Jones Previews Summer Plans in Press Briefing
BATON ROUGE – LSU men’s basketball Head Coach Johnny Jones also took the opportunity to visit with the media following the interview session with the three new freshman players for the 2015-16 season and spoke on several topics, including each individual freshman, team chemistry, the situation regarding the coaching staff and the team’s upcoming five-game August exhibition tour to Australia.
Jones and the Tigers are coming off a 22-win season that saw LSU advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. Jones and the Tigers have won more overall and conference games than any coach in their first three-years at LSU. The Tigers will begin the allotted NCAA full-team practice times for the Australia trip at the start of August which will lead to the team’s first game on Aug. 15.
Here are some of the comments from Coach Jones from Wednesday’s session:
HEAD COACH JOHNNY JONES
Opening statement …
“It’s great to see all of you here on the first of July, and it’s an exciting time for us with our basketball program having our group back here on campus for this summer with the anticipation of next year. It brings a great deal of excitement for our team coming off of last year and culminating with playing in the NCAA tournament.
“Then with Coach (Eric) Musselman leaving, who was fortunate enough to get the head coaching job at Nevada, I think it speaks to the success of the (LSU) program and the attractiveness to take someone out of the program and put them in a position there at Nevada. It’s a really strong, solid program with a history.
“With that opening, we obviously had an opportunity to go out and seek and search. People showed a great deal of interest in the availability of the job. We settled back in early April with the plans of bringing John Treloar back in around April 15th with the plan of agreement that he would be joining our staff on July 1st after his commitment with his present team: the Phoenix Suns. On Monday evening, I got a call that there may be some changes. On Tuesday morning, I had a chance to visit and confirm that he would be taking another opportunity with a professional team in the NBA. He voiced that it was a move that was going to be the best for him and his family. It was something that we certainly don’t disagree with … That’s something that we face and deal with and we have the opportunity to move on.
“We got a tremendous staff assembled here now. Over the last three years, I think Charlie Leonard and David Patrick, who have been consistent and been mainstays in the program, have done a tremendous job in the growth of the program. The last two years (they helped us) get to the NIT Tournament and winning a game and then getting to the NCAA Tournament (the next year). At the same time, we’ve finished with one of the top recruiting classes in the country.
“With that, we have the new hiring of Al Pinkins who coached at Tennessee last year and has done a phenomenal job in the SEC at Ole Miss and Tennessee. He’s done a great job. He’s been on the recruiting trail developing relationships. At the same time in individual skill work, he’s shown that he’s a great coach on the floor and developing players as well. We look forward to his involvement with this team. Right now, we do have an opening. Whether it’s an administrative position or full time coaching position, that’s a bridge that we will cross when we get to it, but a decision hasn’t been made in reference to what direction I will choose to go.
“We’re excited about our two guys being drafted: Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin. They’re two guys who came into this program over last two years and did a phenomenal job. As freshmen, neither guy was on the (SEC) first team, but I thought they did an excellent job. I don’t think enough has been made about their development over a year and a half to two years. From not being on the first team to being first team all-conference to Jarell Martin being drafted in the first round and Jordan Mickey being the third player taken the second round. The number of games those guys have been able to win along with the coaching staff. The only team that has more won games after a coaching change in the first two to three years is John Calipari at Kentucky. With the number of games those guys were able to win and with the staff being assembled, I think it says a lot when you talk about the caliber of teams and players in this conference and what has transpired over the last few years. The big thing for that group of guys was that, as sophomores, they were the third youngest team in the conference. They were able to win six of nine road games in the conference which is very difficult to do. I think it speaks volumes of the progress of this team and the program.
“We’re looking forward to a very challenging schedule coming up. One is the Legend’s Classic, which will be at the Barclays Arena in Brooklyn. We have a couple of games that we will play here – Kennesaw State and South Alabama — which will be attached to that tournament. With NC State and Marquette (Arizona State is the other team) being the other participants there at the Barclays, that tournament is around Thanksgiving week. We’re fortunate that our alumni association will be joining us. There are only a few available seats left for a flight with the alumni association. We’re getting fans to go up and travel with us, and we’re excited about that as well.
“At the same time, we’re going over this summer and it’s something that I haven’t had the privilege of doing, is taking a team to play overseas in Australia. We’ll have 10 practice opportunities prior to going over and playing games there. After getting there, we’ll have unlimited opportunities to practice and prepare. It’s exciting, and we had a team in our conference that benefitted from it last year. Kentucky went over to the Bahamas and played several games. I thought their team was certainly able to gel, iron out a lot of things and get a lot of chemistry going. With these games not counting, it gives you the opportunity to experiment, work on lineups, rotations and a combination of things against quality competition. There are some former NBA players and guys who were great college players are some of our competition.
“We’re excited about the new coaches in the league. It shows the caliber of this league. This is a destination league. It’s not one of those leagues where guys go and try to get better jobs. These are great jobs. We lost some good coaches from the league, but when you bring in the combination of guys that have gone to some of the respected institutions with their winning percentages and the background that they have, the league will continue to be a great challenge. That’s something we certainly look forward to.
“I think you were able to see some of the guys in this room earlier with the three recruits: Ben (Simmons), Brandon (Sampson), and Antonio (Blakeney) and the impact that they will make. They’re great interviews and tremendous people. They’re high character guys along with Craig Victor, who transferred in from Arizona. I think he will be another great addition to our team, and we look forward to those guys getting together and being a part of what we’re doing moving forward.
On if Ben Simmons is ready for the expectations and playing in the spotlight at this level …
“I think (he’ll be ready) because of his experience coming over here (to the United States) the two or three years ago (from Australia) and what he has had to face during his time playing here at the elite camps that he’s participated in. I think of how quick that he was at the top of the chain in terms of being one of the top players in the country and through the interviews he’s been through. We certainly have to give his mom, his dad and his family a great deal of credit for how they’ve impacted his life. They’ve helped get him ready and for keeping him grounded. I think he’s been in the company of a lot of folks because of his passion for the game. His ability to watch and how he craves to get better by watching the interviews from LeBron James and Kobe Bryant or you name it, he’s put himself in line to be one of those guys because of his experiences. I think it’s prepared him for it, and I think you’ll have an opportunity to see it shine through when you put him in certain situations.”
On the offensive freedom that Ben Simmons will be allowed to have …
“The last thing you want to do is to try and handcuff a player that has the ability to impact the game in a lot of areas. When you see how unselfish of a player Ben Simmons is, I think that’s one of the reasons that he’s been rated so high. The impact that he’s had on the game is because of his unselfishness. If he was a point forward that handled the ball who tried to create opportunities for himself all the time, then I think you would have a problem. He creates easy scoring opportunities for other guys out there. He has a high basketball IQ. The last thing you want to do is to try and put too many limitations on a guy who doesn’t need it.”
On the thought process of taking the team trip to Australia during the offseason …
“It helps one Ben (Simmons) and the other Coach David Patrick being from there. It takes a little work putting those trips together. To be able to get out of the trip what you want and when you have people that you trust and believe in and because of relationships, we were able to go through those channels with Australia. And Coach Patrick, because of his familiarity and relationships with people over there such as coaches and everyone else and knowing the type of caliber teams we would be playing against, it was a lot easier for us to possibly take that trip.”
Potential of players to help the team inside this season …
“I think we’ve got a combination of guys. I think Craig Victor will jump out at you. He’s a very capable big, strong physical post down there. Ben has the ability to face up and create opportunities and get inside and he’s strong enough to finish in there. I think Darcy Malone as well. We are hopeful that Elbert Robinson will continue to make progress from year 1 to year 2 and be productive in there as well. I think there are a combination of guys as we move forward, including Aaron Epps as we continue to get him bigger, stronger and healthy that will give us some positive minutes in the paint area. But I think it will be tougher to double team guys because of the shooters we have on the perimeter, so I think we have a few guys that are capable of making plays down inside for us.”
In summer workouts, what have you been able to see in players like Robinson and Epps?
“Epps again was hurt practically most of last year and because of certain situations Robinson was very limited to what he was capable of doing. About midseason, we began concentrating on getting him bigger and stronger and trying to prepare him more for this year rather than preparing him for games last year. As his conditioning has gotten better, he’s continued to improve and we think from a year ago when we saw Tim Quarterman as a freshman, that there were questions about his development into a sophomore year, we are hopeful that we have a few guys that are able to make that transition such as Elbert Robinson this coming season that will be able to see drastic improvement from year one to year two.
Regarding team depth …
“I think one of the good things for us last year we were in position every game we were in. Lot of games were close. We were very fortunate to be able to win a lot of those games. It’s very risky when you start talking about RPI numbers and the setbacks that losing a game might have. It made it very difficult to put young guys in certain situations because of the closeness of the games and the impact and importance of each one … I think this trip will benefit us going to Australia because you can experiment. It’s not going to go on your record. It won’t go against your RPI, so you can look at the depth of your bench and see which of those guys can make an impact for you early on. We are not like the NBA … Because our schedule is so tough, it’s really difficult to find that rotation or that depth on your team during the season.
“When you get to the NCAA Tournament, you’ve got to dance with the people you’ve brought. For us, when you get in that situation that’s what you plan with and you are going to have to exhaust everything that you have. That’s no time to experiment during that time. At the end of the day you are conditioned for that … We are not complaining about the 22 games we were able to win with that group and we certainly don’t want to put a harness on the one setback that ended our year. We are like the other 67 teams in that tournament. Everyone was mad at the end of the day but Duke who climbed the ladder and cut the nets down.”
On Chemistry …
“Our team has done a tremendous job of accepting and welcoming Ben with open arms. Our guys have been very good of embracing him coming in. Our fan base is excited, but I don’t think they are more excited than the guys putting on that uniform. I think they are looking forward to playing with Ben because of his unselfishness. For me personally, our ability to lock in to what we do on a daily basis, whether it be practice or preparation for games … We’ve got a schedule to play. At that time, Ben will start have limited access because we will have certain days we have media days and other days that he will have opportunity to lock in on what he needs to do. I think it will be another day for him and routine at the end of the day for our guys.”
On Brandon Sampson…
“I think Brandon is one of those guys unfortunate for him wasn’t able to be in a position to be as heralded so to speak … He’s one of those guys that’s less heralded but he still had the ability that a lot of the other guys have and that’s what is exciting for me to see him be able to rise up and play well in the situation which he is very capable of doing.”
On Ben Simmons…
“Ben is your ideal student-athlete in how he has handled himself over the last several months. Being here and the impact he has made on our team and he understands that if he continues to do things the right way and he’s blessed, in only a few months that some special things can be happening for him. The good thing is he doesn’t allow himself to be districted in small things. He’s been very focused and that’s very beneficial for him. He’s going to control the things he has control over and those things he doesn’t I don’t think he has as much concern or worry about.”
On Time table for filling coaching spot …
“We will do our due diligence and take our time and make the right decision at the end of the day for us. I’m really comfortable with the staff we have in place getting done what we need to do in the month of July because it’s evaluating and watching kids and growing and then we have a chance to come back and work out our guys in individual skill work these guys have done an excellent job. Over the last few years we’ve had a lot of growth and the new addition of Al Pinkins to the staff we are excited about him and what he brings to the program. So there is no real rush in trying to get anything done.”
On Antonio Blakeney …
“He’s very explosive, excellent athlete, gym rat, loves to play. He’s passionate about the game and has a great attitude. I think he’s a really good teammate. When you see a guy like Ben Simmons for him to be excited and try to encourage one of his AAU teammates to come and join him, I speak it speaks volumes of what kind of player he is because sometimes guys don’t want people around them or have certain thoughts about how guys are … For Ben to want him to be a part of what he is doing and to have played with him the last two or three years, speaks to the type of player that he is.”