HOOVER, Ala. – Johnny Jones played meet the press Thursday at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala., answering a number of questions from reporters during the 2012 SEC Basketball Media Day.
With tip-off in his first season leading the purple and gold a mere weeks away, Jones updated the progress of his team, his backcourt and shed some light on LSU’s rotation and style of play.
The former Tiger point guard and longtime assistant also hit the rewind button for regional and national members of the media, replaying the scenario that brought him back to Baton Rouge.
Jones even gave a glimpse into why recruiting for LSU is something he was born to do.
Here, broken down by sections, is the best of Jones’ responses Thursday afternoon.
Coming back to LSU
The process of landing his dream job was one Jones didn’t quite expect at first.
He had interviewed for the job in 2008, when Trent Johnson ultimately received it, but he had no idea until nearly a week after Final Four 2012 that LSU could have an empty set again.
“It shocked me because on Friday at the Final Four Trent Johnson and I were spending time together, talking about our respective teams,” Jones recalled Thursday. “Then Sunday at the Final Four we find out that the job is open at TCU. Where I was there at the University of North Texas, I was 35 miles away (from TCU), and with the success that we had, I thought that I would be a tremendous candidate for the TCU job. Then Trent’s name came up, and I tried to figure out what he was doing leaving a place like LSU. Things happened so quick, but I was happy for him when he got the job there.”
Still, just the same, Jones was at least somewhat expecting a call from the Horned Frogs (before learning of Johnson’s interest, involvement).
“Well I had me a purple tie ready,” retorted Jones before going into a fit of laughter with reporters.
But Jones did wind up returning to his home state, and Thursday he shared his two cents on why his alma mater has had such a difficult time winning consistently since the early nineties.
“Anytime you have a lot of turnover, be it players or coaches, I think it makes it extremely tough to have any type of consistency,” Jones explained. “I think, one, you want to try and be in an environment where you have players in your program that are not transferring in and out. You have to have a coach there for quite some time, like a Dale Brown was over a period of time. He went through a string of championships and competing at the highest level year-in and year-out. I think it says a lot about programs that are able to not have a lot of change, be it coaching staff or players year-in and year-out.”
Molding this year’s team
With a scrimmage next week versus Arkansas-Monticello and the season opener around the corner, the team’s opening practices have been good and full of energy, according to LSU’s first-year coach.
“We’ve had 11 practices, and it’s been exciting,” Jones said. “We think we’ve made some improvement each day. We’re excited about the effort and the energy level that our guys have been playing with. It gives us reason to have hope.”
Jones continued to say the team is also excited about playing faster, something that starts with getting acclimated to full-court pressure defense, a facet of the game often intentionally left behind by Johnson in lieu of a halfcourt style.
“It’s been good for them, and they’ve really welcomed it and embraced it because they understand a lot of our offense is going to feed off what we do on the defensive end of the floor,” said Jones. “It’s going to create some easy scoring opportunities for us. They’ve embraced it. Unfortunately we’re limited in terms of the number of guys that we have, so with the intensity level that we’ve had an opportunity to go at in practice, the time has been cut down a little bit.”
In an effort to bolster LSU’s overall numbers in practice, especially with Jalen Courtney (knee) and Charles Carmouche missing time due to injury, Jones and his staff have looked to a couple of walk-ons.
At Media Day Jones said he’d like to keep a few of those players during the season, but it’s something he hasn’t made a final call on yet.
“We’re hopeful that we can possibly keep all three guys,” admitted Jones. “We have to do our due diligence with them and make sure we’d like them to be a part of what we’re doing. They’ve been extremely helpful in our practices we’ve had because of injuries or classes and scheduling conflicts. So those three guys, we’d love to try and keep them around if possible.”
LSU’s coach then went on to talk about two scholarship players he expects to be difference makers, guard Andre Stringer and forward Johnny O’Bryant.
Each player, according to Jones, will benefit from the new faster style of play, one that will cater a little better to the strengths of both Stringer and O’Bryant.
“Because of the addition of a young man like Corban Collins, a freshman who’ll have an opportunity to come in and play some point guard with Anthony Hickey, it’ll give Andre Stringer an opportunity to play off the ball,” explained Jones. “I think that’s going to be a much better spot for him, especially in the new system that we’re going to implement for him with a more up-tempo style of pace.”
On O’Bryant: “The good thing for Johnny is he had the opportunity to go through this league last year. He had the ability to have a guy like Justin Hamilton along side of him who was probably taking more of the tougher defensive assignments. Now Johnny will switch over to that role.
“Offensively, I think we’ll have an opportunity to do some things that will be beneficial to Johnny by spreading the floor, allowing him to face up and not only play with his back to the basket. The up-tempo style will help him in the long run.”
As for the upcoming scrimmage a week from Monday, Jones wants his Tigers to play to their best capacity, not to the level of their competition, in advance of the regular season.
“I’d like to see our team try and compete extremely hard with our energy level and effort throughout the game,” said Jones. “It’s about our quest to try and execute at the highest level, not just maybe feel like we’re out-manning someone, that we’re going to out there and play a certain way. Executing is going to be important. It’s about what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to accomplish on the floor.”
Part of what he intends to accomplish is whittling down his roster to a manageable rotation. By the time SEC play comes around, Jones would like to be at eight trusted players.
“I’m hopeful that we can get eight to nine players. That would be great for us,” Jones said. “There are a number of guys and a lot of different combinations that we can possibly go with, and that’s something we look forward to. Hopefully we can get up to seven or eight or maybe even nine guys in the rotation.”
Recruiting for the Tigers
Finally, Jones fielded a barrage of questions concerning recruiting and how his status as a former player and assistant at LSU aids that effort.
“The best thing for me on the recruiting trail is I don’t have to go out and read some book or article or put something up on Google to talk about the institution, the university,” Jones leveled.
“It’s in my heart. It’s something that I’ve lived, so it’s easy for me to sit in a home and explain and get excited about what I’m talking about. So the recruiting part really comes easily for us.”
With top-100 players Jordan Mickey and Tim Quarterman already on board in LSU’s Class of 2013, it’s hard to argue with that statement.