LSU men's basketball coach Johnny Jones. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Monday, October 28, 2013 6:52 PM
BATON ROUGE— It’s only Johnny Jones’ second year as head coach of the LSU men’s basketball team, but a lot has changed in his short time in charge of the Tigers.
The DeRidder native has taken LSU from a mediocre Southeastern Conference team to one many analysts expect to make the field of 68 come March.
In his first year at the helm, the Tigers performed fairly well for an undersized team lacking in depth and experience. But Jones only lost one player from last season— senior guard Charles Carmouche— and three starters are back from the team that went 19-12.
One of those returning starters is Johnny O’Bryant III, a junior forward who flirted with the NBA Draft last season before deciding another year in Baton Rouge was his best option. O’Bryant is a Preseason First Team All-SEC selection who led LSU in points and rebounds last season, nearly averaging a double-double a game.
Junior guard Anthony Hickey, who finished last season with the third-highest steals per game average in the country, and senior guard Andre Stringer join O’Bryant as returning starters.
“We’re much farther along at this juncture than we were at this time last year,” Jones said. “One of the reasons is the guys are familiar with what we’re doing offensively and defensively and we had enough guys coming back from last year’s team that allowed us to be farther along in terms of things we were able to put in and to be executing at a certain level.”
Jones helped bolster the Tigers’ roster by bringing in the No. 5 recruiting class in the country, highlighted by McDonald’s All-American forward Jarrell Martin from Baton Rouge. Darcy Malone, a seven-footer from Australia, will add more size and depth in the front court, and Jones said he also has the ability to step out and shoot the three.
“The veterans have done a tremendous job of showing leadership with this team and the freshmen and newcomers have done a great job in terms of following that leadership and at the same time competing at a certain level to allow us to be challenged each day in practice.”
The Tigers had a scrimmage on Saturday, and Jones said the most noticeable difference in the team was its depth. LSU should have the luxury of a flexible lineup and be able to experiment with different player and size combinations this season, which was not an option last year.
Jones said another side effect of the strength of the bench will be a tendency to execute the press more often and play an up-tempo style.
Despite the expectations that come with the Tigers’ impressive signing class and the mix of veteran experience and talent, Jones wants to keep his team focused.
“We’ve got to make sure we don’t look ahead,” he said. “We’ve got to understand that certain areas where we were picked very low last year, we knew what was in front of us and how hard we had to work and it’s a little different this year. We’ve been picked a lot higher in some areas, but at the same time our attitude and mentality have to be the same.”
LSU plays an exhibition game against Xavier University of Louisiana on Nov. 6 before opening the regular season in a 10 a.m. game at UMass on Nov. 12 as part of the ESPN Tipoff Marathon.