Jim Gazzolo column: Wade cures desperation to be noticed

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, March 16, 2023

Before you can be good, you have to be relevant.

With one swipe of the pen, McNeese State basketball became relevant this week.

Will Wade brings attention to a program desperate for just that. Good and bad, the signing of Wade as the new basketball coach makes a bold statement to a fan base underserved for years.

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It also boils the blood of others from Lafayette to Baton Rouge along with the rest of the Southland Conference. That is not such a bad thing either.

Already disliked, the Cowboys are clearly Public Enemy No. 1 in the conference now.

“I want to be elite,” said McNeese Athletic Director Heath Schroyer, himself a former Cowboys head basketball coach.

“I want our program to be looked at not just regionally but nationally. This is the right time for us here and I think Will Wade is the right man for the job.”

By signing Wade, Schroyer joins his new head coach as one of the “bad guys” to many in the college basketball world.

Wade, who was fired a year ago by LSU in the midst of a still ongoing NCAA investigation into recruiting violations, is a lightning rod for attention.

It has been three days since Wade took center stage Monday on Joe Dumars Court and made himself right at home. In front of Cowboys fans who never could have dreamed of such a moment, the coach proclaimed a new ear of McNeese basketball had arrived.

Never has a program gone more quickly from darkness and into the spotlight.

Since then Wade has been cheered, suspended, glorified and vilified pretty much from coast to coast.

Not a bad half-week’s work for Mr. Schroyer.

And while this newest Cowboy may wear a white hat around Southwest Louisiana, he doesn’t seem to mind donning a black one for the rest of the college basketball world. In fact he seems to relish the idea.

Wade will miss the first five games of the upcoming season due to a mutually agreed upon suspension written into his contract, which only made more news for the program.

Even with that, Wade’s impact is being felt already in the league.

Northwestern State A.D. Kevin Bostian made mention of the McNeese hire when talking about his own coaching search.

“With Will Wade down at McNeese, with his ability to recruit, it’s upped the ante for us,” Bostian told a television station.

I don’t think ever before the head coach for McNeese State basketball mattered to anybody outside Lake Charles. And before the Legacy Center was built maybe even in the city itself if you looked at old attendance numbers.

All of a sudden, McNeese basketball is on the minds of a lot of folks.

That’s just what Schroyer was looking for when he hired Wade to lift the struggling program, and the new coach has done nothing to disappoint in his first few days on campus.

Wade has made all the rounds in Lake Charles, bringing his swagger with him. He has become the man about town and the locals are eating him up.

Wade told McNeese fans the Cowboys will win “at least” 23 games next season. He doubled down on that at his news conference. That’s hard to imagine considering the Cowboys have won just 22 the last two seasons combined, but McNeese fans gobbled it up along with Wade’s bravado.

“I don’t lack for confidence,” Wade said. “I’m not always right, but I’m always sure. So I wouldn’t come here if I didn’t think we could win and win immediately. That’s what we’re here to do.”

Hoping for victories has now been replaced by expecting them.

While wins are important so too are ticket sales. Wade has been good for that as well.

The Platinum Club is at an all-time high for membership, season-ticket sales are on the rise and for the first-time McNeese is adding floor seats to the Legacy Center.

All that has led to an increase of $116,000 in new basketball revenue since Monday, according to McNeese officials.

Will Wade has been good for business.

There will come a time when all this will be put to the side for basketball games and the pressure will be on Wade to win. To no surprise he is ready.

“Pressure is a privilege,” Wade said.

No telling how long Wade stays at McNeese, but for now the circus is in town.

Time to just buckle up and enjoy the ride, it promises to be wild.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics for the American Press. Email him at jimgazzolo@yahoo.com