Forty-five minutes removed from a drubbing by Florida in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament, LSU forward Johnny O’Bryant III typed out an apology.
“Terrible SEC Tournament by me,” the sophomore wrote Friday on Twitter. “Sorry I let ya down.”
Whether the message is a last communiqué to the purple-and-gold masses, though, is another matter, but the prospect of O’Bryant dipping a toe into the NBA draft looms as the biggest question facing the program as it enters the offseason after a exceeding expectations but missing out on a berth in the National Invitational Tournament.
O’Bryant, a 6-foot-9, 260-pound former McDonald’s All-American, isn’t under the pressure of an imminent deadline to make a decision about his professional prospect, considering the league’s early entry deadline doesn’t arrive until April 28.
On Tuesday, LSU coach Johnny Jones said the were “no indication or expectations” for O’Bryant, who averaged 13.6 points and 8.7 rebounds, to forgo his final two seasons of eligibility and depart Baton Rouge.
Instead, Jones’ approach follows the same template he followed a year ago at North Texas with Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year in Tony Mitchell, who was projected as a potential first-round pick.
The Mean Green program solicited an evaluation from NBA executive vice president Stu Jackson’s group of scouts front-office personnel on Mitchell, who is projected as a first-round selection again this season, and after reviewing its content decided to return to UNT for a sophomore season.
“They consult with teams and counsel on their end, and they send you back information that I think is really good for the young men to have an opportunity to make a good, solid, sound and educated decision,” Jones said. “When they get that information back to you, you have an opportunity to meet with whoever is helping you in terms of making your decision.”
LSU already submitted a request for O’Bryant, who was coy in February about whether he’d be inclined to leave the Tigers.
After meeting with the Tigers on Monday, Jones told O’Bryant, who tied for the SEC lead with 14 double-doubles, he wants the big man “to make the best decision for him and his family.”
Yet O’Bryant’s stock isn’t without questions.
In his latest assessment of college prospect, ESPN’s Chad Ford ranked O’Bryant as the No. 166 prospect overall and the No. 34 prospect at the power forward position, an analysis indicating he would likely be a second-round selection at best.
“The best decision for him and his family could be putting on an LSU uniform next year,” Jones said. “So, he’ll have some time in the early part of April to make a good, solid, sound decision that’s going to help him moving forward.”
If O’Bryant decamps, the Tigers clearly have contingency plans.
Hill (Texas) Junior College forward John Odo, a 6-10 center and junior college All-American, sat out this past semester but worked out with LSU after enrolling in January. Odo led the nation with 13.6 rebounds per game and was second in the nation with 136 blocks.
In June, a heralded recruiting class arrives on campus, too. Madison Prep forward Jarrell Martin, a 6-7, 210-pound McDonald’s All-American, headlines the group as a five-star prospect, along with four-star forward prospect Jordan Mickey (6-8, 240) out of Prime Prep Academy in Dallas.
While O’Bryant possesses face-up ability to the rim and is sound in the pick-and-roll, Martin is considered a “stretch” four who is rangy enough to play off the dribble on the wing and has the length to fit into Jones’ desired pressure defense.
“You have the ability to have the versatility in your post guys, and they can step out and shoot, open up the lane as well as post, play with their back to the basket,” Jones said. “It gives you an added dimension and something extremely tough to scout against.”
Can Martin fit that mold. Absolutely, Jones said.
“He can play the three. He’s capable of playing the four. He’s got size and strength to do both. I think he’s a very versatile player, because he’s capable of handling, passing it and a great perimeter shooter out there. So, he has the ability to play some three as well.”
Meanwhile, LSU also secured a commitment from 7-foot Australian prospect Darcy Malone in early February. Malone can sign next month. Yet, that would put LSU one over their allotment of 13 scholarships and hinting at a needing to pare a slot somewhere.
But Jones would not say whether the staff was preparing in the event of O’Bryant’s departure.
“If something doesn’t happen you can always back off of it, but it’s extremely hard to get in late in terms of recruiting because of someone transferring, leaving or whatever. So, we’re always being proactive in terms of our recruiting, and we’ll remain that way.”
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