Hotard: LSU’s Johnny Jones makes a big statement

By Scott HOTARD

Days before the LSU football team played its biggest game of the season, new basketball coach Johnny Jones made a loud statement in recruiting about his alma mater’s “other” sport.

Madison Prep star Jarrell Martin announced at a news conference Nov. 1 that he was on board with the new LSU regime and would sign to play basketball for the Tigers, finishing a recruitment he himself expected to include several visits during the 2012-13 season and a decision in the spring.

But Jones made up so much ground in the little time he has had as LSU’s coach that Martin never made any of those other visits.

The headliner of an LSU recruiting class that includes five commitments, Martin joins fellow ESPNU Top 100 prospects Jordan Mickey and Tim Quarterman.

Mickey is ranked 40th by ESPNU and Quarterman is 65th.

Players can sign letters of intent as early as Wednesday, the first day of the early signing period.

Whether Jones has much success on the court in his first season is hard to say. The Tigers are a small team with little depth inside, and they have only five returning scholarship players from a team that lost in the first round of the NIT last year.

But the progress he has made on the recruiting trail already makes it easy to think brighter days lie ahead.

Martin could have picked among a Who’s Who of basketball brand names including St. John’s, UCLA and Louisville. He chose to stay home, becoming the top-rated basketball player in Louisiana to choose LSU since the Brandon Bass-Glen Davis-Tasmin Mitchell era.

Ranked as high as the nation’s No. 12 prospect by Rivals, Martin is the state’s most-sought after recruit since Greg Monroe signed with Georgetown five years ago.

High marks in recruiting won’t guarantee Jones on-court results. But it’s clearly the right place to start.

Former coach Trent Johnson struggled to land the kind of players he inherited from John Brady in 2008-09, when the Tigers won the Southeastern Conference in Johnson’s first year and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament.

He especially struggled to keep the state’s best players at home.

The morning after he was named the new LSU coach, Jones had already met with the school’s compliance department so that he could get out on the road and start recruiting.

Jones sold the young men he hoped would join him on the experiences he had at LSU during four seasons as a player and 13 more as an assistant coach. He told them planned to bring back rocking sellout crowds at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center and daylong lines outside the ticket office.

Jones’ first recruiting class is ranked fifth nationally by Scout.com behind Kentucky, Memphis, Kansas and Florida and sixth by Rivals.

Even if the Tigers fail to finish in the top half of the SEC this season, Jones, through his efforts on the recruiting trail, has made it clear there’s help on the way.