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Hobbs Column: Jones knows how to bring back magic

Last Modified: Friday, May 03, 2013 10:50 AM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

The featured speaker when the recent LSU lovefest known as Tiger Tour 2013 rolled into town this week has two times turned down his alma mater to remain as the Tigers’ head football coach.

Despite Michigan’s repeated overtures, Les Miles is probably still underappreciated in his adopted home state.

Successful football is tough monster to feed to everybody’s satisfaction year in and year out.

Miles understands that, embraces it, doesn’t let it bother him, and LSU is lucky his ego doesn’t often get in the way.

But that’s football.

The warm-up act for the gala, well, he needed far less than 2 seconds to make the decision to return to his own alma mater.

Fortunately for LSU, Johnny Jones is Louisiana born and bred — right up the road in DeRidder — and a lifelong Tiger to the core.

Asked how long he had to mull it over when the LSU basketball offer was on the table, he shrugged, as if it was a stupid question.

“It really felt like I never left,” Jones said. “I can’t imagine a smoother transition.”

One day soon the state will really appreciate him.

Make no mistake about it, Johnny Jones is going to get LSU basketball back — but before excellence, there’s got to be relevance.

Jones is the first LSU basketball coach since his mentor, Dale Brown, to realize that there’s more to selling hoops at that school than just winning a few games.

Since Brown left, Tiger basketball had to have one foot in the Final Four before anybody really paid any attention to it.

The average LSU fan, never much enamored with the sport anyway, never did like John Brady much, and his successor, Trent Johnson, thought it was beneath him to court them with anything more than X’s and O’s.

Jones gets it — it comes naturally to him — he got it from the master showman, Brown, and he lived it as player and coach.

Any state group that assembles with more than three people is in danger of having Jones address them to push LSU basketball.

He charmed the socks off the LSU fans Tuesday ninght, even though it was football they all came to see and talk about.

Doesn’t bother him.

In fact, Jones has embraced the 400-pound gridiron gorilla.

“Tiger Stadium, now that place takes care of a lot of your recruiting,” Jones said. “I really have to thank Coach Miles, because the atmosphere in Tiger Stadium (when basketball recruits are there), the fan base, the energy in that stadium, it makes it tough for them to say no.”

He also is putting an up-tempo, entertaining style of play on the court, one that will get far more entertaining with a few more recruiting classes like this last one.

“We had to build on what we had this year,” Jones said. “The guys we had did an excellent job. The numbers (depth) just weren’t there like we would have liked.”

Jones’ first full recruiting class has been ranked as high as ninth in the nation, which is all but uncharted territory for LSU since the glory days of Shaquille O’Neal and the like.

The crown jewel is five-star forward Jarell Martin of Madison Prep, who Jones said will rank up there with anything fans saw from Tyrus Thomas, Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Brandon Bass.

Maybe the best news, though, was getting forward Johnny O’Bryant, who led the SEC in double-doubles, to re-enlist for his junior year instead of heading off to the NBA draft.

“They used to call me the “Bullet” — but that was about 60 pounds ago,” Jones said. “But I sprinted around my desk as fast as I could. I put one of those bear hugs on him that Coach Miles would have been proud of.”

There were inklings this year of finally getting some of that Deaf Dome magic back in the Maravich Assembly Center.

Jones recalled a triple-overtime victory against Alabama.

In particular, he recalled looking into his team’s eyes with 3 minutes left in regulation and the Tigers trailing by 10, which, he said, was one of the defining moments of his first season back home.

“When I looked in their eyes, I knew that game wasn’t over,” he said. “And it wasn’t.”

When the game ended in victory, it was almost like old times, and almost brought tears to Jones’ eyes.

“How electric that crowd was,” he said. “To look behind me and see the great Bob Pettit cheering. And Dale Brown, and then to look across the floor and see Rudy Macklin and all our fans standing up throughout all three of those overtimes … it was something.”

It was, he truly believes, only the beginning.

“We were able to take care of our (recruiting) needs,” Jones said. “If we can get the chemistry right early, I can promise you it’s going to be something special there in Tigertown. Better track on over there early and keep coming back. It’s going to be special.”

• • •

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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