Catchin’ up with Luke: Wiles back with Bandits - INTERVIEW
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • December 10, 2012 @ 12:20pm
Luke Wiles’ return to the Buffalo Bandits wasn’t exceptionally smooth, but at least he’s finally back in the fold. The Bandits’ power forward inked a one-year deal late last week before participating in Saturday’s practices.
Buffalo’s second-leading scorer last season, Wiles was embroiled in a contract dispute for the first week of training camp. The Bandits’ recent additions of righty forwards Aaron Wilson and Derek Hopcroft make it seem like Buffalo was ready to move on. Chaka Bainbridge, who represents both Wiles and fellow holdout Billy Dee Smith, tweeted last Friday that Wiles was close to a deal, and the forward’s presence at training camp Saturday confirmed a contract had been negotiated.
“It always sucks,” Wiles said about his extended holdout, “especially since I took this summer off—which was the first summer I’ve ever taken off. I was chomping at the bit to get back out here, and I’m really happy to be done with [negotiations] because that’s never fun. That’s life, but I have a wife and a baby, and I have to take care of them first and foremost, but now I get to come out here and have fun.”
Watching him walk into the team’s lunch room after practice, Wiles looked stiff, sore and gassed—expected given the long lay-off and a rather grueling first practice. At one point, head coach Darris Kilgour stopped the workout to berate Wiles for a lack of effort, and the former Bandits star’s comments after the game reflected his actions.
“Working out [on your own] is always different than getting on the floor and running next to a guy,” Kilgour explained. “I haven’t really noticed [Wiles] standing out right now, and he has a long way to go. I don’t know if he thinks he’s made this team already, but everyone is expendable right now.”
Though he’s not yet in lacrosse shape, Wiles spent the summer addressing fitness issues that plagued him down the stretch last season.
“I put a couple premiums on [summer] teams,” he admitted. “I just keep going and going and never get a break. I geared toward eating healthy and training hard—I saw [Bandits trainer] Joe DiPietro on Tuesdays and Thursdays and now I have a personal trainer—I drive an hour and a half to Maryland to train with Jay Dyer, and he’s one of the best around. I’m very fit, but you can never be ready for lacrosse because you’re always dead when you come off.”
The second-year Bandit’s intent was to trim weight and boost endurance to make him more consistent late in games and as the regular season progresses. Back-to-back contests—a rite of passage in the National Lacrosse League—are brutal on the body, particularly when they involve travel, so Wiles is smart to be prepared.
“Usually I come in between 205 and 210 [pounds], but right now I’m fluctuating between 197 to 201,” Wiles explained. “I’m eating a lot better, which is the most important thing. I’ve been taking steps the last three or four years to do that because I know that that’s important. Guys only last in the league about six or seven years, and I’m coming into my eighth. You go to college and you come out and you’re a beast, but then you have a few years where you’re just picking up your stick and going out there.”
“Coming into this year I’ve made that my priority,” Wiles added, “to be in great shape so that in the fourth quarter my shot doesn’t lose any zip, and I’m still at 100% when the defense is at 60 or 70 (%).”
Despite looking like he’d just finished a marathon, Wiles was in rather chipper spirits following his first session.
“It was a good run out there and the team looks good—we’re at zero losses right now,” the easy-going Wiles cracked. “It’s a lot of fun—other than getting yelled at—and the offense looks a little ahead of the curve.”
The 2012 NLL All-Star admitted knowing only about half of the Bandits in practice—an admission made by many returning players—but he’s especially pleased about a few of the acquisitions.
“It’s nice to have Shawn Williams over there. He’s a very smart lacrosse player and has a very high IQ. It helps me be a little bit more free over there,” Wiles said of the off-season trade with Edmonton that brought the 37-year-old vet to Buffalo. “Aaron Wilson is a hell of a lacrosse player—he’ll open up space for me and I even told him on the bench that I’m really comfortable playing with him because I know what he’s going to do. Defense, it’s hard to say—we have a couple more guys to come, but Cosmo looks great and hopefully things fall into place for us.”
“Lacrosse guys are pretty much all the same,” Wiles continued, more than willing to keep the conversation flowing. “Everybody’s pretty cool—you get a couple losers here or there—but all these guys are pretty good. David Brock is a really good pickup, Derek Suddons out the back door was a great pickup for us—two real big boys who bang hand and are both real tough.”
When the media mentioned Wiles’ comments about the improved offense to Kilgour, the temperamental coach snapped back: “I don’t know why Luke has any room to talk—he’s only been here for an hour and maybe he should just close his mouth and figure stuff out before he opens it.”
While it’s tough to tell how genuine the rift is between Wiles and Kilgour—it could just be tough love from a gruff head coach to an outspoken star forward—it doesn’t look like Wiles is in serious consideration for the captaincy left vacant by Chris White’s departure to Toronto.
“We want to get everyone back in the fold—obviously Scott Self is a candidate, and he hasn’t been around,” Kilgour explained, stressing that he really wasn’t close to deciding who’d don a letter this year. “Mark [Steenhuis] hasn’t been around, JT [John Tavares] hasn’t practiced a lot. We want to get these guys on the floor before we make any decisions and see what they bring.”
Still, Wiles appealed for his coach’s attention—in typical hysterical fashion.
“I approached Darris on that—I called him a month ago to discuss strategy coming into this year, and I would love to have a letter on my sweater,” Wiles said with passion. “I thought I was going to get one in San Jose in my second or third year in the league—I wore one for four years in Barrie (Senior A), and I think I’m due for one. The [staff will] make that decision, but I’m ready to wear one. I speak my mind—I say good things when I’m supposed to and I don’t over-talk, which is a terrible quality. I’m proven that I’m ready to take that role. If [Kilgour’s] watching this [videotaped interview], you know what to do.”
For the Bandits, it’s certainly a comfort to have Wiles back in the fold, even if the head coach seems rather unmoved by the signing. The seven-year veteran’s terrific in one-on-one situations, a natural goal-scorer and now, with improved fitness, he should not fade as much late in the year.
(All photos courtesy of Dave Marino).