Jones sorting through LSU’s ‘high level’ of competition
Johnny Jones might have a rough outline of how his starting lineup will be cobbled together ahead of facing Massachusetts, but it’s locked tight and safely stored in his cranium.
The only tidbit offered up Tuesday was obvious: All-SEC forward Johnny O’Bryant III, who spurned the NBA draft to return for his junior season, has a spot locked up.
Outside of stating the obvious, Jones told a fan luncheon at L’Auberge Casino and Hotel on Tuesday he’s content to let an organic process do the sifting and culling over the next six weeks.
“They are really competing at a high level right now,” Jones said. “Those other guys are really going at it every day in practice.”
A couple hours after Jones wrapped up remarks, the whittling process played out on the revamped floor of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, where at 7 p.m. Thursday fans can see it play out Bayou Madness.
In a one-on-one drill for on-ball defense, veteran Anthony Hickey, the Tigers’ crafty junior guard, and freshman Tim Quarterman — a gangly 6-foot-6 guard and the nation’s No. 75 prospect, squared off.
Quarterman quickly closed off the quick Hickey’s drive to the baseline, only to see his elder reverse pivot back to the lane and hit a fall-away jumper over his outstretched arm. These kinds of moments are sprinkled in over workouts: potential running into experience.
And it’s fleshed out when Jones is asked to compare and contrast his point guard options. For Hickey, the description is of an “extremely quick, a tough defender, especially on-ball” and “a fierce competitor” who’s not “afraid to take big shots.”
Case in point: A floater in the waning seconds at Mississippi State last season in a second half where he willed LSU to a 69-68 victory.
Yet, the physical tools gifted to Quarterman, a native of Savannah, Ga., allow Jones to switch more on screens on the wings or to tangle with power forward and at least prevent a pitch out from the paint.
The push and pull of leaning on experience against an array of matchup problems brought on by top-10 recruiting class allows anyone to dream up a feasible rotation.
“We’re excited with the number of guys that we’ve got out there competing in practice every day,” Jones said. “We feel that we are going to have an opportunity to make the people we are playing against a little uncomfortable because of the type of pressure we can put on from start to finish.”
There’s also the fact that barely a week of practice is offering up new data to take into account. On film, Darcy Malone, a 7-foot, 235-pound freshman from Australian, appeared more at ease working on the wing as an international big man almost equally at ease off the block.
Workouts over the summer in Baton Rouge and early practices have left Jones describing Malone as “a pleasant surprise for us.”
“I don’t think we realized how quickly he was going to pick up the speed of the game, and how he’s worked on the strength and conditioning,” Jones said. “He will mix it up inside and continue to play well for us.”
Until Thursday, the masses have to accept Jones’ word.
“When we do scrimmage,” Jones said. “There is not a big difference in the score at the end of the day.”