When he’s out on the road recruiting, first-year LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones said he has an easy time selling his alma mater.
He tells prospects how much he thinks they’d enjoy Baton Rouge and the LSU community. He tells them about the academic programs at LSU.
He tells them about the past.
“I tell them about driving up to the (Pete Maravich Assembly Center) and seeing lines around the building,” Jones said Wednesday at LSU Basketball Media Day. “Not the day of the game, but the day before the game.”
Few men coaching basketball anywhere can relate to LSU’s golden era like the man who has become the face of the program.
Jones played on legendary coach Dale Brown’s first Final Four team at LSU and served as an assistant coach for the other. He helped recruit and coach former LSU greats like Chris Jackson, Shaquille O’Neal and Randy Livingston.
Now he hopes to make sure history repeats itself.
Jones begins his inaugural season as LSU’s head coach Nov. 9 when UC-Santa Barbara visits the PMAC. He and the Tigers start preseason practice Friday.
Jones said he has looked forward to opening night since the day in April when he left North Texas to take his dream job. But he has stayed plenty busy in the meantime, pounding the streets of Tiger Town and touting a return to LSU’s glory days.
“He’s brought a winning spirit before his team has even thrown up the ball,” said LSU women’s coach Nikki Caldwell, who joined Jones for Wednesday’s media day.
Recent commitments by top-100 prospects Jordan Mickey and Tim Quarterman could be a sign that Jones indeed has LSU headed back toward elite status. But the Tigers could probably use the help right now.
Jones enters his first season with a roster that includes only five players who saw more than 12 minutes of action under Trent Johnson last year. Five of the 11 players who will open practice Friday are newcomers.
How far the Tigers go this year could depend largely on the play of Anthony Hickey at point guard and Johnny O’Bryant on the interior.
Hickey and O’Bryant arrived at LSU last season coming off stellar prep careers and combined to start 48 games as freshmen. Both also arrived wearing dreadlocks, but they made a pact to cut them during the offseason.
With a new coach at the helm, Hickey and O’Bryant said the new look represents a fresh start.
“The best thing, a lot of times, about freshmen is they become sophomores,” Jones said. “To see the transition those guys have made has been great for us.”
Sharp-shooting junior Andre Stringer returns alongside Hickey on the perimeter. Malik Morgan from Class 2A state champion John Curtis, Corban Collins from Massanutten Military Academy in Virginia and Shane Hammink of The Netherlands will help as freshmen.
Hammink is the son of former LSU star Geert Hammink and, as a slashing international lefty, has drawn comparisons to San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili.
But Jones may wish Hammink had his 7-foot father’s size.
O’Bryant and senior forward Eddie Ludwig are the only players who stand 6-foot-9 or taller and who arrived at LSU on scholarship. Former walk-on Andrew Del Piero, with his 7-3 frame, could get quality minutes for the first time in his career.
“We’re not as big as we’d like to be,” Jones said. “But that’s not something we have an opportunity to cry about.”
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