- Next up in our freshman intro series is Trendon Watford, who will play a key role in anchoring the Tigers' new-look frontcourt.
In the one-and-done era, college basketball fans have grown accustomed to having to get to know a slew of new, highly-touted names and faces each season, many of whom will spend just one year on campus before moving on to the NBA. In 2019, six of the top 10 NBA draft picks were one-and-done, and eight of the 14 lottery picks overall. Not all elite freshmen will pan out, but history dictates that many of them will help headline the sport for the next year—and, for some, maybe even beyond. Just look at last year’s group of rookies we profiled: Tre Jones, Ashton Hagans, Jalen Smith and Devon Dotson lead a whopping 12 former 2018 five-stars back for a sophomore season.
With all of that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top incoming freshmen in college basketball for 2019–20 and breaking down the impact those players could have. The rankings are according to RSCI Hoops, a composite that averages from 25 different expert top-100 lists. Next up is the No. 17 overall recruit, LSU's Trendon Watford. You can view all of the profiles to date here.
What He Means for LSU’s Recruiting Class
One of three Baton Rouge-bound freshman, 6’9” forward Trendon Watford headlines Will Wade’s incoming class. The five-star commit and Alabama’s two-time Mr. Basketball was a late addition to the team, waiting until the end of May to announce his decision to play for LSU. A pair of three-star guards—combo guard James Bishop (No. 152) and JUCO prospect Charles Manning, a shooting guard with potential defensively and on the perimeter—are also new to the Tigers. Wade picked up another player in early August when 6’10” center DeShawn Thomas, a second JUCO addition, announced his commitment to LSU. The class wouldn’t have come close to its cumulative No. 33 ranking had Watford not joined the group this spring. His commitment was huge for Wade, especially after the turbulence and controversy that came with the coach’s late-season suspension.
How He Fits
Junior guard Skylar Mays and sophomore Javonte Smart will likely start in the backcourt, with Wade leaning on the latter to help replace the production lost with the depature of Tremont Waters to the draft. Wade has already publicly said he’s eager to see how Bishop and Manning, the latter of whom was rated as the fourth-best junior college player this spring, look in his new-look motion offense. Guard Aundre Hyatt, who redshirted last season, should also see some minutes on the wing.
Watford joins a deep group on the forward front but expectations are already high. The Tigers lost their best and biggest forwards (Naz Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams), which means immediate contributions at the four and five will be needed from Watford, Thomas and 6’8” JUCO transfer Courtese Cooper, who redshirted last season. The trio are the only LSU players taller than 6’6” and so all three bring a much-needed needed element of size to the squad—although Watford’s ceiling is considerably higher than the latter two. Sophomores Emmitt Williams and Darius Days, a pair of 6’6” forwards, should step up in their second years in the four slot with the ability to step in at the three as needed. Senior small forward Marlon Taylor should see also increased time on the wing. Both Days and Taylor can help make up for the three-point production the Tigers lost from Waters's departure.
Watford (along with Williams, Days and Cooper) has enough length to aid in the shot blocking department in light of Bigby-Williams’s graduation. The five-star can spread the floor, make plays and switch positions defensively. His versatility and his ability to play fluidly both on and off the ball could make him just the offensive weapon Wade needs to replace the team’s lost scoring production. While not the same sort of physical presence that Reid was, he has plenty of playmaking abilities and his three-point shot is improving, giving him a greater range and better inside-out game. He’s talented at the post and is a capable scorer, finishing his high school career with 3,567 points and ranking among the top 10 in Alabama high school history after averaging 23.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.1 steals and 2.5 blocks per game during his senior season. He also set a new Alabama high school career record with 1,909 rebounds. While he may not be a starter for Wade from Day 1, Watford should still make an immediate impact at the four, even if that means starting out behind Williams.
Thomas’s late summer commitment gives the Tigers an anchor at center, but with fewer other players of considerable size to play inside, LSU is going to have to play much more perimeter-based ball around lineups of long, athletic forwards like Watford and Williams. None of the bigs are all that “big” outside of Thomas, but Wade has both depth and versatility in his forward group which gives him some wiggle room as he solidifies his rotation. Some spacey, five-out small ball could be in the mix—which is exactly where Watford could especially shine.
Importance to LSU's Success/Team Outlook
LSU basketball became truly relevant last season for the first time in a decade for multiple reasons. The challenge for Wade and the Tigers now is to try to keep the program in a place of prominence, but they will look pretty different than they did last season as they attempt to do so. Watford will help with that, bringing both length and scoring potential, but he makes a more immediate impact in terms of future commitments to the program. With recruitment being the reason for Wade’s month-long suspension, LSU’s recruiting efforts were stunted and under a microscope. Landing Watford in May, more than two months after Wade’s suspension, allowed the team to breathe a sigh of relief. The Tigers have depth and talent and the biggest concern was size down low, which Thomas’s summer commitment adequately addresses and Watford helps with as well. LSU should still be able to hang with the SEC’s best this season.