LSU basketball: How new coach Matt McMahon went from 0 players to 13 in a hurry
Matt McMahon started from scratch as LSU’s new men’s basketball coach.
At one point he found himself with exactly 0 players.
Will Wade was fired in March as a long-time NCAA investigation continued to hover over the program.
When the season ended, Darius Days and Tari Eason opted for the NBA Draft and 11 other Tigers entered the transfer portal.
Then McMahon was hired from Murray State and he had a lot – an awful lot – of catching up to do.
“Priority one – hire an elite coaching staff,” McMahon told a handful of reporters during the LSU coaches caravan’s stop in suburban New Orleans earlier this week. “Priority two – take the roster from zero and build a team.”
McMahon had a well-organized plan that produced 13 players that comprise the 13th-best recruiting class in the country and 3rd-best in the SEC, according to 247 sports.
“It was very challenging, but we have a very detail-oriented, methodical way that we like to go about recruiting,” McMahon said. “This circumstance here, starting with zero players, we divided things up into four phases.”
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The first phase was “the retention of current players,” which meant trying to talk Wade’s former players out of the transfer portal.
“The majority had already left, which is fine,” McMahon said. “This is college basketball in 2022.”
But McMahon was able to talk 3 players back to Baton Rouge – forward Mwani Wilkinson and guards Justice Williams and Adam Miller, who was the last to return after seriously considering TCU.
“I’m really excited about the relationships we were able to build with Mwani Wilkinson, Justice Williams and Adam Miller,” McMahon said. “I love Adam Miller. I know everyone is excited about his talent. But I’ve really enjoyed finding out what he’s all about. He’s very smart, has a high basketball IQ. He’s competitive, really goal-driven to be the best player he can be.”
The second phase was to bring in some of McMahon’s former players at Murray, “older, more experienced, proven winners, guys who understand what the culture of LSU basketball is going to be about.”
That phase produced the Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year in center KJ Williams and guards Justice Hill and Trae Hannibal.
The third phase was a return to the transfer portal in search of players from places other than McMahon’s former school and his new school.
“The third phase was a big challenge here when you’re starting at zero,” McMahon said. “You not only need great players, but you have to balance your classes and you have to balance positions.
“Kendall Coleman (Northwestern State), Cam Hayes (NC State), Derek Fountain (Mississippi State) – all 3 guys have played 2 years of college basketball and have 3 years of eligibility remaining. So they fill a lot of needs there.”
McMahon said the 4th phase, high-school recruiting, “took a little more time.”
“I believe at LSU you can recruit the best players in the country,” McMahon said. “So we wanted to go right in on the best available remaining players for the Class of 2022 and build those relationships and get them to Baton Rouge. I feel like we were able to do that with the high-school class that we signed.”
The high-school class consists of 4-star recruits in forwards Tyrell Ward and Jalen Reed as well as centers Corneilous Williams and Shawn Phillips.
“I love the talent that we’ve been able to bring in,” McMahon said. “I think they’re about the right things that lead to winning – hard work, unselfishness, toughness, accountability. Those are the things we’re going to continue to build the program on.
“With the circumstances and what we walked into, I’m definitely thrilled. Not only do I think we have good talent, but I think we have our kind of guys who really fit the culture and the foundation of what LSU basketball is going to be about for years to come.”
McMahon inevitably saw his sales pitch fall on some deaf ears in the face of likely NCAA sanctions once the LSU case is completed.
“Some people are going to tell you no right away because of the cloud that has been over the LSU program, but I have no control over that,” McMahon said. “We’re just moving the program forward and we’re going to get the right people in the program and build it that way.
“When we go recruiting it’s the same thing we’ve always done – build genuine relationships. I think we have a player development program that has proven to be very successful for a lot of years to help players get to the highest level of basketball. I think we have a style of play and an offensive and defensive system that prepares players not only to win in college but that also prepares them for the next level. And then I think the LSU brand is strong across the country and obviously the opportunities that the SEC presents as well. I think we have a lot to sell.”