New LSU coach McMahon rebuilds roster despite uncertainty
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — It’s a new era at LSU.
Virtually an entirely new team, for that matter.
Not long after Matt McMahon was hired to take over a Tigers program which remains under investigation because of NCAA allegations against former coach Will Wade, every scholarship player on the roster either graduated, left for the NBA draft, or entered the transfer portal.
But McMahon managed to fill all 13 scholarships available in time for this season.
“We have essentially 13 new players,” McMahon said. “We’re trying to take these talented players and build them into one cohesive unit.
“We have to work extremely hard and very intentionally to try and build that chemistry and that culture that will lead to — we hope — a standard, a performance that will lead to winning,” McMahon added.
McMahon brought three players from his 2022 NCAA Tournament team at Murray State — KJ Williams, Justice Hill and Trae Hannibal — to Baton Rouge. He also added four high school recruits and lured back three players who were on LSU’s roster before his hiring: Mwani Wilkinson, Justice Williams and Adam Miller.
McMahon also added three transfers he hadn’t previously coached: Kendal Coleman from Northwestern State, Derek Fountain from Mississippi State and Cam Hayes from North Carolina State.
Now LSU appears to have a roster with the potential to compete for an NCAA Tournament berth. The question is whether the NCAA will let LSU play in it.
McMahon said he doesn’t concern himself with what the NCAA will do as it looks into allegations that Wade offered improper benefits to recruits, albeit prior to rule changes that now allow players to earn money from their name, image or likeness.
“We’ve got to control what we can control,” McMahon said. “Whatever’s happened in the past, I have nothing to do with it … We have nothing to do with what happens NCAA-wise moving forward. So we don’t ever talk about it. I came here to LSU to move the LSU basketball program forward.”
Miller was a 2021 transfer from Illinois who was expected to take on a prominent role before a major knee ligament tear that sidelined him all last season.
The guard averaged 8.3 points in his lone season with the Illini in 2020-21. He hasn’t played in about 18 months, but recently was cleared to go at full speed.
“His progress has been off the charts,” McMahon said. “We have to temper expectations for him as well because it’s going to be a process.”
McMahon won 154 games in seven seasons at Murray State, posting a 69.7% winning percentage, winning four Ohio Valley Conference titles and making three NCAA Tournament appearances.
McMahon’s best known player at Murray State was current NBA star Ja Morant. But he also had the OVC player of the year on last year’s roster in Williams and a reliable scorer in Hill. Williams averaged 18 points, 8.4 rebounds and shot 53.8% last season. Hill was first-team all-OVC after averaging 13.4 points and 5.1 assists per game.
The four freshmen McMahon brought to LSU are Corneilous Williams, Jalen Reed, Tyrell Ward and Shawn Phillips.
McMahon said Reed, who is 6-foot-10, in not “just a back-to-the-basket guy. He’s a today’s era forward, skilled on the perimeter, can really pass it, create off the dribble.”
Ward has scoring ability and Philips is a 7-footer who has lost around 70 pounds to get his weight down to around 245, the coach said.
“You see the commitment he’s made to improving,” McMahon said. “He’s a guy who can protect the basket.”
The 6-10 Williams headed into the season with a shoulder injury but is expected to be a versatile front-court player who can defend.
The Tigers open the season at home against Kansas City on Nov. 9.
Their nonconference matchups include a game against Wake Forest in Atlanta on Dec. 10 and a home game against preseason No. 25 Texas Tech in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Jan. 28.
LSU will begin SEC play at home against No. 10 Arkansas on Dec. 28 before traveling to No. 4 Kentucky on Jan. 3.
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