LSU men’s basketball coach Johnny Jones got an extra two weeks of preseason workouts after an NCAA rule change in May.
Unlike last season, when the then-first-year coach was scrounging for bodies, the additional time is a boon to mesh a group of veterans with a top-10 recruiting class that will take the floor for its first workout at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. The Tigers’ season opener is Nov. 12 at Massachusetts.
Optimally, a nine-man rotation allows Jones to apply pressure in the half- and full-court, rolling out long and rangy athletes capable of playing multiple positions. Surveying his roster Monday, Jones said the raw materials are on hand to allow the Tigers — whose rotation went seven deep last season — to meet that objective.
“When you talk about extended minutes, it may be something totally different,” he said. “The way this team is put together and how capable these guys are, any one of them can give you positive minutes.”
By now, Jones know he can rely on senior guards Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer along with All-SEC forward Johnny O’Brayant III — back in the fold for his junior season after passing on the NBA draft — and a reliable sixth-man in small forward Shavon Coleman.
That quartet comprises four of LSU’s top five scorers, who combined for 45.7 points last season, and its top two rebounders in O’Bryant (8.7) and Coleman (5.9).
Yet the hoopla and hype buzzes around the six-man recruiting class, headlined by Baton Rouge native and five-star prospect Jarell Martin; four-star forward Jordan Mickey, who is in the fold after being briefly held up by the NCAA Clearinghouse; and point guard Tim Quarterman.
The trio, all of whom landed in the top 75 of Rivals.com’s rankings, will have to face the pressure of their ballyhooed arrival — one that has national analysts pegging an LSU program, which overachieved by finishing 19-17 and notching a .500 mark in the SEC last season, as a potential NCAA tournament team.
“I’m glad people are excited, but I think they will go through the same process (as) a lot of the other guys,” Jones said. “It’s going to take them time to adjust to this level of play.”
Former Scotlandville High forward Brian Bridgewater, a spring signee, remains in limbo. The 6-6, 230-pounder took a course at Port Allen High over the summer, but the NCAA deemed it insufficient for a credit necessary to certify him as eligible. The NCAA has allowed Bridgewater to be on scholarship but not practice as the appeal process unfolds.
“We just want to make sure we do our due diligence in the appeal process and help him any way we can,” Jones said. “If the decision comes too late, then we will decide whether to play or redshirt him.”
It leaves Jones with 11 scholarship players trying to stake a claim for playing time. Versatility is a hallmark of the newcomers.
Quarterman, who is 6-6 and 173 pounds, can play any of the guard spots but prefers the point.
Martin, a 6-9, 241-pound product of Madison Prep, can play inside and out, and he’s already pegged by ESPN analyst Chad Ford as a potential late first-round pick in next June’s NBA draft.
Mickey, a 6-8, 220-pound native of Arlington, Texas, can face up from 15 feet and has a 7-foot-3 wingspan.
Darcy Malone, a 7-foot freshman out of Australia, will have to scrap to find his way in the rotation.
“It would be extremely tough because he is a little more advanced,” Jones said of redshirting Malone. “He has great size and strength. He has a great preseason for us, so it would be extremely tough. I can see him getting a lot of quality minutes.”
Fortunately, Jones gets 30 practices and 42 days to tinker before tipoff.