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April 13, 2012It's the desire of two of Louisiana's most successful high school basketball coaches, a duo that have combined for more than a half century of coaching and nine state championships, that LSU's new basketball coach be able to mend fences with the state's prep coaching fraternity.
"The biggest thing in my opinion and a lot of other coaches opinion is that the LSU basketball program has to reconnect with the high school coaches of the state," said St. Amant's Gary Duhe, who completed his 29th season as a head coach and has coached at four schools in the Baton Rouge area.
Duhe, who spent two years (1983-84) on the staff of Dale Brown at LSU, reiterated those same sentiments to LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva when Alleva contacted him earlier in the week for his view from the within the high school coaching circle.
Duhe, who won two state titles at Redemptorist and one at Chapel Trafton (now The Dunham School) said his relationship with former LSU coach Trent Johnson was "good" during the past four years. He also praised Johnson's coaching ability but believed he had shortcomings in other off-the-court areas that have surfaced since Johnson left to become TCU's new coach.
"Like everybody's said," Duhe said, "it just wasn't a good fit whatever that is."
Charles Smith completed his 37th season at Peabody in Alexandria last month with the school's seventh state championship, the sixth in Smith's 27 years as the Warhorses' head coach.
Smith felt like he always had an open line of communication with both Johnson and former LSU coaches John Brady and assistant Butch Pierre, but it was thereafter that left a lot to be desired.
"As far as the basketball program reaching out to the high schools, that's one of the reasons coaches and players don't feel a part of LSU basketball," Smith said. "Just to have a working relationship between the high schools and the college and that wasn't there."
Both Smith and Duhe were in agreement that the lack of a greater alliance between the LSU basketball program and the state's high school coaches was evident in recruiting when some of the state's elite talent often opted to leave the state's borders.
Duhe lauded former LSU football coach Nick Saban for hiring former Independence High football coach Charles Baglio to serve as a liason between the Tigers coaching staff and the state's football coaches, a position he's maintained under Les Miles for the past eight years.
"That was the best hire he made," Duhe said of Saban. "It connected the LSU staff with the state's coaches and coach Miles has continued to have coach Bags on staff. They've built that fence around the state and have kept 99 percent of the players that need to go to LSU in state. We've lost that in basketball.
"We used to have it when coach Brown was there and in the first years of coach Brady," Duhe said. "Anybody who had a good enough player to play big-time basketball their coach steered them to LSU because they felt a part of the program. We've lost that."
Despite producing some of the state's top players, including two the last three Mr. Basketball award winners in Markel Brown and Dee Wagner, Smith has had to watch Brown play at Oklahoma State while Wagner signed Wednesday with Arkansas.
"I think most of the coaches in Louisiana have been kind of disappointed with the top level players in the state not being
heavily recruited by LSU," Smith said. "I've had several players that went on to have great careers at other state schools or out of state and were not recruited by LSU. I know LSU's had some outstanding players as well. Over the past 15-20 years the Louisiana coaches have been disappointed with not having more of the top players going to LSU."
Smith went back a couple of decades to further drive home his point when LSU signed Howard Carter out of Redemptorist while his own standout - Paul Thompson - went on to a standout career at Tulane and played professionally several seasons with the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers. More recently the Warhorses also had Marcus Simmons play for USC and Reggie Rambo at Alabama.
"These are kids that are coming out of a winning program," Smith said. "They weren't heavily recruited by LSU."
Duhe felt there was a greater grassroots approach employed by Brown that took advantage of inviting a great number of the state's high school coaches to work his summer camps. That's where friendships were hatched and maintained and provided a greater attachment to Brown and the program and a leg up when it came to recruiting.
With four of the state's top eighth graders within an hour's drive of LSU's campus, including the son of former LSU standout Wayne Sims at University High, Duhe felt there was no better time than the present to implement a hire that would help bridge the gap that's existed between the program and his peers.
Moreover, Duhe believes there's a chasm that's been created amongst the fan base that's become apathetic at best based on dwindling attendance figures.
"All those kids are going to be ninth graders and need to commit to LSU," Duhe said. "They're all playing on the same AAU team right now. Back in the day they would have been at the LSU camp and mixing with the coach's and feeling part of the program. We've got to get that back.
"Whoever they bring in they've got to get some Louisiana people on staff and have to connect with the Louisiana high school coaches," Duhe said. "That's the lifeblood of the program with getting the best players to stay in state."
As a good faith measure and token of giving back Smith would like to see LSU's new coaching staff either conduct coaching clinics or provide camps and clinics in some of the state's larger cities and take a step toward creating a vision for younger players to aspire to.
"We want LSU to be in the same light as a Kentucky, Duke or Connecticut," Smith said. "That gives our young men more of a chance to work hard and look up to and hopefully one day play at LSU. It gives them some inspiration."