Last Modified: Saturday, March 09, 2013 7:07 PM
BATON ROUGE — Moments before LSU and Ole Miss tipped off Saturday, the four guys in the top row of the Tigers’ pep band tipped their tubas in orchestrated unison toward the floor.
The bulky brass instruments were nodding their approval for the Senior Day activities below, where one of their former brethren was honored when Andrew Del Piero got the ceremonial jersey and the hug from head coach Johnny Jones.
Del Piero, of course, famously started his LSU career on scholarship in the pep band, soon learning that 7-foot-3 guys shouldn’t wander by a basketball court if they don’t want to answer a lot of questions about why they were up there and not down on the floor.
At his size, Del Piero working an oversized tuba looked more like the average band member playing a mere trumpet.
Uh, big fellow, ever think about coming down here on the court?
In truth, Del Piero hadn’t made much more of a contribution to a basketball game than the national anthem since giving the game up in the ninth grade back in Austin, Texas. He was a two-time Texas Class 5A all-stater, all right — at tuba.
It was former coach Trent Johnson two years ago who discovered Del Piero — if “discovered” can really be the right word for noticing a 7-foot-3 chap with a tuba — and lured him onto the team, probably out of curiosity.
He was a crowd favorite, of course, but only for mop-up time, mainly there to be big-bodied fodder for practice sessions.
He looked great walking through the airport, but nobody really took him seriously.
Yet when Del Piero was joined by his parents at the midcourt festivities Saturday — he seems to come by his skyscraper height genetically — it was moments before his 22nd start of this season.
The tuba section seemed to be weathering his absence well, still four strong across that top row and hitting all the low notes.
That only confirms that the LSU pep band has far more depth than the basketball team.
Del Piero, the subject of an ESPN GameDay feature earlier in the season, is probably a better human interest story than an SEC basketball player.
He’s a great curiosity piece, no question. And you can’t fault the guy’s effort on the basketball floor. He’s giving it everything he’s got, even if a bit awkwardly at times, and seems to have gained confidence and tenacity as the season wore on.
But these are serious athletes, and you have to wonder how 7-foot-3 of anything can linger on the court for 25 minutes of action and stumble onto two rebounds.
There are even enough flashes to make you wonder what might have been if hadn’t fallen head over heels for the tuba in early adolescence.
“I’d have to believe he’d be so much further along,” Jones said. “He had a love and a passion (for music), and that’s where he put his time and energy. Had that been in basketball, what he was doing with the tuba, he could be so much further along.”
We’ll never know.
But the tuba player in the paint for LSU might sum up Jones’ first season with the Tigers, what he was faced with.
He’s had to take what he had — even if some of it was on loan from the pep band — deal with it the best he can and make the best of it.
Del Piero can be fun to watch, but he plays at LSU mostly because Jones and the Tigers don’t have many other options to complement the athletic Johnny O’Bryant III inside.
Jones knew he had a good tuba player when he took over the team, but he wasn’t looking to start a second-line brass band.
“We were just limited on numbers,” Jones said. “Then when you look at trying to find out who’s available to walk on or try out, there’s nobody of that type or size out there.”
They don’t grow on trees. Sometimes they fall out of the tuba section.
Del Piero ended up earning a basketball scholarship, even if the up-tempo offense Jones prefers to run makes him look as out of place as he would playing the piccolo.
Jones had no other choice.
“I can only tell you that he’s far exceeded my expectations,” Jones said.
So has this LSU team, even with an eventual 81-67 loss to a far more athletic Ole Miss team Saturday afternoon. It left the Tigers, who entered the season with zero expectations, a respectable 9-9 in the SEC, after an 0-4 start.
Jones figures to change that, with a recruiting class coming that, based on the early signing period alone, is ranked nationally in the top 10 by most of the services that concern themselves with such matters.
Thus far nobody from the trombone section has been given strong consideration.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org