Johnny Jones has LSU off to Camaro-like start

Rudy Macklin remembers Johnny Jones, the young guard from DeRidder who showed up at LSU in time for Macklin’s senior season, as a blur.

A blur with the ball. A blur when he ran or walked.

A blur behind the wheel.

The player nicknamed “The Bullet,” for his own-court quickness, drove so fast in his blue Camaro, Macklin said he and his veteran teammates stopped asking the freshman to give them a ride.

“We hated to ride with him in his car,” Macklin said Tuesday at Jones’ monthly “Tip-off Luncheon,” presented by Hub International, at L’Auberge Resort. “We hated to ride with him because he broke the speed limit all the time. And he was just talking to you while he was driving 78 miles per hour on the main street. He scared us to death.”

Given the need for speed he exhibited 30 years ago, perhaps it’s no surprise Jones has LSU basketball off to a 5-0 start in his first year at the helm.

It’s the fastest start for LSU in four seasons.

The Tigers, who lost five of their top eight scorers from last year, have three seniors and 11 scholarship players.

But they are one of 20 teams in Division I that entered Tuesday with an unbeaten record. They even received a vote in the AP Top 25 this week.

In a 72-67 victory over Seton Hall on Thursday, LSU rallied from 16 points down with 16:30 to play.

Jones made one of the key moves in that game when he went to a full-court press early in the second half. The tempo was too much for the Pirates, who became susceptible to poor decisions and costly turnovers. The Tigers flew by them like their coach in a Camaro.

“It’s all I could ask for as a coach, to be sitting here at 5-0,” Jones told the crowd gathered at L’Auberge. “I couldn’t ask for a better start.”

The Tigers look to keep the pedal to the metal Tuesday night against Chattanooga after a season-long 10-day layoff. LSU’s players are taking final exams this week.

In the meantime, Jones spent Tuesday sharing his enthusiasm about the direction of the program.

He also shared his appreciation for Macklin, who joined Jones as the luncheon’s guest speaker.

Macklin and Jones were teammates on the 1981 team that took LSU to its first Final Four of the Dale Brown era. Macklin was an All-American and Jones a newcomer.

When not summoning Jones to give them a ride, Macklin and the other seniors helped Jones stay in line.

Jones said Macklin was “like a brother” to him.

“What those guys represented for LSU basketball, it’s a big part of who I became as a player, a young man and, later, as a basketball coach,” Jones said of Macklin and the seniors.

Macklin played a prominent role in LSU’s transition from a Southeastern Conference also-ran into a national power during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

A former Kentucky prep star who left Bluegrass Country to play at a football school, Macklin not only helped the Tigers to the Final Four as a senior, but he also remains No. 2 on the school’s career scoring list behind the great Pete Maravich and is ahead of Shaquille O’Neal as the school’s all-time leading rebounder.

Macklin said he looks for LSU basketball, which has failed to win consistently for nearly two decades, to rise again with his old teammate at the helm.

As he watched the Tigers accelerate by Seton Hall in the second half last week, he said he was reminded of the up-tempo, full-court style LSU played when the program was in its heyday.

“I was part of a growth spurt for LSU basketball when I played,” Macklin said. “I see another one coming.”

Macklin challenged the fans to help Jones turn back time.

“Let’s fill the PMAC once again,” he said. “Bring it back to where it was in the old days when you couldn’t get a ticket.”

Judging by early returns, Jones may get the Tigers where they want to go faster than anyone expected.