JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Moments after LSU earned its first NCAA tournament win in a decade, Tigers Athletic Director Joe Alleva heaped a bunch of praise on team leader Skylar Mays and the rest of the players before telling Stadium that Will Wade’s indefinite suspension won’t change unless he sits down with the school.
“I don’t know how deep this goes,” Alleva told Stadium after the win. “That’s the problem, and Will’s refused to talk to us. That’s the hardest part for me.”
Two weeks ago, Yahoo Sports reported that Wade had a conversion with runner Christian Dawkins in which he spoke about a “strong-ass offer” he made in the recruitment of freshman Javonte Smart. Wade remains suspended, but Smart was reinstated prior to the SEC tournament after sitting one game.
“I wish he’d come in and just tell the truth,” he added. “Just tell me what went on. I can handle the truth even if it’s bad.”
But, according to sources, that isn’t about to happen anytime soon. Wade, on the advice of his lawyer, isn’t going to sit down with representatives from LSU due to fear of putting him in a situation that could wind up taking this from NCAA to the federal level.
Mays and the rest of his teammates have been forced to answer questions about Wade’s absence for the past two weeks, but didn’t seem to be overly affected by the distraction – at least in the first half against Yale when LSU jumped out to a commanding 54-29 lead. The Tigers made it interesting in the closing minutes, but held on and will play Maryland in the second round on Saturday.
“It’s been tough,” Mays admitted after the 79-74 win. “There’s been a lot of outside noise going on.”
When asked whether he thought the indefinite suspension given to Wade was fair, Mays was politically correct, saying he has “tremendous respect for the university and their decisions.”
Teammate Emmit Williams bit his tongue, but it was clear that the talented freshman doesn’t agree with the decision.
“No comment,” he said.
Williams said he still communicates regularly with Wade, and several other players and coaches said they do as well.
“In my eyes, he’s the best coach ever,” Williams said.
But it’s going to have to be acting coach Tony Benford – who was 62-95 in five seasons at North Texas – who will have to lead this talented LSU team as it hopes to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Benford is loyal and even-keeled – which is exactly what this group needs at this time.
“We’re not going to worry about the outside noise,” Benford said. “We’ve got good character kids. … We’re going to control what we can control.”
Alleva has received plenty of criticism from the LSU fan base for his decision to suspend Wade. Many fans are calling for Wade’s reinstatement and Alleva’s dismissal.
“This isn’t about me,” he said. “It’s about the players.”
Now those players, while their coach sits at home in Baton Rouge watching, will see if they can continue to quiet the outside noise and make some noise of their own in the NCAA tournament.
“We know everyone was picking us to lose and be the first upset of the tournament,” Smart said. “But we’ve been through a lot and this whole thing made us stronger.”