A couple of minutes before LSU athletics director Joe Alleva took the stage to introduce newly hired basketball coach Johnny Jones, the seven remaining scholarship players on the basketball team strolled in, decked in matching white LSU-adorned polo shirts.
In with the main group came freshman Johnny O’Bryant, and Anthony Hickey followed moments later.
In a way, the arrival of the current team, seated among a group of former LSU basketball players that spanned decades, was a sign of solidarity.
Everyone was buying in, beginning with the players that just parted ways with the only coach they had ever known in Baton Rouge.
Consider it unfinished business.
“I talked to a couple of players, and we made our name out there a little bit last year,” Hickey said. “We want to build it up, and I want to be there with them.”
The players returned home for spring break at the same time word broke of Johnson’s departure for TCU, leaving the status of two impact freshmen – Hickey and O’Bryant – up in the air, or so it seemed.
“After seeing (Trent Johnson) at the banquet, everything was cool,” O’Bryant said. “Then I went home for spring break and all of the sudden he was gone. You are just in a world of shock.
|O'Bryant said the current players are buying into Jones|
“Me and my mom sat down, and we did want to see who they would bring in to coach us. We thought about that a lot, but it wasn’t anything serious with me leaving.”
There seemed to be smoke to Hickey’s situation, but on Monday he said there was no truth to the notion that he was seriously considering a transfer.
“I am here for the long run,” Hickey said. “I wasn’t thinking about transferring. It is just rumors when a coach leaves. I want this to be my family.”
Hickey, who was named Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball in 2011, is familiar with Jones after being offered a scholarship by North Texas in high school.
“(Jones) was recruiting me a while back,” Hickey said. “And it’s always good to play for someone who played here. He knows what I have already been through with LSU.”
With the current roster intact, Jones met with the team for the first time on Sunday night.
Relying on a Les Miles-like approach to his philosophy on how a program should be run, Jones brought his wife and children into his first one-on-one interactions with each player, leading with a family-first vibe that Jones said would be one of his building blocks in Baton Rouge.
“We visited for about an hour, and I talked to them about the family atmosphere,” Jones said.
“My biggest deal is family unity and family atmosphere.
“Spiritually, functionally, academically and athletically, we want these young men to grow. They come here, and I want to be that father figure to them and help them continue to grow.
“We had a great and productive meeting. I enjoyed visiting with them.”
O’Bryant said he was impressed by his first interaction with Jones, whose desire to embrace his players jumped out to the team during their 60 minutes with he and his family.
“He sounded very excited to coach us,” O’Bryant said. “I am very excited to play for him. It’s shocking for us (to lose Johnson), but we are going to get over this hump. We are going to accept (Jones) as our coach.”
Though LSU has just seven scholarship players returning, meaning Jones could add as many as five players this offseason, the new coach stressed the returning group would be leaned on more than any players that might show up to campus in the coming months.
“The biggest thing with (former LSU coach Dale Brown) was making sure your players understood how much you cared about them,” Jones said. “Those guys have to understand how important they are to what we are doing. I am going to embrace them.
|Hickey and O'Bryant spoke of Jones' up-tempo offense at North Texas as a big positive for this LSU team|
“I think they can be the focal point of this team next year.”
Beyond first impressions, multiple players commented on Jones’ style of coaching, which could bode well for players like Hickey.
“He runs the type of offense that I am familiar with,” Hickey said. “It’s a great connection. We always talked about how up-tempo we want to play on the offensive end. I want to push it, and with him coming in and wanting the same thing, it’s a great fit.”
Added Jones: “We talked about that a little bit (Sunday). We played against each other the last couple years, and they understood that when (North Texas) came (to Baton Rouge), we were able to get out and run.”
Sitting at 0-0 as the head coach at LSU, Jones said he walks away from his first 24 hours around the program with a new-found confidence in what the Tigers can do as early as next season.
“I think it’s a great group of guys, and I’m really impressed by them,” Jones said. “We just have to make sure everyone is all in.”