Anthony Hickey and Johnny O’Bryant arrived at LSU together, Hickey as the winner of Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball award and O’Bryant as the first McDonald’s All-American to sign with the Tigers in six years.
Hickey chose to wear jersey No. 1 and O’Bryant chose No. 2.
The time for Nos. 1 and 2 to become options one and two (not necessarily in that order) for LSU basketball has arrived earlier than either of them may have expected.
“It’s going to be important they understand the impact that they will have to make on a young team,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said Monday during the Southeastern Conference’s summer teleconference, “because those guys are truly going to have to be our leaders.”
Both of the erstwhile prep stars were productive players last year, blending flashes of extraordinary highlights with the kind of inconsistent play often associated with college rookies.
Hickey started 31 games, becoming the first LSU freshman to start a season opener at point guard in 12 years. He sank Mississippi State with a last-second floater on Valentine’s Day, clinching what may been the most important win of the season for the Tigers.
He finished with averages of 8.9 points, 3.8 assists and 2.1 steals, earning SEC All-Freshman honors.
O’Bryant went for 18 points and 11 rebounds against Arkansas in the SEC tournament, leading the Tigers to the victory that likely cemented their NIT bid. He started 17 of the 28 games in which he played, averaging 8.5 points and 6.7 rebounds despite missing time with a hand injury.
You could argue either player had the finest freshman season by a Tiger since Anthony Randolph averaged 15.6 points and 8.5 rebounds in 2007-08. But this year, Hickey and O’Bryant will need to be more.
Star center Justin Hamilton, who led the team in points, rebounds and blocks last year, exited the program after his junior season to pursue pro ball. Sophomore wing Ralston Turner, who started 59 games the past two years, has left LSU to continue his career at North Carolina State.
The Tigers will have only five scholarship players returning.
Hickey, who often seemed too fast for former coach Trent Johnson’s half-court game, should thrive in Jones’ up-tempo attack given his natural ability to operate in the open court. O’Bryant should get more opportunities to use his quickness and penetrate the lane.
“Two really good players to try to build your team around,” Jones said. “They will be counted on heavily, especially with a team as young and inexperienced as we will be.”
Hickey and O’Bryant showed last year why they won high praise in high school and were celebrated in Baton Rouge when they signed.
If they can do it on a more consistent basis as sophomores, they could become a one-two punch as good as any in the conference.
Just what LSU needs.