Will Wade's living a strong-ass life right about now.
The LSU coach -- a man many in college basketball believed, just two months ago, would not be the LSU coach by this point -- reeled in five-star power forward Trendon Watford on Monday. The 230-pound Watford is the No. 17 player in the Class of 2019, per the 247Sports Composite rankings. He's the third five-star player to commit to the Tigers in the past two years.
Watford's pledge is obviously a boon for Wade and LSU, which is losing loads of talent this spring, and it comes two days removed from Tigers guard Javonte Smart announcing he would take his name out of the NBA Draft pool to return to LSU.
Within the coaching fraternity, many behind the scenes have questioned just how guys like Wade and Arizona's Sean Miller have gotten along this far without losing their jobs. Watford's commitment of course triggered predictable jokes and worn-out money GIFs across Twitter, but really, this is quite the survival story for Wade.
The lesson learned: Watford's commitment proves that the taint of an FBI investigation -- and an in-school suspension -- isn't going to slow down the power players in recruiting. (If you missed it, until Penny Hardaway took the 2019 recruiting throne within the past week, Miller for a short spell had Arizona with the No. 1 recruiting class for this year.)
The past 10 weeks have played out in unprecedented fashion for LSU, though. This has truly been an unpredictable passage through the end of the regular season, into the postseason, and then an escape amid the din of the post-season news cycle. To get a sense of the surrealism, let's take a sightseeing tour, a reminder of all Wade's been through, of the past 74 days.
1. On March 7, Yahoo Sports broke a story that included transcriptions of a wiretapped call between Wade and runner Christian Dawkins, who was found guilty on federal charges of bribery and fraud in two separate trials. That story included these quotes, reportedly made by Wade, talking to Dawkins about the recruitment of Javonte Smart. Via Yahoo:
"Dude," Wade continued to Dawkins, referring to the third party involved in the recruitment, "I went to him with a [expletive] strong-ass offer about a month ago. [Expletive] strong.
"The problem was, I know why he didn't take it now, it was [expletive] tilted toward the family a little bit," Wade continued. "It was tilted toward taking care of the mom, taking care of the kid. Like it was tilted towards that. Now I know for a fact he didn't explain everything to the mom. I know now, he didn't get enough of the piece of the pie in the deal."
Dawkins responded by saying, "Hmmmm."
"It was a [expletive] hell of a [expletive] offer," Wade continued. "Hell of an offer."
"OK," Dawkins said.
"Especially for a kid who is going to be a two- or three-year kid," Wade said.
Wade turned out to be right about Smart: he'll be at least two years out of high school before trying to make it as a professional.
2. A day after Yahoo's story was published, LSU suspended Wade and Smart. Smart's suspension lasted one game. Wade, at the advisement of his then-attorney, opted to not sit down with those at LSU who were requesting him to sit down, prompting a stalemate. So he remained suspended indefinitely and went on to miss the SEC and NCAA tournaments.
It was at the time of LSU's push to the Sweet 16 when most believed Wade was never coaching the Tigers again. It was hard to even envision at that stage, let alone argue why it could happen. You had this team winning in the NCAAs in spite of not having its coach, Wade went radio silent to many who knew him, and it all seemed like a matter of time before a split was official between him and the university.
3. Then, in early April, Wade retained a new lawyer and offered up enough information and explanations to satisfy his superiors, including LSU AD Joe Alleva. So on April 14, he was reinstated to his post -- albeit with concessions made and significant alterations included on his contract.
4. Three days after Wade was reinstated, word officially came out that Alleva was leaving LSU. A kaboom in its own right.
5. It gets wilder. In federal court on April 29, video surreptitiously captured by the FBI from June 2017 at a New York City hotel shows then-Arizona assistant Book Richardson telling undercover agents that Wade recently approached him in person -- presumably at a recruiting event -- and tagged Wade with a new accusation of improper benefits. Richardson, in a story that for practical purposes strains some credulity, tells the agents on the video that Wade offered him a job to leave Arizona for LSU and that Wade informed Richardson that he had a $300,000 payment lined up for then-five-star-prospect Naz Reid, who would go on to play for LSU in 2018-19.
According to Richardson, after Wade told him the money amount connected to Reid, he told Wade: "I said listen, s---, give me half that and I'll make sure he goes there."
Arizona and LSU were the only two schools recruiting Reid at the time. After this came out in court, LSU did nothing so far as the public knows in response to the accusation. Things were quiet for a weeks until ...
6. On Saturday, Smart announced he'd be back for his sophomore season. There's no telling at this point if the NCAA has any more wants or desires to interview Smart, but obviously an investigation from NCAA enforcement at LSU is unavoidable.
7. Monday, May 20. The here and now. Seventy-four days after the Yahoo story rocked LSU and Wade, Watford commits to the program, picking the Bayou Bengals over Memphis, Alabama and Indiana. He reinvigorates LSU basketball going forward.
Or at least we think.
And Wade's recruitment for next season isn't done yet. LSU still has open scholarships to fill.
The entire situation in Baton Rouge is fascinating. It's vexed many coaches, though. I promise you that. And there's still a lot of time between now and the start of the 2019-20 season. Who knows what else might come of all this.
For now, at least, LSU is succeeding despite almost everyone believing Wade aggressively cheated to get the program back to national relevancy. Some will never move off that belief. No proof needed: They'll think he cheated to get Watford, too, and will do so to get the next touted prospect.
In opting to retain Wade, LSU has invited this speculation and cynicism every time a top-100 kid commits under Wade's watch. LSU is obviously comfortable with the arrangement ... for now. We'll see if things change whenever the NCAA has its say -- and by that point, Watford's one and only season in college could already be over.