Gus Stark

Worsham: Changes Yield Wins for Connected Tigers

Cody Worsham
Cody Worsham
Digital Media Reporter

Will Wade’s world is governed by routine.

He runs every morning. He wears the same clothes to practice every day. He keeps the same schedule. He eats and sleeps, studies film and runs practices, coaches his players and consults his staff on Monday and Tuesday the same way he does Wednesday and Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and, yep, Sunday, too.

Such a worldview, naturally, leaves little room for change. Routine resists change, and so, too, does Wade. “Never bet against consistent behavior,” he often says, and so his behavior remains consistent.

There’s one thing, however, Wade avoids more than change: losing. He doesn’t like change.

But he hates losing.

So after three defeats in five games saw LSU drop to 7-3 mid-way through December, Wade broke habit and did something he doesn’t typically do. Before the Tigers played Saint Mary’s in Las Vegas, he met with his team – no assistant coaches, no staff, just Wade and his players – in the team hotel and asked them a simple question.

What do we need to change?

“I told them what I thought,” Wade says, “and they told me what they thought. They told me some things and the staff and I, we adjusted.”

Specifically, Wade says, he became more understanding. In judging a mistake by his players, he began looking not at the specific mistake, but at the thinking process that led to the mistake.

“You want to be judged on your intent, but most people judge you on your actions,” Wade says. “Your actions don’t necessarily meet your intent all the time. I think we’re just trying to be a little more understanding of the intent as opposed to the action.”

The result has been two-fold: his team has grown closer – more connected, he says – and his team has starting winning more games. Since that heart-to-heart, the Tigers have won seven straight games, rising from No. 67 in the NET rankings to No. 14, from unranked in the AP Poll to No. 25, from a perception of disappointing underachievement to a perception of legitimate contention.

Only the Tigers and No. 1 Tennessee remain undefeated in conference play, as LSU has handed South Carolina its first SEC loss and handled Alabama at home, while knocking off Arkansas and No. 18 Ole Miss on the road. After each of the last two victories, video has emerged from the locker room of Wade doing something very much outside of his daily routine: dancing.

“At Mississippi, they were playing music when I got in the locker room to give my final pregame speech,” he says. “They wanted me to dance then, so I said, ‘Let’s win a game and then I’ll dance.’ Sure enough, I’m a man of my word.”

It’s the most obvious manifestation of Wade’s adjustment with this team, one of the youngest in the nation – the Tigers rank 328th nationally in experience, per KenPom.com – but also one of the most talented. While past teams might’ve required Wade to take sterner stances, this one sometimes requires postgame dances.

“You’ve got to have fun,” he says. “The fun’s in the winning. You want to have fun when you win. We don’t ever want winning to be miserable, so you’ve got to have fun when you win.”

The winning is fun, but in the long term, Wade’s actions have seen his team grow even more connected, from the top of the roster to the bottom.

Last week in a team meeting, he singled out his scout team – featuring players like redshirts Courtese Cooper and Aundre Hyatt, walk-on Will Reese and former walk-on Marshall Graves – both for the way they’ve prepared the rotation players for SEC play and how they’ve provided in-game energy from the bench.

“You look at our bench and see how into it everybody on our bench is,” he says. “We’ve got just a good way about it. It’s everybody. Our scout team does a phenomenal job. You’ve got Courtese Cooper who’s going to be a good player for us – a kid we’re redshirting, 6-9 kid – he’s put on some weight and he’s going to be a really good player for us. You’ve got Coop, then you’ve got Aundre Hyatt – we’re redshirting both of them. They give us a great look in practice. Hyatt is an absolute sniper. Anybody who’s got a shooter, he does a great job. 

Marshall Graves is tremendous on the scout team. Will Reese is one of the smarter players we have. He does a great job on the scout team. It’s not just the guys who play. Those guys understand what it takes to help our team prepare.”

“I just think we have a good rhythm to us, a good chemistry to us right now. The guys enjoy being around each other. We have a bunch of different personalities, but that’s what makes it fun. We’re having a fun time. They’ve been fun to coach the last month or so. We’re continuing to get better and we’re going to keep it moving.”

Chemistry in sports is fickle. It can come and go with wins and losses, and sometimes it’s naturally-occurring while other situations call for coaches to generate affability in the locker room.

With this iteration of the LSU basketball program, it’s a little bit of both. Wade recruited a team full of big, friendly personalities, but in his meticulous care of the team, he makes sure to convert that natural spark into carefully-tended flames. That encompasses unlimited possibilities, from the hand-painted portraits director of operations Nelson Hernandez commissioned for the team locker room to roommate assignments on the road. 

“You have to put them in positions where they will step outside their comfort zone and hang out with people they would not necessarily hang out with before,” Wade says. “We try to do that by who we room everyone with on the road. We do not want anyone left behind, we want everybody to connect with someone and connect with a group of people on our team. I feel like we have that right now.

“Right now, we have one group, which is what you want. On most teams, you have two or three groups of guys that hang out. We have one big, solid group right now, which is good.”

The key, now, will be maintaining that approach when difficulty inevitably comes. The Tigers may be on a roll, but the SEC is daunting, and defeat is constantly looming around every corner, even for the best of teams.

When that time comes, though, Wade is confident the connectedness will persist.

“We’ve come closer as a team,” he says. “It’s not necessarily what I want to do all the time. What I want to do is not necessarily what will help this team the most, so you’ve got to adjust. We still hold them accountable. We’re still demanding. We’re all those things. We do it in a different way maybe than we were doing it early and in the preseason and since we’ve done that we’ve been on a (seven)-game winning streak.

“Now the challenge will be when we do lose and we are going to lose at some point. We’ve got to stick to what we’re doing. What we’re doing is working. It’s the best way to coach this team. It’s the best way to handle this team.”

In other words, he’s changed once this season. Don’t expect it to happen again any time soon.

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