Johnny O'Bryant decides to stay at LSU for junior year

Ending a month’s worth of speculation, LSU sophomore forward Johnny O’Bryant said at a press conference with coach Johnny Jones on Tuesday he will return to Baton Rouge next season, ensuring the Tigers retain an All-SEC selection and their most reliable inside scoring threat.

O’Bryant, a 6-8, 260-pound former McDonald’s All-American, had requested an evaluation from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee and made the choice after meeting with LSU coach Johnny Jones early this week.

The choice to return to LSU ensures the Tigers don’t face a situation where they would have to rely heavily on a talented but inexperienced class of recruits arriving next season, and avoid having to fill an open scholarship slot only a week before the spring signing period begins.

Questions about whether O’Bryant, who averaged 13.6 points and 8.7 rebounds this season, would test the draft waters arose after he notched 12 of his 14 double-doubles over the season’s final 17 games, including a career-high 30 points and 10 rebounds in a 64-46 victory on Feb. 14 at South Carolina.

During the SEC slate, O’Bryant averaged 14.7 points per game, ranking sixth, and shot 49.0 percent from the floor, while ranking second at 9.4 rebounds per game.

He also performed well against elite frontcourt players, notching 21 points and 12 rebounds against Kentucky freshmen Nerlens Noel, 24 points and 12 rebounds against Tennessee sophomore Jarnell Stokes and 18 points and 8 rebounds against Missouri’s tandem of Laurence Bowers and Alex Oriahki.

Yet O’Bryant’s draft stock has remained lightly regarded among analysts who track prospects and speak with NBA front office personnel.

The 19 year old is ranked as the No. 37 power forward prospect in nation and No. 177 overall by ESPN’s Chad Ford, who projects O’Bryant as a second round pick or undrafted player. Among SEC prospects, the Cleveland, Miss., native ranks No. 17, trailing Noel, Stokes, Oriahki, Bowers, Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress, Florida’s Patric Young and David Murphy, and Arkansas’ Marshawn Powell.

Noel, who Ford considers the top NBA prospect in spite of a torn ACL suffered in a loss at Florida in February, has not announced whether he will return, and Cauley-Stein has remained silent, too. Poythress said last week he plans to come back for his sophomore season. Meanwhile, Stokes mirrored O’Bryant and applied for an evaluation from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee.

With O’Bryant back in the fold, LSU’s front court could be its strongest component coming of a 19-12 season where the Tigers notched a .500 finish in SEC play.

If O’Bryant can produce consistently, he’d serve as a complement to the inside-out game of the forwards comprising an elite LSU recruiting class, which is ranked between No. 8 and No. 15 nationally by various services.

Chief among those options is Madison Prep product and Baton Rouge native Jarell Martin, who is a five-star prospect and coming off 10 points, 4 rebounds and 1 assist last week at the McDonald’s All-American game in Chicago. The 6-foot-9, 215-pound prospect is a stretch player, but could be complemented with four-star recruit Jordan Mickey, who is 6-8, 220 pounds and out of Prime Prep in Dallas.

Those freshmen are long and rangy, but not built in the mold of traditional post players married to the low block like O’Bryant.

In January, Hill College product John Odo, who led junior college players in rebounding and was third in blocked shots, enrolled and began practicing with the Tigers, bringing a 6-10, 230 presence to the paint. Instead of playing, though, he sat out in order to ensure two full seasons of eligibility.

Meanwhile, Australian big man Darcy Malone committed in February, giving the Tigers a 7-foot player that can face up to the rim or play inside and is on track to sign with LSU on April 16.