all worked in conjunction with each other to really serve our players and help our players and our staff. We have staff meetings every week where we have one of those guys to talk to everybody about it.

You know, we're certainly getting a little bit better each day, as best we can. We're obviously better today than we were three weeks ago. But it's going to take a while. He's going to be with us for a long, long time. You walk in the locker room, his locker is the exact same, and we're certainly -- we took the team picture the other day, and we have his jersey in the middle, and that was what our guys wanted, and we're going to do something to -- our athletic department has done a great job putting something together for the first game. We're going to honor him during the Southeastern game.

You know, we're just moving forward and working as best we can. We've had a bunch of people reach out just not only other SEC coaches but I've had other coaches who have gone through deaths who have reached out. Bobby Johnson, the former Vanderbilt football coach, he had I think it was the Freshman of the Year in the SEC, I believe, Kwame Doster. He was murdered over Christmas break I think it was in Tampa, Florida. And then Oliver Pernell, a mentor of mine, he had a kid die in his sleep when he was the head coach at Dayton. That was actually during the season, like in February of the season.

So, you know, we've used those guys. But every situation is so unique and every team is so unique, but I think our guys have moved on as best we can, but there's always reminders. Skylar and I last night were eating dinner, and there was a guy that was in the restaurant and had a necklace that had a broken heart, and it was just like the emoji that his mom -- that Faye sends us, and Skylar and I both looked at each other when we walked out, like man, we're thinking of Wayde. So it just hits you at different times.

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