Maybe there's some hope after all for Will Wade and the LSU basketball program.

Nobody seriously believed that there were six NBA players on last season's Southeastern Conference championship roster.

But that's how many declared for the league's June draft shortly after the season ended on March 29 in the Sweet 16.

If that were true, then certainly the Tigers underachieved in only getting past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Nobody was buying it, of course.

It was assumed to be a half-dozen refugees fleeing a sinking ship that was surely about to get more bad news.

Then, on Saturday, freshman guard Javonte Smart announced that after the ever-popular "exploring his options" with the NBA, he had decided that maybe a little more higher learning would be in his best interests.

One down …

Look for Skylar Mays, Marlon Taylor and Emmitt Williams to follow suit and come back, too.

The NBA never heard of them.

And the team that they left behind is, perhaps surprisingly, not in smouldering ruins. There's still a program there, complete with balls and nets and sneakers and a functional Maravich Assembly Center.

The two best players on the team, point guard Tremont Waters and power forward Naz Reid, aren't coming back.

They've already said so. Reid is likely to be drafted, likely late in the first round or early in the second round. Waters improved his stock at the NBA's version of the combine last week in Chicago enough that he has a chance to get drafted too — and, if not, a legitimate shot at making a roster anyway.

Those two were probably leaving under any circumstances.

But, of course, the circumstances at LSU are anything but normal right now.

The assumption was that the mass exodus was due more to the uncertainly surrounding the program than any belief that the NBA was begging for their services. It appeared they were getting out of town right before the NCAA investigators came snooping around.

Why not take a shot at it? Who knew if there would even be a program left after the federal trial into college basketball corruption in New York, at which Wade was originally scheduled to testify?

Instead, a judge ruled that Wade would not be allowed to testify and his name came up only briefly during the trial.

When it was over, Wade had only the Yahoo! Sports story to answer for.

That, of course, was where he was quoted, from FBI wiretaps, as making a strong "offer" during the recruitment of a player named only as Smart.

That still doesn't look good. It no doubt attracted the attention of NCAA investigators.

But the FBI and the federal prosecutors have said they aren't doing the NCAA's job for it. As a matter of course the FBI doesn't share investigations that don't turn up in the courtroom.

The NCAA will be on its own, and it doesn't have the subpoena power or wiretaps the feds were using.

The strong "offer," is easy enough to explain with at least plausible deniability.

Presumably it could be anything — maybe he'll say he was offering to hire Smart's high school coach, which is perfectly within the rules.

Maybe more encouraging for the program than Smart's return was what happened Monday, when one of the nation's top recruits signed with the Tigers. Players the caliber of five-star Trendon Watford — a 6-foot-9 power forward from Birmingham, Alabama — don't jump onto sinking ships.

It's a little late in the process for a two-time Alabama player of the year to be signing, and maybe he was waiting to see how it played out.

But somebody, somehow, assured him that everything will be all right at LSU.

Maybe it will.

Make no mistake, there is still a cloud hanging over the program … and Wade. But it's no longer an atomic mushroom cloud with nothing but debris left in its wake.

There could still be a smoking gun to come, but right now it appears LSU might even skate out of this thing relatively unscathed, if not totally exonerated.

True, it takes a pretty good leap of blind faith to look past what it certainly appeared Wade was involved in.

But we already know the LSU fan base will have no problem with it. He obviously can coach and that's all that matters to them.

They were near unanimous in their outrage with then-Athletic Director Joe Alleva after he suspended Wade on March 8 when Wade refused to meet with school officials immediately after the Yahoo! story first broke. He was reinstated on April 14 after he met with them.

Some mistakenly assumed it was the final straw for Alleva. In fact, Alleva had little choice given the circumstances, but there were plenty of other reasons to change athletic directors.

The amazing part is that LSU might not be forced to fire Wade.

As absurd it might have sounded in March, Wade might just keep his job.


Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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