An offseason of change for the Tigers started at the top.
After four years of toiling on the Bayou, Trent Johnson bid adieu to LSU on Easter weekend 2011 to take the head job at TCU. Hired in Johnson’s place, and tasked with reviving the glory days of LSU basketball, is a very familiar face in the program’s history – Johnny Jones.
Jones, a former point guard and longtime assistant under venerable Bayou Bengals’ coach Dale Brown for much of the eighties and nineties, arrived in TigerTown after an 11-year stint as head coach of the North Texas Mean Green.
He inherits a team in LSU short on height, bulk and, frankly, overall numbers.
Gone from the 2011-12 team are starters Justin Hamilton and Ralston Turner. The former, who led the Tigers in scoring and rebounding, opted to turn pro after his junior season and was drafted by the Miami Heat. The latter, still with two years of eligibility remaining, transferred to North Carolina State.
When taking into consideration the team also lost seniors Chris Bass, Storm Warren and Malcolm White, as well as rising sophomore John Isaac and signed transfer Calvin Godfrey (both due to academics), there weren’t too many bodies on campus to greet LSU’s new coach.
But Jones and his newly assembled staff, led by recruiting ace Robert Kirby, formerly at Mississippi State and Georgetown, have set about changing the shortage on the Tigers’ bench.
LSU enters the 2012-13 season with 11 scholarship players, two under the allowable limit. Five of the 11 are first-year players in the program, four of whom Jones added in the past six months.
Perhaps the brightest of the newcomers are combo guard Corban Collins (6-3, 192) and slashing small forward Shavon Coleman (6-5, 195), a JuCo transfer originally from Thibodaux, La. Both will play early and often for the Tigers this season, with Coleman a virtual lock to start at the three and Collins a predicted mainstay in the LSU backcourt.
Freshman shooting guard Malik Morgan (6-4, 188) from John Curtis Christian School in River Ridge, La., will also get a fair amount of run in Jones’ preferred up-tempo system.
All of the newbies join a dwindled nucleus that does still include sophomores Anthony Hickey (5-11, 182) and Johnny O’Bryant III (6-9, 262).
Hickey was the team’s starting point guard for all of last season, averaging 8.9 points and 3.8 assists, while O’Bryant, who posted averages of 8.5 points and 6.7 rebounds as a freshman, is LSU’s only legitimate returning big.
“I really like what I’ve seen from some of those guys and their abilities,” Jones said recently after working with players early in the fall semester. “It will only get better as we continue implementing our system. We have some guys who are very capable. The only drawback for us right now is the lack of size in the post, but I think our perimeter guys have a chance to be successful.”
Paced by guard-oriented play, Jones expects LSU will showcase a much more attractive brand of basketball than Tiger fans became accustomed to under Johnson, who favored an inside-out half-court style.
It may take time, however, to accumulate the quality and quantity of players needed to run such an exhausting, fast-paced system.
“There may be a game where we get caught in the 50s or 60s, and if that’s our best opportunity to win that night then so be it,” explained Jones this summer. “But, because of the way that our team is built and the kind of guys we have on our team, I think it’s real important for us that our approach is to play best up-tempo.
“We’ll get that up-tempo team style from our guys. Our preference would be to score more and be a high-powered scoring team, and if that should happen for us, that would be more beneficial for us. That’s what we’re looking to do.”
LSU’s first-year coach will have to rely on senior Eddie Ludwig (6-9, 210) and junior Jalen Courtney (6-8, 228), both players best suited for the perimeter, to absorb time in the post due to a lack of other options. Junior Andre Stringer (5-9, 178) will provide depth at both the point guard and shooting guard spots.
The good news for Tiger fans is help does appear to be on the way for future years with four players already committed to the Class of 2013 by early October, a group that includes top-100 players Jordan Mickey (6-7, 190) and Tim Quarterman (6-5, 185).
It’s likely to be a bit of a bumpy ride until they get to Baton Rouge.