When Will Wade took the challenge of being LSU’s new men’s basketball coach, most Tiger fans agreed that Wade would be a good hire, but conceded that the program’s renovation would be a multi-year project.
It still may be.
But thanks to a recent addition, LSU’s immediate future looks much better now than it did before.
The Tigers shook the college basketball world in early August when they received transfer papers from Southern Utah combo guard Randy Onwuasor—one of the top available graduate transfers on the market.
Onwuasor graduated from Southern Utah last season, which makes him immediately eligible to play for LSU in the 2017-18 season.
He’s a game changer.
As a junior, Onwuasor averaged 23.6 points per game (fifth in the Division I athletics) with 6.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game.
Wade said he’s exactly the type of player the Tigers needed with the start of the season just a few months away.
He is the third commitment Wade has been able to get in the Class of 2017, which his even more impressive given the limited amount of time he had to build the class after being hired in April.
“We are excited to have Randy Onwuasor joining our program at LSU,” Wade said when introducing him to the team. “His experience and his ability to score the basketball will be an important addition that will be a positive for our team this coming season.”
This will be Onwuasor’s second stint playing major-conference college basketball.
Onwuasor played prep basketball for Inglewood High School in California—a program which has produced several professional players over the years, including Paul Pierce, Reggie Theus, Harold Minor and others.
As a high school senior, Onwuasor averaged 15.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.7 steals per game—enough to earn First-Team All-Ocean League and First-Team All-Area honors. He also led Inglewood to the Southern Sectional I-AA State Semifinals.
Onwuasor was a two-star guard at the time of his recruitment. He signed with Texas Tech because of his close connection to then-Raiders coach Tubby Smith.
But it didn’t work out.
He played with the Red Raiders for two seasons, but never got into a rhythm, averaging just 2.9 points and then 4.2 points per game as a sophomore in 2014-15. He was inefficient offensively, shooting just 30 percent from the field and 23.9 percent from behind the 3-point line as a sophomore.
Onwuasor transferred from the program after that season, opting to enroll at Southern Utah—a program coached at that time by Nick Robinson.
Coincidentally enough, Robinson was a former assistant coach at LSU. He left the Tigers to become Southern Utah’s head coach in 2012.
Onwuasor had to sit out the 2015-16 season, which he used as his redshirt season. During that time, the program had a coaching change, hiring Todd Simon to lead the team.
Simon said during the preseason last year that Onwuasor had become a leader through tireless work on his game during his time off.
He was an immediate starter for the Thunderbirds last year.
In his debut with the team, Onwuasor played all 40 minutes and scored 35 points, shooting 11-of-22 from the field and 4-of-6 from behind the 3-point line.
“He’s a tireless worker,” Simon said of Onwuasor. “He takes a lot of pride in his game and he’s always trying to find ways to get better in some for or fashion. I think he’s going to have a big season and I think he’s a guy that we’re going to lean very heavily on.”
The coach’s proclamation came true.
After the big opening game, Onwuasor never let up. He scored 20 or more points 22 times last season, including eight games with 30 or more points.
Arguably Onwuasor’s best-ever collegiate game came on March 7 when he scored a career-high 43 points in a triple-overtime victory over Montana State, while also playing an incredible 53 minutes.
But even with the dominant scoring, the Thunderbirds never found on-court success, winning just a handful of games last season.
That lack of success had Onwuasor looking for greener pastures after the season, which made him one of the most-wanted graduate transfer players available in the offseason.
Onwuasor announced he was leaving after the season—either to the NBA or to another school.
He declared for the NBA Draft, but didn’t hire an agent. Onwuasor later withdrew his name from consideration and announced his transfer.
During that process, he visited Final Four teams Gonzaga and South Carolina before visiting LSU.
On that trip, Onwuasor said he felt at home and knew right away that being a Tiger was in his future. He will have one remaining year of eligibility.
“I would like to thank every university that has recruited me throughout this process,” Onwuasor said on his Twitter page. “After long thought and talk with my family, I have decided to attend LSU this fall.”
That’s a great win for LSU basketball. Maybe this program renovation won’t take as long as everyone once thought.
Image: Southern Utah Athletics