Johnson Reviews Basketball Season, Looks Forward

by Kent Lowe (@LSUkent)
Johnson Reviews Basketball Season, Looks Forward

BATON ROUGE – LSU men’s basketball coach Trent Johnson told the media at his annual post-season review  Wednesday that he has emphasized the phrase “positive pressure” to his 2011-12 Tiger team.

Johnson spent much of the media session discussing his team which returns all but two members of the roster from the end of the 2010-11 season, including four starters, and recruits John Isaac and McDonald’s All-American Johnny O’Bryant along with transfer from Iowa State, Justin Hamilton.

Johnson touched on a wide range of issues including his assessment of the team for the coming season, including his thoughts on the point guard position for 2011-12 and a strong non-conference schedule that includes an appearance in the Charleston Classic the weekend before Thanksgiving and home games with Marquette, Virginia, Cal-Irvine and Boise State.

Here are some of the comments from Coach Johnson’s media session:

Opening Statement …
“Finally for me there is a level of excitement. This has been a process, and when I say a process I think we have a nucleus of guys with some experience and a talent level who know what to expect. Bottom line for us moving forward is about winning games. That excites me, it really excites me. I’m talking about the guys that were on the team last year, because there’s not a guy who was on this team last year that doesn’t know what to expect. It’s going to be an exciting time for us. One of the things I’ve emphasized to them is positive pressure. There’s a great opportunity for the state of Louisiana and for all the collegiate teams in the state of Louisiana, especially LSU. With the SEC tournament being in New Orleans and obviously the Final Four being in New Orleans I think across the country everyone is going to have a watchful eye of what happens in this state in basketball, whether it is the high school level or the collegiate level. That’s an exciting opportunity for us, our basketball team and our fans. When I say positive pressure one of the things we are doing with our basketball team is putting as much pressure on them as possible, whether it’s individual workouts or whether its school, we are being positive about it. Obviously when you talk about pressure, expectations and all those kinds of things, that’s what’s next for us. I feel pretty good about where we’re at from that standpoint moving forward.”

On Aaron Dotson and Daron Populist leaving the program …
“Daron is pretty self explanatory. I can’t comment on it, but he’s in a situation where he’s going to have scholarship offers, and that was his goal. For me that’s exciting for him much like it was Zach Kinsley. Aaron’s situation is also pretty self explanatory. When you start talking about the magnitude of what he’s dealt with the previous two years and now with his mother, I think it’s pretty self explanatory. It was an emotional time for me and him both. Again that’s a sensitive and very delicate situation for him.”

On if he knows where Aaron Dotson is going to transfer to …
“No. When we spoke about two weeks ago he had no idea. He just said he wanted to get closer to home. Closer to home could be Washington State, Seattle University or a number of places. I told him it wasn’t a situation where I needed to think about it, it’s a situation where when you talk about how close I was to the kid, and knowing his family and what he went through previously this year, it was a no-brainer for me.”

On the point guard position in the future …
“First of all when we talk about the point guard position we need to talk about the whole team and our inability to take care of the ball and handle the ball. I feel really good about Andre Stringer. One of the things he did this year was he held up and was durable. Like in any sport whether it’s the quarterback or the pitcher, all eyes are on him. As a freshman from a standpoint of some of the people he competed against and for him to stay the course I feel really good about it. Again there is way too much attention put on him as opposed to as a team collectively we didn’t take care of the ball and didn’t pass the ball very well. That’s what I tend to dwell on. I feel good about him and I’ve never wavered. I think for the most part he’s in a situation now where he knows what to expect. The one thing he’s working extremely hard on is how to defend and keep the ball in front of him.”

On if there will be any assistant coaching changes …
“We’ll be the same.”

On if he feels he’s in a situation where he has to win to keep his job …
“It’s real simple for me. Nobody’s going to put more pressure on me to do this job than I am myself. I’ve always said this, and I said it when I first took this job. I don’t worry about losing my job and I don’t worry about the next job, I worry about doing my job. Quite frankly, the last year and a half I haven’t done my job. I don’t worry about it and these kids aren’t going to worry about it.”

On his assessment for the team the upcoming year …
“That’s where my level of excitement is because now we have enough players in the program. There’s not a game we play next year that if we play well we shouldn’t be able to compete with teams, either on the road or at home. How does that translate to wins and losses? I don’t get caught up in that because I don’t concern myself with wins and losses, I concern myself with competing at a high level and doing little things that are big things to help you win games.”

On if he will tweak any of his process …
“You’re always going to tweak according to your personnel. Not reassess my philosophy, but when you say tweak then yes. We had a team last year where we had to play a lot of zone defense because we weren’t big, strong or quick enough to defend people. The previous year we were really limited in our practice structure in terms of overall intensity because we had to make sure guys were healthy and ready to play so we had to back off. Now we don’t have to back off because we are deep enough in positions where we can go. With the addition of Justin (Hamilton) and Johnny (O’Bryant) to our base up front it changes how you play and how physical you want to be. Now we can play down low and roll bodies in and guard around the basket. I feel pretty good about that.”

On what position he will recruit with the open scholarship …
“Obviously from a standpoint of the perimeter we need the best possible player we can have. When you look at what we have coming back up front and what we lost, obviously we need a perimeter player.”

On what Justin Hamilton brings to the team next year …
“Justin’s basketball IQ is high and his ability to pass and catch it, whether we’re in motion or in man, that’s what he brings. Obviously he’s proven in terms of his being on the floor for two years at a high level. I don’t think there will be some rust with him because he’s worked extremely hard in the offseason and his redshirt season. At times he’s been one of our better players on the floor in practice.”

On how he sees the freshmen evolving next year …
“A lot. I say that based on the type of kids they are and based on the guys who improved from their freshman and sophomore year that have been in the program, such as Aaron (Dotson). They understand the opportunity and what they went through, so I expect them to do a lot physically, mentally, and from a skill level

On what his expectations are for Johnny O’Bryant next year …
“To come in and work extremely hard. He had an invitation again to play with USA basketball and probably would have made the team, the 19 and under team, but he told coach (Brent) Scott that he wanted to enroll in summer school and get here and start getting after it. What we have to understand is there are a rare few high school kids who are at this level of conditioning. That speaks volumes. My expectation for him is just like it is with everyone else as a freshman, understand what you have to do academically, understand the speed of the game and put forth maximum effort. From there things will take care of themselves. We need to be patient with him. It’s interesting because when you talk about the recruitment I think we learned a valuable lesson. We had the 25th-ranked recruiting class last year. One of the things I believe in is you judge a recruiting class at the end of their career, so let’s just judge him when he steps out the door. I do know he’s in a great situation because there are some guys he will be competing with every day at practice that are battle tested, and that’s going to make him better.”

On the non-conference schedule next year …
“I think the benefits of our non-conference schedule are going to be immense for this group. When you start looking at who we play non-conference, we have Marquette coming in here and we have Virginia coming in here, and then obviously the Charleston Classic against top-level competition. One of the things we looked at the last couple of years is when we thought where this program would be we would need some challenges, and we do. There’s not a team that we play next year in non-conference that’s not going to pose a challenge for us. Cal-State Irvine and Boise are coming in. I don’t know the exact amount of teams that went to post season play, but there are quite a few.”


The following press release was passed out to the media prior to the start of the session:


Sophomore Aaron Dotson and walk-on sophomore Daron Populist have decided to leave the LSU men’s basketball team, head coach Trent Johnson announced on Wednesday.

Dotson, a native of Seattle, Wash., who played at Rainier Beach HS, leaves with the intention of transferring to another school, while Populist is expected to sign scholarship papers with another state school when the spring signing period begins on April 13.

“Aaron has asked for his release from the program,” said Johnson. “He has helped to build the foundation of our program over the past two years. We wish him success moving forward.”

After a limited freshman season at LSU after undergoing knee surgery as a high school senior, Dotson played in all 32 games and started 21 in 2010-11. As a freshman, he played in 29 games and started in 17. This past year he averaged 23.6 minutes, 6.8 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists – all improvements from the previous season. In addition, he finished the season as team’s leader in three-point field goal percentage at 37.5% on 21-of-56 shooting.

“After speaking with Coach Johnson and my parents, I have decided to transfer,” said Dotson. “I’ve had a great experience at LSU the past two years and thank Coach Johnson for the opportunity to play at LSU and in the SEC. But, with my mother’s situation at this time, I feel it’s best for me to get closer to home. I wish nothing but the best for LSU.”

Populist, from Slidell, La. and Salmen High School, earned a walk-on spot in tryouts prior to the 2009-10 season. He played in 16 games for the Tigers his freshman season, earning double-digit minutes in six league games with a career-high of eight points versus Arkansas.

“Daron has added value to our program both on and off the court during the past two years,” said Coach Johnson. “We wish him nothing but the best moving forward.”

During the 2010-11 season, Daron played in 19 games and had a team best 4:1 assist to turnover ratio (12 assists to three turnovers).

“I feel very fortunate to have been an LSU Tiger the past two seasons,” said Populist. “I appreciate the opportunity Coach Johnson gave me, and look forward to my next challenge.”