The official announcement of Will Wade as head coach today tips up a new chapter in Rams basketball. Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin had the unenviable task of replacing the school’s most successful/popular head coach to date in Shaka Smart but I’m here to tell you how he hit a home run with the hiring of former assistant, Will Wade.
OFFENSE RETURNS TO BROAD ST?
VCU had one heck of a season but did so without much consistency on offense. Despite a superstar coach and some of the highest rated recruits/players in VCU’s history — not to mention a senior version of an all-time great in Treveon Graham — VCU ranked just sixth in the Atlantic 10 in offensive efficiency, up one spot from the previous season. Both were down from their first place ranking obtained during Will Wade’s final season as an assistant under Shaka Smart. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.
In VCU’s four seasons with Wade the Rams averaged an effective field goal percentage of 50.5%. Upon his departure that dropped to 48.3% in Smart’s two seasons without him. That may not seem significant but it’s a percentage drop that would take a team from the top-third in the NCAA to the bottom third.
Conversely Wade steadily improved the effective field goal percentage of his offense at UT Chattanooga. The Mocs ranked 277th nationally the season before his arrival then climbed into the top-100 (98th) this last season. VCU ranked 188th.
A large part of that was due to improved scoring inside the arc. Five of Wade’s six most used players hit over 50% of their attempts inside the arc compared with zero of VCU’s six most used offensive weapons. Three of VCU’s top-six hit over 50% of their attempts in Wade’s final season on Broad St.
Seems like an awful lot of coincidences, does it not?
UNLOCKING BIG POTENTIAL
One of VCU’s most promising areas lies within their impressive youthful front court. We’ve seen Mo Alie-Cox look dominant but never really featured as an offensive weapon. Alie-Cox become VCU’s least used big under Smart (10th on this year’s team in usage percentage) whereas all of the previous key front court pieces (Reddic, Skeen and Sanders) were all within the top-three in usage the previous seasons. I can’t see how Alie-Cox’s usage dips any under Wade and am of the opinion others will see their roles increase as well.
VCU’s Juvonte Reddic steadily improved his first three seasons at VCU then saw a 6% drop in his shooting percentage his final season with the Rams (coincidentally VCU’s first season without Wade). Justin Tuoyo followed Wade to UTC and went from a 23.5% shooter his freshman season at VCU to a 53.8% shooter at UT Chattanooga. That’s never bad for the draft stock for players like those at VCU who aspire to such goals.
Alie-Cox, Tillman, Gilmore and potentially/hopefully incoming recruit, Jordan Murphy, await. It will be exciting to see how Wade and his staff use the impressive new tools at their disposal.
RAMS’ MOST SUCCESSFUL TOURNAMENT YEARS CAME WITH WADE
VCU’s NCAA tournament record under Smart with Wade: 7-3
VCU’s NCAA tournament record under Smart without Wade: 0-2
Again, call it a coincidence if you choose, but VCU’s most successful NCAA tournament appearances with Shaka Smart as a head coach came with Will Wade by his side (and I repeat, Wade was Shaka Smart’s first hire, and at the tender age of 26).
VCU ripped through the tournament field as an 11-seed underdog in 2011, pulled off a 12 v 5 upset in 2012 before narrowly falling to Indiana, then destroyed Akron by 46 points in the Rams only win as a favorite under Smart, all with Wade on the sidelines. Since Wade’s departure however, VCU has gone 0-2 in NCAA tournament action, losing as the top seed twice, first on the wrong side of a 12 v 5 upset to Stephen F Austin, then as the 7-seed to Ohio State this past season.
WINNING COACHING TRAITS
Ask anyone who has worked with Wade (and I’ve asked a lot of them) how they would describe the guy as a coach. You’ll hear a lot of the following: dedicated, passionate, the hardest worker on the team, serious recruiter, great with scouting X’s and O’s, great guy. He’s also young and has paid his dues as an assistant during four seasons at VCU, not to mention his two seasons as a head coach, the first of which earned him SoCon Coach of the Year honors. What more could you ask for?
HAVOC LIVES HERE…AGAIN
Style of play was apparently a major factor in the decision to bring Wade back to VCU. Upon his hiring in in 2013 Wade promised to bring “Choas” to Chattanooga (let’s stick with havoc here at VCU, we’ve already printed the banner). While he never got the defensive turnover percentage anywhere close to VCU range, he was able to quickly improve the defense as a whole.
Wade inherited one of the absolute worst defenses in the country when taking over UTC, as the Mocs checked in at 333rd nationally out of 351 teams in adjusted defensive efficiency. In just two seasons he nearly cut that in half, due largely in part to improving UTC’s effective field goal percentage D from 326th nationally to 126th. UTC improved from the 10th most efficient defense in the SoCon before his arrival to fourth his first season, then second his final season on campus.
BECAUSE I’M A VCU FAN
VCU fans love(d) Shaka Smart. We love VCU more.
Ram fans have seen ADs, coaches and staff members come and go, yet each season we manage to return to the Siegel Center to cheer whatever product is on the floor, slapping high fives to familiar faces in our continually growing Ram Nation family. Even if you hate the hire, had hopes of perhaps another choice, it’s our jobs as fans of VCU first and foremost to rally around our new guy in charge and make sure we do our part to ensure VCU’s maintains an upward trajectory no matter who is calling the plays. We did just that when Coach Capel left, improving on him with Coach Grant. Then with Grant off to Alabama we helped a first-time unknown head coach named Shaka Smart become a superstar. Let’s continue that trend with Will Wade.
As of today, in my mind, Will Wade is the best college basketball coach of all the teams of all the cities of all the worlds.