The top-seeded LSU men’s basketball team will open SEC tournament play Friday afternoon without Coach Will Wade, who was suspended indefinitely by the school after reports emerged last week that the FBI had intercepted a telephone call between Wade and recruiting middleman Christian Dawkins in which the coach discusses a “strong-ass offer” he made to a prospect, reportedly Tigers freshman guard Javonte Smart.
That suspension could last through the NCAA tournament, in which LSU will play no matter how it does at the SEC tournament. On Wednesday, the Advocate of Baton Rouge reported that school officials have told Wade they would not lift his suspension unless he meets with them along with NCAA investigators. After initially agreeing to such a meeting last week, Wade and his attorney canceled after LSU refused to exclude the NCAA officials, according to Sports Illustrated.
On Thursday, Wade issued a statement saying he has asked LSU President F. King Alexander, Athletic Director Joe Alleva and the LSU board of supervisors to reinstate him as coach and that he declined the interview at the advice of his attorney.
“I understand that in today’s hyper-intense media environment it is extremely difficult for any organization, particularly a public university, to stand firm in the face of rumors, leaks and innuendo,” Wade said in the statement. “In this case, the simple truth is I have been placed on leave because I exercised my right not to submit to a joint LSU/NCAA interview on the exact same subject matter at issue in an impending federal criminal trial in New York. My legal counsel advised the University that it would be wholly inappropriate for me, or anyone, to submit to an interview under these circumstances.
“Declining to be interviewed was a difficult decision for me, as I would like to cooperate fully with all parties, particularly LSU. To be clear, however, all I’ve done is follow the prudent advice of counsel to exercise my constitutional rights to due process. Given these facts, I don’t believe it is appropriate for me to be relieved of my duties. We have a great basketball program made up of excellent student athletes and quality coaches. The players who’ve given their all for this institution, the students and alumni who are devoted to LSU, and fans all across Louisiana and beyond deserve to see this team fulfill its destiny. I love LSU and everything it stands for. What I’m asking for is the right to do my job while exercising my constitutional rights. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”
Tom Skinner, LSU’s general counsel, was quick to respond to Wade’s statement Thursday.
“In everything that’s been said by Will and his folks in the past week, not once have they denied any wrongdoing,” Skinner told Sports Illustrated. “As a university and employer, we need to hear our employee say, ‘I didn’t do anything wrong,’ or explain the circumstances or admit he did do something wrong. We’ve been unable to get to that point. We have no choice, in terms of institutional control, to not suspend someone.”
Wade’s statement was unusual in that it’s rare to see a top-level head coach issue a public salvo against the school that still employs him, but it’s a move seemingly designed to ingratiate himself even more to LSU’s fans, who have taken his side. On Saturday, Alleva was greeted by boos and pro-Wade signs at LSU’s home game against Vanderbilt (its first without Wade), and a “Free Will Wade” billboard has been erected along one Baton Rouge highway.
LSU’s students also planned a rally in support of Wade and Smart on Tuesday, though attendance was sparse:
In October, a jury found Dawkins and two others guilty on fraud charges amid a federal investigation into college basketball recruiting, and a judge sentenced him to six months in prison this month. Dawkins, a former runner for former NBA agent Andy Miller, faces a federal bribery charge during a trial that begins April 22, after the NCAA tournament is over, and his defense attorneys have said they plan to subpoena Wade to testify. The LSU coach told reporters last fall that he had never “done any business of any kind with Christian Dawkins,” though he did not say he never had spoken to Dawkins on the phone.
Citing an abundance of caution, LSU also has prohibited Smart — the player Wade allegedly was referring to in the phone calls — from playing since the reports surfaced last week, though he has practiced with the team and traveled to Nashville for the SEC tournament. It’s unclear whether the Tigers’ third-leading scorer will take the court.
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