It was opening night of the 2017-18 basketball season. The opening game for Coach Will Wade as head coach at LSU. There had been plenty of excitement as the first-year coach went all over the state speaking to groups and basketball was being talked about in the middle of football season by LSU fans.
But would people back that up by showing for the opening game?
They did to the tune of 11,856 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, the largest opening night crowd since the start of Shaquille O’Neal’s final season of play at LSU in 1991-92.
It was the first of 18 wins that would lead LSU back to post-season play for the first-time since 2015 and produce the first NIT (post-season) win in Baton Rouge. Wade became just the second coach in LSU history to take his first LSU team to post-season play.
The first-year coach delivered on what he promised – a team that would play hard, would represent the University well and players committed to building the program. The 2017-18 season represented not a rebuilding of LSU Basketball, but a rebranding and laying of a foundation for the future.
That new foundation for the future began on March 20, 2017 when Frank William “Will” Wade was named the 22nd head men’s basketball coach at LSU. He arrived at LSU after a stellar two-year stint as the head coach at Virginia Commonwealth University with four years of very successful experience as a head basketball coach.
Wade was introduced to LSU fans in a most unique way for an introduction of a Tiger coach -- at a special media event held in the middle of the LSU Student Union. Wade told the media and a large contingent of LSU students:
“I am so excited about the opportunity to lead this program and LSU Basketball back to the top of the SEC and back to regular, consistent NCAA Tournament appearances. We have been to four Final Fours. We have been to 20 NCAA Tournaments. We have 10 SEC Championships, and we are going to add to all three of those categories over our tenure here.
“We are going to have players, staff members, everyone in our program is going to be committed to doing what it takes to make LSU the best basketball program that it can be. We are going to have unwavering commitment to put the team first, to put the state first, to put our school first to represent all of these folks in a first-class fashion. We are going to be a hardworking team that represents this great university that represents this great state,” Wade said.
With that the chance to build a program that showed consistency year-after-year began. First of all, the Tigers would post seven wins over teams in the Top 50 in the RPI, five in the new Quadrant I rankings the NCAA committee used. Included in that was a win over Michigan in the Maui Invitational in which LSU came from behind in the final minutes to score a 77-75 victory. The Wolverines would go on to the NCAA Championship game that season.
The Tigers also had two wins over Texas A&M, two over Arkansas and wins against Houston and Missouri on its resume’ of 18 wins.
LSU averaged 9,030 in paid attendance at home during the 2017-18 season, an increase of just over 2,000 from the season before. That included a sellout crowd of 13,600 to watch LSU and Alabama play in early January that was the fifth largest attendance in the present seating configuration.
The fans saw things that Coach Wade promised – a energized staff that was integrated in the game that was making coaching decisions and alterations as needed; players that were working hard to enact a game plan and making big plays.
More than anything, LSU fans saw the advancement of returning players under Coach Wade and his staff and the way that the new players (in a recruiting class that still ranked 17th in the country despite the coach’s hiring date and need to put a staff together) blended with the improved veterans.
Freshman Tremont Waters earned all-league honors for rookies, averaging 15.9 points a game and posting the second most assists ever in a season at LSU (198) while easily topping the freshman record of Ben Simmons (158) set two seasons before.
Skylar Mays represented the Tigers both on and off the court, moving seamlessly into the second point-guard spot in his two point guard system, averaging 11.3 points per game. Mays also showed his ability in the classroom earning COSIDA second-team Academic All-America honors.
Wade and the Tigers left their fans eager for the 2018-19 season when LSU was able to take down UL-Lafayette, 84-76, in the Maravich Center in a first-round NIT game.
Wade, one of the youngest coaches in Division I at 35, has also proven to be one of the most energetic both in practices and games and his players have responded in kind.
Wade’s recruiting prowess has created a buzz as this year the LSU staff has recruited a top-four ranked class that includes -- two five star players (Nazreon Reid of Roselle Catholic in Roselle, New Jersey; and, Emmitt Williams of Lehigh Acres, Florida (Oak ridge High); and, two four-star signees (Louisiana Mr. Basketball Ja’Vonte Smart of Scotlandville Magnet in Baton Rouge; and, Darius Days of Gainesville, Florida (IMG Academy).
Wade spent most of his first summer speaking on the Tiger Tour and to student groups making sure they feel a part of the program and that has continued in the off-season of 2018 as he has spoken to several business groups about leadership. Coach Wade has been seen on the night prior to football game visiting with folks in the RV lots and on the first day of school was out in a golf cart picking up students and giving them a lift to opening day classes.
The native of Nashville, Tennessee, directed VCU to a 51-20 record and two NCAA Tournament appearances the last two seasons. The 2016 Rams advanced to the second round of the tournament, defeating seventh-seed Oregon State before losing to Oklahoma. Wade was the youngest head coach in the NCAA Tournament in 2016. In 2017, VCU lost to St. Mary’s in the first round of the NCAA tourney.
The Rams were 28-8 over his two years in the Atlantic 10 Conference, posting 14-4 records both years. The team was 25-11 in 2016 and earned a share of the Atlantic 10 Conference regular season crown. The 2017 team won 26 games and finished second in the league, one-game behind Dayton.
Under his tutelage, guard Melvin Johnson earned First Team All-Atlantic 10 honors in 2015-16 while Je Quan Lewis represented VCU on the 2016-17 first team. Mo Alie-Cox was named to the A-10 Defensive Team in both 2016 and 2017.
Wade previously served at VCU as an assistant with the Rams under Shaka Smart from 2009-13. VCU was 113-37 during that time, reached three NCAA Tournament and won the 2012 Colonial Athletic Association Championship. He was part of the staff in 2011 when VCU advanced from the NCAA “First Four” all the way to the Final Four in Houston.
During his tenure as a Ram assistant, Wade, who worked closely with VCU’s post players, saw the Milwaukee Bucks select center Larry Sanders with the 15th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft (now with Cleveland). In addition, Wade played a major role in the development of current NBA players Troy Daniels (Memphis) and Briante Weber (Charlotte). Weber owns VCU records for 3-pointers in a single season and career steals.
Wade is credited with being a key figure in four top non-power five recruiting classes in his four seasons at VCU.
Prior to becoming the head coach at VCU, Wade served as the head coach at Chattanooga for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons.
His first Mocs squad went 18-15 in 2014, finishing 12-6 and second in regular season Southern Conference play. The 18 wins overall were the most by the program since 2008-09 and the 12 wins in league games was the highest total since 2010-11. The team made the school’s first postseason appearance since 2009 in the CIT.
Wade was honored with the Anton Foy Southern Conference Coach of the Year award for his efforts in 2014. Also that year, Z. Mason became the first Chattanooga student-athlete to win the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award.
The Mocs won 22 games in 2015 and finished 15-3 in the league as Wade guided Chattanooga to its first 20-win season since 2004-05. He finished his two seasons there at 40-25 and 27-7 in league play. In the two seasons prior to his arrival, Chattanooga was 24-40 overall and 13-23 in SoCon play.
In his five years as a head coach, he has a combined record at Chattanooga, VCU and LSU of 109-60 and 63-25 in conference play with four post-season appearances.
Wade’s reputation, where ever he has coached, is a person who is a tireless worker and relentless recruiter. Wade was VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart’s first hire upon being named the head VCU coach in 2009.
That reputation was cemented prior to his arrival on the VCU campus. He served as an assistant to Tommy Amaker at Harvard in 2007-08 and 2008-09. Much like at VCU, he was Amaker’s first hire. In their second year, the Crimson went 14-14, the first season of .500 or better in the program since 2001-02. Wade had a hand in the development of future NBA standout Jeremy Lin and assembled a top 25 recruiting class during his stay.
Wade’s coaching start came at Clemson where he served as Director of Basketball Operations (2006-07) and Graduate Assistant (2005-06) after four seasons as a student manager (2002-05). There he worked for coaches Larry Shyatt (2002-03) and Oliver Purnell (2004-07).
In eight years on coaching staffs at Clemson, Harvard and VCU, the teams had a record of 177-97 with six postseason appearances (2005-13).
Wade is married to the former Lauren Deason, and the couple has one daughter, Caroline Elizabeth.
The Will Wade File
Birthdate: Nov. 26, 1982
Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee
High School: Franklin Road Academy
College: Clemson, 2005
Wife: Lauren Deason
Child: Caroline Elizabeth
Wade’s College Coaching Experience
2005-06 Clemson, Graduate Assistant
2006-07 Clemson, Director of Operations
2007-09 Harvard, Assistant Coach
2009-13 VCU, Assistant Coach
2013-15 UT-Chattanooga, Head Coach
2015-17 VCU, Head Coach
March 22, 2017 - Present: LSU, Head Coach
Will Wade's Head Coaching Record
|2013-14||Chattanooga||18-15||12-4||2nd||CIT 1st Round|
|2015-16||VCU||25-11||14-4||t-1st||A-10 Co-Champs; NCAA Round of 32|
|2016-17||VCU||26-9||14-4||2nd||NCAA Round of 64|
|2017-18||LSU||18-15||8-10||t-9th||NIT Round of 16|
|Total||5 Seasons||109-60 (.644)||63-25 (.716)|