Johnny O’Bryant heard the serenade. Now the question is whether the LSU forward decides to heed the call.
On Saturday, the student section at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center chanted for the junior to stick around Baton Rouge for a senior season and pass on declaring for the NBA draft at season’s end.
Until the season ends, the former McDonald’s All-American is playing coy. Clearly, though, O’Bryant seems more certain he’s ready to enter the professional ranks.
“I was a better player overall this year,” he said. “I definitely feel comfortable overall and feel I’m ready.”
LSU coach Johnny Jones again took a diplomatic tack when asked whether he felt O’Bryant had done enough to follow the advice returned to him last spring ahead of making a decision about pro future.
“Johnny’s a lot closer now because it’s his junior year,” Jones said. “Right now, you have to look and weigh heavily on the decision that you’d like to make moving forward.”
Across the board, O’Bryant’s production hasn’t dramatically jumped. He has averaged 15.6 points and 7.9 rebounds, but his field-goal percentage has risen slightly to 49.5 percent along with a 65.8 free-throw mark.
But his eight games with 20-plus points this season are double what he produced as a sophomore, and he still posted nine double-doubles despite an influx of elite talent in freshmen Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin to the Tigers’ front court.
“I’m a lot more ready,” O’Bryant said. “I’d feel a lot more comfortable if I made that decision. Last year, it was up in the air, and that’s why I stayed. I told myself I want to be the player I can be when it was that time.”
Tabbed as likely a second-round pick last season, O’Bryant now is the No. 15 junior in the nation according to NBADraftExpress.com. The website pegged the Tigers big man as the No. 26 pick in the 2014 draft — a late first-round selection.
Coming off the board in the first round would assure O’Bryant a guaranteed contract, which is off the table if he’s plucked a round later.
A year ago, he passed on a pro career after hearing from the league’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee that franchises wanted to see greater consistency and conditioning.
Last April, O’Bryant announced a day before the early entry deadline that he was returning to school. Typically, that’s around the same time the advisory committee returns its report to a potential prospect.
Still, O’Bryant anticipates the deliberations with his circle and Jones moving at a quicker clip.
“It’s a lot better to do it quicker this time for coaches from the recruiting standpoint and the scholarship standpoint,” O’Bryant said. “For me, it’s just, you know, (from) the planning standpoint if I was to leave to start training.”
If O’Bryant leaves, the Tigers have a backup plan in the form of signee Elbert Robinson, a 7-foot, 290-pound recruit out of Lakeview Centennial in Garland, Texas. He’s rated the No. 51 recruit in the nation by Rivals.com.
Heading to Atlanta and the SEC tournament, though, the question is whether O’Bryant may be taking the floor a final time as a Tiger.
“I’m just trying to finish the season however I can finish it and give it everything I’ve got,” he said. “If it is my last time, I’m going to play hard. If it’s not my last time, I’m going to play hard. That’s just the mindset I’ve always had.”