Stronger Tigers Start Prep for Spain
Some journeys begin with an incredible story.
The tale behind LSU Basketball’s upcoming trip to Spain in August is not one of them.
“I would love to give you a story about this,” head coach Will Wade told reporters Tuesday, “but the reality is I took the exact same trip when I was at VCU the year before I came here and it went well so I took the same trip operator, and I used the same host, Javier.”
Hey Siri, what’s deja vu in Spanish?
It’ll be ya visto for Wade in the weeks to come, as he returns to Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia starting August 12. But it’ll be brand new territory for the Tigers, who are taking their first international preseason trip since the 2015-16 season, when LSU toured Australia for its once-every-four-years trip, as permitted by the NCAA.
While the competition should prove valuable, it’s the build up leading to the trip that Wade and his staff are most excited about.
“The players really enjoy the trips,” Wade said, “and the coaches enjoy the 10 practices you can do before the trip.”
Here are some areas of focus for the Tigers before they take off for the Iberian Peninsula.
After enduring some soft tissue injuries late last season, Wade turned his team’s focus to refining its physique.
He studied European soccer clubs and their training routines to try and build a team with greater endurance, and that investment of time and energy is paying off.
Wade said 88 percent of his team is deadlifting 500 or more pounds, and every Tiger set personal bests in bench press, power clean, and single leg squats.
“We kind of wore down as the season went on and had some soft-tissue injuries because of nutrition and other things,” Wade said. “In my time off I was able to study how the premier soccer teams in Europe train, how they stay fresh and how they recover. That is why I am very pleased with the results this summer.
“This is as strong and healthy a team that I have ever had coming out of the summer and credit for that goes to Coach (Greg) Goldin and Lauren Marucci, our nutritionist, they have done a great job.”
Not So Small
As it stands now, LSU’s roster has one scholarship vacancy, and Wade plans to use that spot on a big man. That addition can be made anytime between now and the start of the school semester.
But Wade’s not concerned about his big man rotation and the perception that it is undersized. Though 6-foot-9 freshman Trendon Watford remains the tallest Tiger, LSU still has plenty of muscle down low for its coach’s liking.
“I know everyone is talking about us getting bigger guys,” Wade said, “but I can roll out three different line-ups that are five, six, and seven inches taller than Auburn’s starting line-up for their Final Four team last year. It’s not all about having all of this height on the court. Right now, we are one inch taller than the Houston Rockets, who were one of the top four teams in the NBA last year. So, it is not like we are in desperate need for an infusion of height. We are just going to play different this year.”
Long but good: Wade on #LSU‘s bigs.
– Planning to add another big body
– Bigger already than Auburn’s Final Four lineup and Houston Rockets’ starters
– Emmitt Williams developing 3 point shot
“It’s not like we’re in desperate need for this infusion of height.” pic.twitter.com/AFrPIzUaXb
The Tigers feature plenty of size at the guard spot, with 6-foot-4 backcourt combo Skylar Mays and Javonte Smart, as well as large wings in 6-foot-5 Charles Manning Jr. Aundre Hyatt, and Marlon Taylor (who will not play in Spain after an offseason foot surgery, but who Wade expects back in September).
“We changed our offense up a little bit as we are going to play a little more motion,” Wade said. “We spent a lot of time on that this summer. We are going to play more motion instead of off ball-screens all the time. We are certainly going to use ball-screens but it is more about being comfortable playing a different way and playing a lot faster. We are going to play a lot faster than we have.”
Emmitt’s New Role
Williams is one of the players Wade talked up most on Tuesday, highlighting his physical transformation (up to 230 pounds) as well as his skill development.
“Emmitt is going to shoot 35 percent plus from the three-point line this year,” Wade said. “He has expanded his game and worked hard. He has made almost 500 threes a day this summer. Made, not taken. You have to come out and guard Emmitt out there which opens up a lot of different options for us.”
Wade says Emmitt Williams will shoot 35% plus from 3 this year.
He’s made 500 3s a day this summer.
Williams was one of six Tigers who tested the NBA Draft waters this offseason and one of four who returned for the 2019-20 season. He, Mays, Taylor, and Smart all took their feedback from the draft process to heart and came back this summer hungry to improve.
“I think that is the main thing those guys take when they go do that,” Wade said. “I think they realized how cutthroat it is at that level. It is different to hear it from us and to hear it from the coaches and then to go through it. It definitely has helped our guys become more serious. Emmitt has been more serious since he got back and Marlon has been the same way. The same thing for Skylar as well.”
With Waters gone to the NBA, Smart will take over the reins as LSU’s point guard, a role he thrived in last season when Waters missed time. In two games without Waters in the lineup, Smart scored 29 and 17 points against Tennessee and Texas A&M, respectively, with 6.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game in those contests.
“Javonte is a tremendous player,” Wade said. “In the opportunities that he had last year; he was phenomenal. I am really proud of him, the way he has been leading well this summer. I have been really pleased with that. He is going to be the primary ball handler and we are going to have Skylar out there with him which will alleviate some things for Javonte. He is ready to step in and play a huge role. I really like our back court.”
Down nine with six minutes to go, Javonte Smart goes on a 7-0 run by himself and scores 11 straight for the Tigers. The last four were simple – slip the ball screen action, drive right, lay it in.
In Spain, Wade plans to let Mays and Smart get a few reps, but his focus will be developing the unproven players behind them.
“We are going to see how different guys react,” he said. “I know what Javonte and I know what Skylar can do, so playing them 30 minutes a night will not do a whole lot for our team. I am much more interested in James Bishop to see if he can take the things he learned on the practice floor into a game. I am looking to see what Charles Manning can do. I want to see how Trendon looks. How doe Days look after he just played spot minutes last year, as well as Emmitt in a much more featured role. I am a lot more interested in Courtese Cooper, Aundre Hyatt and Marshall (Graves) and how they look.
“We need to get these other guys major minutes and see how they react in different situations.”
A new addition to the roster will be a familiar name to Tiger fans.
Parker Edwards joins LSU from Southeastern, where he played 27 games last season, averaging 3.7 points and shooting 37.5% from 3.
His best game was his first: a 25-point effort in 10 minutes against LSU on Nov. 6. Edwards, who planned to redshirt last season, subbed in during the second half and connected on 7-of-9 field goals, including 6-of-8 from 3.
This summer, he enrolled at LSU and asked Wade if he could walk on.
“We said, ‘Absolutely, we know who you are,’” Wade laughed. “He is a really smart player and he has been very good in practice and has really helped us out. He can definitely come in and make threes for us. He can really shoot it as you saw. As we all saw.”