LSU announced Sunday evening that it is reinstating men’s basketball head coach Will Wade from a suspension that had kept him out of the Tigers’ postseason games. The move came after face-to-face meetings Friday, the first between Wade and school and NCAA officials since he initially refused such a session on March 8.
LSU called a meeting in the wake of media accounts of conversations recorded via wiretap that implicated the 36-year-old coach in possible recruiting improprieties. The FBI was reported to have intercepted a 2017 phone call between Wade and a middleman involved in a recruiting scandal, in which the coach claimed to have made a “strong-ass offer” to representatives of a top high school prospect.
In Friday’s meetings, Wade “answered all questions and denied any wrongdoing in connection with recently reported allegations of irregularities in college basketball recruiting,” LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said in a statement Sunday. “The University regrets that Coach Wade did not choose to fulfill his obligations to LSU when he was first asked to do so.”
“However, the seriousness of the allegations and Coach Wade’s prior refusal to refute them could not be ignored without exposing the University and the basketball program to great risk.” Alleva continued. “Protecting LSU and preserving our integrity must always be our first priority.”
Despite being in the midst of one of the most successful seasons in the history of the program, LSU suspended Wade ahead of the Tigers’ regular season finale, when they clinched the SEC regular season title under interim head coach Tony Benford. The ban lasted through the conference tournament and NCAA tournament, in which they reached the Sweet 16 before losing to Michigan State.
Wade protested the decision at the time, saying that his legal counsel had advised him “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.” He added, “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.”
On Sunday, though, Wade struck a different tone, saying in a statement, “I completely understand that without my denying or explaining the media reports accusing me of wrongdoing LSU was left with no choice but to suspend me until I was willing and able to meet with them. Any other course of action would have put the program and the University at risk.”
“I regret the circumstances that prevented me from meeting with the University sooner,” Wade said. “I wish I could have addressed these issues when the University first requested a meeting, and I’m grateful they gave me the opportunity to do so last week.”
The Associated Press reported that Wade changed his legal representation following the suspension. Still at issue is whether he and Arizona Coach Sean Miller will be compelled to testify in a federal trial related to a recruiting scandal that has shaken the college basketball world since 2017, resulting in arrests of assistant coaches and Adidas executives, as well as the firing of head coach Rick Pitino by Louisville.
In the recorded conversation with Christian Dawkins, an agent-runner sentenced in March to six months in prison for wire fraud, Wade appeared to be referring to Javonte Smart, a Baton Rouge high school standout who subsequently committed to LSU. Smart was held out of the Tigers’ regular season finale out of what the school described as an “abundance of caution,” but was allowed to play in the postseason.
Smart is among five of Wade’s players, including Tremont Waters, Skylar Mays, Naz Reid and Emmitt Williams, who have since declared for the NBA draft. As the Baton Rouge Advocate noted, the timing of Friday’s meetings and subsequent reinstatement enable the coach to get back to work ahead of Wednesday’s start of the SEC’s spring signing period.
“Wade’s explanations and clarifications offered during the meeting, absent actual evidence of misconduct, satisfy his contractual obligation to LSU,” the school said in its statement.
Asserting that he was “humbled and grateful to be back” with the Tigers, Wade said, “I promise to devote all of my energy into preparing for next season and finishing the job we have started at LSU.”
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