Last Modified: Thursday, November 08, 2012 6:32 PM
BATON ROUGE — It will be a dream come true for LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones when he debuts against UC Santa Barbara tonight.
The DeRidder native is new at LSU — only to the head coaching position, having played four years at with the Tigers and then coaching under Dale Brown for another 13 seasons until 1997.
He made a Final Four appearance as a player (1981) and coach (1986).
Jones has been a head coach for 12 years — all but one at North Texas — but tonight will be different as he walks down the tunnel to coach his first game at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“I’ll probably go through the same routine that I always go through as a head coach in terms of how I spend that day, when I’ll shut everything off and really start focusing just on that game,” said Jones. “Once we get to pregame practice, I’ll probably go through that same ritual and routine.
“I know when we get on that court, just like a couple of years ago on December 22 (2010), when I walked out when we had the opportunity to play here (with North Texas). The emotions I felt, it should be that way coming out the tunnel. It will be the first actual game with family, friends and all those folks that were here on that occasion. I’ll just realize exactly where we are at that given time.”
UC Santa Barbara won 20 games a year ago to go to postseason play in the Collegeinsider.com Tournament, while LSU was 18-15 in Trent Johnson’s final season and lost in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.
LSU returns three of the primary starters from a year ago – guards sophomore Anthony Hickey, junior Andre Stringer and sophomore forward Johnny O’Bryant III.
But Jones and his coaching staff will be counting on some new recruits in Jones’ new up-tempo offense.
Senior transfer Charles Carmouche and freshman Malik Morgan led led LSU in scoring in an exhibition win over Arkansas-Monticello, 82-66, on Monday.
“I think the one scrimmage and the exhibition (game) served its purpose for us,” Jones said. “We saw a lot of bright spots in some of those kids in the way that they played (their) first time under those type of lights. At the same time, we had the opportunity to see areas where we have to continue to work, really focus to give us an opportunity to get better and to have an opportunity to challenge in such a very talented league.”
The Tigers should be back to full strength for the opener after Anthony Hickey and Shane Hammink did not play because of “team rules” discipline by the coaching staff.
“I haven’t really decided who our starting lineup will be,” Jones said. “I thought Corban Collins did an excellent job the other night in Anthony Hickey’s absence. There is a chance, if we continue to work him extremely hard that he could possibly be in our starting lineup.
“Both guys will have an opportunity to play, but I’m not sure who exactly who will start on Friday. Corban is not out of the question. When you have somebody to take advantage of your situation like Corban did and did well, you don’t want to penalize him for something that he hadn’t done. We’ll make sure we make those necessary adjustments, but it won’t be anything because of discipline. That is behind us, that all was taken care of on Monday.”
It is the first of six home games for LSU to open the season, including a Tuesday night game against McNeese State.