For LSU basketball, it's Year 0 for coach Matt McMahon. Not Year 1.
BATON ROUGE - There's a word LSU basketball coach Matt McMahon hasn't stopped uttering since he arrived here in March.
"The foundation has to be how hard you work. It has to be creating some buy-in to the program, to the coaching staff and more importantly to each other as teammates," McMahon said last week.
"This summer and fall has been all about laying the foundation," he said in September.
"It's my responsibility to make sure we establish a foundation for what LSU basketball is going to be about moving forward," he told The Advertiser in May.
McMahon isn't saying that word just to say it. After weathering arguably the most turbulent offseason in program history, LSU is building a new foundation from scratch.
This isn't Year 1 for McMahon, it's Year 0.
"We're going to be a work in progress," McMahon declared last week. "We have a lot of work to do. But I think our guys have been really committed to that process and we'll just focus on continuing to get better each day."
It all started after LSU fired coach Will Wade on the Saturday prior to Selection Sunday, just days after the program received a Notice of Allegations. McMahon was hired from Murray State nine days following Wade's firing and LSU's opening-round loss to Iowa State in the NCAA Tournament. Soon thereafter, every scholarship player on LSU's roster either entered the transfer portal or the NBA Draft.
McMahon, who also brought in an entirely new coaching staff, brought back guard Adam Miller, guard Justice Williams and forward Mwani Wilkinson from the portal, but still had to add four freshmen (after losing three recruits, including two top-30 prospects in the wake of Wade's firing) and six players from the transfer portal to fill out the rest of the roster.
Three of those transfers – forward KJ Williams, guard Trae Hannibal and guard Justice Hill – played under McMahon at Murray State. But the familiarity this roster has with each other and McMahon ends there.
"Everyone's new. A lot of these guys have never played together," McMahon said. "I'm still learning them. They're learning me. We're still building those relationships, trying to develop trust."
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None of that is to say LSU can't be a pesky SEC team and a contender to reach the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers' roster has enough talent to play in March Madness.
KJ Williams was the Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year last season and Hill and Hannibal were also key pieces on a Racers team that went 31-3 and made the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Two of the four freshmen, forward Jalen Reed and Tyrell Ward, were top 70 prospects in the nation, according to 247Sports Composite.
Miller was a freshman starter at Illinois before transferring to LSU last season and tearing his ACL in the preseason. Wilkinson started 30 games and played more than 24 minutes per contest.
It's an impressive roster considering the circumstances under which it was built – the portal losses, incoming freshman decommitments, new coaching staff and looming NCAA investigation. But the only certainty around the program is the names on the roster and coaching staff.
Who starts? Who sits? What will be their strengths and weaknesses? Who are the team leaders? With so many new players and a new regime at the helm, it's impossible to know for sure. And there's no guarantee that they'll be allowed to play in the NCAA Tournament, let alone if they'll win enough games to make it.
With so many fresh faces and question marks, almost nothing is guaranteed about this first season under McMahon. This is what Year 0 looks like.
"The goal is we've got to start stacking days. We just got to get better each day. We've got to build our chemistry each day," McMahon said. "We're not going to be on Nov. 9, the best version of ourselves."
Koki Riley covers LSU sports for The Daily Advertiser and the USA TODAY Sports South Region. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @KokiRiley.