Ex-VCU player Troy Daniels gives thumbs up to LSU hiring Will Wade

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Troy Daniels

NEW ORLEANS — LSU will introduce Will Wade as its new men’s basketball coach at news conference at noon Wednesday.

On Tuesday night, Memphis Grizzlies guard Troy Daniels gave a sneak preview of the man who is replacing Johnny Jones and becoming the Tigers’ 22nd head basketball coach.

Daniels played four seasons at Virginia Commonwealth when Wade was an assistant there under Shaka Smart. When Daniels went to the NBA three years ago, Wade became a head coach for the first time at Chattanooga. He was head coach there for two seasons before returning to VCU to replace Smart, who went to Texas.

“We always knew that he was going to be a head coach because he was really, really smart and he studied the game a lot,” Daniels said in an exclusive interview with SportsNOLA.com before Memphis’ game against the New Orleans Pelicans in the Smoothie King Center. “When Chattanooga gave him his chance I knew he’d be great. He’s going to do a great job at LSU.”

At Chattanooga, Wade had a record of 40-25. As head coach at VCU he had a record of 51-20 and took the Rams to the NCAA Tournament in both seasons.

Though Wade wasn’t the head coach when Daniels played at VCU, Wade still had a significant impact on Daniels, who said the assistant “was one of my guys.”

That meant that Daniels was one of the players that was assigned to Daniels to make sure the player “was good” in terms of “grades and off-the-court stuff.”

“When you’re in college there’s a lot of stuff going on, but you’ve got an assistant coach there to see if you need anything, if you need help with anything,” Daniels said. “He’s always there for you.

“He made sure I was in study hall. Sometimes as a college student you want to have fun more than you want to do your homework and stuff like that so he made sure that I was in the right places at the right time. He would pop into my classrooms sometimes to make sure I was in there — stuff like that.”

As a head coach, Wade now delegates the academic and other off-the-court monitoring to his assistants and he’ll be unveiling his LSU staff soon. He’ll be busy recruiting and developing players as he tries to rebuild a struggling program.

“Overall, he’s a great coach, a great guy,” Daniels said. “He was always in Shaka’s ear when I was there, so he helped out a lot during their tenure at VCU.”

During the four seasons that Wade and Daniels were with the Rams, the team had a record of 113-37, went to the NCAA Tournament three times and reached the 2011 Final Four.

Daniels said that from he has seen of Wade’s teams at Chattanooga and VCU he expects the Tigers will play a style similar to what Wade learned under Smart. The Rams’ trademark was their “havoc” defense, which features five guys flying around in a series of high-pressure, unpredictable presses and traps.

Or as Daniels put it, “pressuring the ball and getting out and running and playing.”

If LSU can duplicate that kind of energy — and won-lost success — it will revive what became a moribund program during the last of Jones’ five seasons. The Tigers had a school-worst 15-game losing streak on their way to a 10-21 overall record and 2-16 SEC record.

Daniels is with his fourth team in as many NBA seasons, having played previously with Houston, Minnesota and Charlotte after being undrafted. He played sparingly in the Grizzlies’ first 18 games this season before earning a spot in the team’s rotation.

He seems to be finding an NBA home as his 34-year-old former mentor sets up shop at a power conference school after two stops at smaller programs.

“He might have gotten overlooked as much as an assistant coach or a head coach as I got overlooked as a basketball player,” Daniels said. “I’m still close to him so I’m really happy for him.

“That’s one of my guys that helped me get to the point that I’m at today and I appreciate it.”

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Les East

Les East

SportsNOLA/WHNO-TV/Times-Picayune

Les East is a nationally renown freelance journalist. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.

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