Both basketball teams at LSU opened the doors to their programs on Wednesday. Come inside for the…
Change of pace
Teams can rely on size and defense, attempting to win in the halfcourt. They can also run and gun, leaning on skill, speed and athleticism.
During Trent Johnson's four-year tenure at LSU, he clearly preferred the former method. The current TCU coach wanted to play inside-out on offense and bog teams down on the defensive end.
In that slow-it-down style predicated on sticky defense, not too dissimilar from how Tiger football is operating these days, LSU tried to win games in the high fifties and low sixties.
Johnson's 2011-12 team averaged 65.4 points per game. His four LSU teams combined averaged 66.0 points per outing, buoyed by the 74.8 points a night his 2008-09 SEC regular-season championship team posted.
There's been a distinctly different style on display the last 11 seasons in Denton, Texas, where new LSU coach Johnny Jones unleashed a fast-paced, high-scoring attack on the Sun Belt conference.
Jones' 2011-12 UNT team averaged 70.3 points per game. The two seasons before that? The Mean Green averaged 76.2 and 73.8.
That trend and the style associated with Jones is not lost on the players he inherited at LSU.
"I've got a feeling we're going to be running," senior forward Eddie Ludwig said during Wednesday's Media Day. "I've played against Coach Jones twice now at North Texas, and I know their style of play. I can't imagine him playing any other way."
Sophomore point guard Anthony Hickey, who figures to be the triggerman for Jones' system in Baton Rouge, says fans will see a vastly different approach from this year's Tiger team.
"It's going to be a fast, up-tempo game," explained Hickey. "You'll see the ball go through the net a whole lot more this year."
The shift from Johnson's tendencies to a more wide-open game is due in part to the essence of who Jones is. He is, after all, a former point guard who went by the nickname "Bullet."
"It's just more of my personality in terms of how we like to play and the number of guys and caliber kids that we're trying to recruit," Jones told reporters.
But the need for speed isn't coming to TigerTown just because it's in Jones' DNA. It's also born out of necessity, given the lack of size on this year's squad.
"Unfortunately for us, we're not as big as we would like to be," continued Jones. "But that's not something we have an opportunity to cry about.
"I think, as a basketball coach, you just have to really coach to your strength. I thought Trent did an excellent job when you look at this team last year with what they did defensively, how they held teams to low scoring games in some of the games that they won early on. That's important.
"When I look at the makeup of this team, I think you can devote (to) try to play a little bit faster because of the lack of size inside. We'd love to obviously have Justin Hamilton back here. I've been waiting for him to get down in that post area, but because he's not here, we will choose to play a little bit faster. I think a lot to sprint-to-screen action and getting in gaps will help us."
So far this fall, since players have mostly been working out on their own in open-gym format, the pick-up in pace has been evident.
At least one player feels that will have a positive impact on the Tigers once they get into the regular season.
"Open gym, everybody's running up and down the floor. It's been fast to say the least," said Ludwig, who at 6-9, 210, will be counted on to play the four often. "We did that a little with Trent, but when we got in the game we kind of slowed it down. So I feel like our open gym is going to translate more into the games, which is good because I don't think y'all know how fast Hickey can get up the floor. It will be exciting to see how it works out in coach's offense."
Hickey, who it seems Jones is grooming into LSU's modern-day bullet, welcomes the change in script. For him it's a familiar throwback to his days in the Bluegrass, where he had a sensational senior season en route to being named Mr. Kentucky Basketball 2011.
"This is the type of offense we ran at my high school. Me just being the point guard, running the team, running the show," Hickey said proudly. "I'm going to do whatever I can to take this team to a championship.
"Last year I slowed down a little bit because that's how Coach Johnson ran his offense. But Coach Jones is going to let me play. He tells me ‘You're going to make mistakes, but it's all about learning as you make mistakes. Don't make the same one twice.' It's just about playing and having fun."
And it's that fun that Jones will utilize in recruiting, trying to attract big-name players to the Bayou to take center stage in his score-first, score-often system.
Before the first basket's been scored in the 2012-13 season, Jones and LSU have already received four verbal pledges for the Class of 2013. Perhaps his reputation precedes him.
The excitement definitely felt contagious when talking to the Tigers' returning players on Media Day.
"Playing faster has got everybody excited," remarked junior guard Andre Stringer. "We've got a lot of quick guys, a lot of quick freshmen who are long and athletic. When we heard we were going to playing fast, it was just like ‘Okay, we're ready to play.' We're excited about throwing lobs, people dunking the ball, shooting threes, things being more wide-open."
But, appropriately checking himself, Stringer did issue an important reminder that no team can just go from zero to 60 (or, to be fair to Johnson, from 30 to 60) without experiencing some growing pains.
"It's going to be a rollercoaster for us, but we're going to have to learn how to play that way – to be fast, but be under control," Stringer said.
On the eve of the team's first official practice, the fast part has definitely been taken to heart. It's harnessing that speed and learning some control that will take some time.
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