Jim Gazzolo column: Counting on Wade to cure apathy

Published 11:22 am Thursday, October 12, 2023

Will Wade was brought to town to lift a basketball program from years of failure and lack of interest.

Before ever coaching a game he has done that, raising the profile of McNeese State basketball to unthinkable levels from a year ago.

Ticket sales are booming and sponsors have jumped on board the Wade train. It is a new era in McNeese men’s basketball.

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Now Wild Will may be asked to save more than men’s basketball.

With the McNeese football team struggling through a record-bad 0-6 start, fans are ready to turn to a sport the haven’t embraced in recent years. That is the new Wade effect.

This isn’t what the former LSU head coach bargained for when he came to the Cowboys as a mutually beneficial rebranding of both himself and McNeese basketball after his recruiting scandal while at LSU. But he is in the spotlight and isn’t the type to shy away from it either.

Wade says the added burden of a struggling fall season hasn’t gotten to him.

“I’m having fun,” he said. “You do this because you enjoy doing it. It beats selling insurance.”

After sitting out of coaching last season, Wade is simply happy to be back in the profession, though he’ll have to serve a 10-game suspension to start the season.

“I enjoy being around the players,” he said. “That is what I missed the most, the daily interaction with the team, that is what I missed not being around it this year.”

Wade added that he has already enjoyed his time in Lake Charles and that he wants to do what he can to bring to town a winner.

“I do have the pressure that I want to give them something positive here,” he said. “We have got incredible fans and the support we get is amazing.

“We haven’t won a whole lot lately in football and men’s basketball and I do feel our fans deserve a winner. They are thirsty for a winner and I think we are going to be able to deliver that.

“We want to be something that they can rally around. The best way to give back is to win.”

Wade has promised a winning season, something that hasn’t happened with McNeese basketball since the spring of 2012, a dozen seasons ago. That team finished 17-16 after being picked to finish first in the Southland Conference in preseason polls.

This year expectations are high for the Cowboys, who on Tuesday were voted to finish second in the conference when this year’s poll was released. That is the highest McNeese has been picked since the 2011-2012 campaign.

So a good season could be at hand. The problem is the team is now going to be asked to become the face of the McNeese athletic department with football struggling.

McNeese needs a feel-good story, one that can in fact rally the community and keep those investing in athletics willing to send checks. Winning may not solve everything, but it sure does help.

This is where Wade comes in. He can erase a bad fall with a winning and exciting winter and an NCAA Tournament bid in the spring.

It is hard to recall a time when the men’s basketball program at McNeese received this much attention locally, regionally, and nationally before a season began. Now we see the Cowboys ranked in the list of top 25 mid-major squads as high as a 14th seed in some mock NCAA Tournament brackets.

Those are things never heard of around here when it comes to college hoops.

The McNeese fan base, outside of spring sports, has been starving for a winner. They had hoped the football program would have been turned around by now but that is not the case. That group continues to struggle in its rebuilding process.

The only thing that can flip the image of the department now is a good season from Will Wade’s crew. All eyes will be on this basketball team.

And that sounds stranger than anything at McNeese.

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