LSU’s Hickey set to return Saturday

After missing his third game of the season during a 15-day period of atonement, LSU point guard Anthony Hickey will pull on a jersey Saturday against Bethune-Cookman.

Coach Johnny Jones said Thursday that the sophomore is on track to rejoin the roster after missing an exhibition and two nonconference games stemming from unspecified violations of team rules. His absences included LSU’s 75-58 victory Dec. 28 against Houston Baptist.

“Anthony’s been practicing with us and giving us a great effort, and (we) look forward to getting him back out there on their floor,” Jones said. “I know he’ll have a smooth transition back out there, and it’s something he’s looking forward to.”

Hickey, a 5-foot-11, 178-pound native of Hopkinsville, Ky., is the Tigers’ chief distributor and on-ball defender as LSU (8-2) transitions to an open-floor style in Jones’ first season back in Baton Rouge, where he was a longtime assistant under legendary coach Dale Brown.

Despite starting a mere three games and averaging 27.1 minutes, Hickey is fourth in the Southeastern Conference at 4.1 assists per game and leads the league at 3.5 steals.

When Hickey has been absent, junior Andre Stringer operated at the lead guard spot. Stringer said Hickey hasn’t offered any clues to indicate his mindset entering the Tigers’ nonconference finale has deviated from positive.

“Some things didn’t go his way every now and again,” Stringer said. “But we’re still behind him the whole time, and he’s getting it together.”

Hickey’s first missed game came ahead of an 82-66 exhibition victory Nov. 5 against Arkansas-Monticello, which Hickey said at the time was akin to “taking candy from a baby.” Jones suspended Hickey indefinitely Dec. 7 for “violation of athletic department and university policies,” and he missed an 80-67 victory against Chattanooga on Dec. 11. Over the next three games, Hickey averaged 10.3 points and 3.3 rebounds, including an 18-point outing in an 83-80 loss at Marquette.

Asked what conditions he placed on Hickey, Jones said the program has done “some things that on a normal basis wouldn’t be going to the extent that we have.”

“Sometimes you have to coach by feel, and you have to discipline by feel as well,” Jones said. “You can’t treat every kid the same way.”

But the practical impact is that sliding Stringer over created a split role for the Tigers’ most reliable 3-point shooter, who is knocking down 41 percent of his shots from behind the arc. Stringer has served as a primary ball-handler but also shared the role with senior Charles Carmouche, who is averaging 3.6 assists.

And it raises potential concerns about a depleted roster, which features only 10 scholarship players, and that perimeter players might see their roles in flux based on Hickey’s status. Stringer, though, dismissed the notion that Hickey’s up-and-down status has been a detriment.

“We’ve been put in that position before with whether Hick is going to play or not,” he said. “We just go out and do what coach expects us to do — take care of the ball, take good shots, push the ball. If he plays, great. If he doesn’t, we still have to take care of business.”

For Jones, keeping Hickey in the fold is a matter of assessing a personality against “a foundation and things you believe and trust in.” There’s an inherent understanding that players push boundaries and “may slip up from time to time, and you handle them one way,” Jones said.

Hickey, though, offers a different breed.

“There are others that push it a little bit,” Jones said. “That’s been the case here. It’s been good, and I’m hopeful that he’s had the opportunity to continue to grow.”