McMahon has hands full with brand new roster for Tigers

PICKIN’ UP THE PIECES: LSU men’s basketball coach Matt McMahon has put together an almost entirely new roster for this season, which begins tonight. (Photo by BEAU BRUNE, LSU Athletics)

By RYNE BERTHELOT, Journal Sports

BATON ROUGE – LSU starts a new era in basketball tonight at home, with Shreveport’s Kendal Coleman on a reconfigured roster that analysts believe could keep the Tigers competitive despite the turbulent coaching transition last March.

With the controversy-riddled, but highly-successful (on the court) Will Wade era reaching an unceremonious end in March, athletic director Scott Woodward quickly plucked Matt McMahon from Murray State to pick up the pieces.

Pick up the pieces he did.

From the date of Wade’s firing on March 12 to April 1, the LSU basketball team lost every scholarship player on the roster. Eleven entered the transfer portal. Two declared for the NBA Draft. They also lost all four commits for the 2022-23 signing class.

McMahon managed to pull three of those Tigers back from the portal: Mwani Wilkinson, Justice Williams, and Adam Miller, who didn’t play last season with a torn ACL but figures to be a major contributor from the perimeter after he led all Big 10 freshmen in three-pointers with 52 when he was at Illinois for the 2020-2021 season.

“Adam’s been awesome,” McMahon said during the recent Southeastern Conference Basketball Media Day. “I’ve only been with him seven months now. He’s a relentless competitor, very tough. I have great admiration for his work ethic and commitment and discipline to get back from his devastating knee injury.”

McMahon’s work in the transfer portal wasn’t finished after the player retention phase, though: He brought in three of his players from the extremely successful Murray State program in Justice Hill, Trae Hannibal and KJ Williams. Williams, a 6-10 forward, is the reigning Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year. Hannibal has SEC experience with two seasons at South Carolina before he transferred to Murray State. Hill, who began his college career as an Arkansas signee, is expected to provide valuable minutes at the point, where McMahon has watched him grow over the last two seasons.

“Love Justice, comes from a great family, very high-character young man. He had an awesome season for us last year, one of the top in the country in assists-to-turnover ratio,” McMahon said. “Had some monster games where he shot it extremely well from three … He’s really grown and developed as a leader, which I think is so important at the point guard position. He’s an elite athlete, great speed, and when you combine that with his work ethic, I think he’s much improved from where he was a year ago when he was at Murray State.”

McMahon added three more from the transfer portal with Cam Hayes (North Carolina State), Derek Fountain (Mississippi State) and Coleman (Northwestern State) before rounding out the roster with freshmen. Hayes and Fountain were both role players on their previous teams.

Coleman, a Shreveport native and Captain Shreve alum, averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Demons on his way to first-team All Southland and All-Southland Defensive Team honors. He put up double-double performances against Power 5 teams, including LSU, in his breakout second-freshman (resulting from the pandemic) season. Coleman won’t start, but is expected to contribute some valuable minutes up front for the Tigers.

The Tigers also welcome four true freshmen forwards in Cornelious Williams, Jalen Reed, Tyrell Ward and Shawn Phillips, all of whom will have an opportunity to earn minutes early in the season with a starting lineup largely in limbo.

“There’s still a lot of unknown there. We have essentially 13 new players,” McMahon said. “We’re trying to take these talented players and build them into one cohesive unit. I think we have to work extremely hard and very intentionally to try and build that chemistry and that culture that will lead to what we hope is a standard of performance that will lead to winning.”

Whether that standard of performance will lead to winning remains to be seen, but LSU fans will certainly have to adjust to an almost entirely new program from just a season ago.

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