Versatile power forward Jarell Martin unquestionably was the key recruit for LSU last year. Johnny Jones understands the importance of keeping local talent at home, and Martin's size and athleticism catapulted him to extensive high school accolades.
But as a freshman he has limped — literally — out of the gate. Martin suffered a badly sprained ankle just 33 seconds into his college career in a loss to UMass, and he has yet to return to anything resembling full health.
Fortunately, another freshman has picked up the slack and then some. Top-40 forward Jordan Mickey had been considered a more dedicated face-up player than Martin and more polished from the perimeter, but his efforts have been complete. Mickey has started all four games and actually leads the team in minutes played at 32 per game, a testament to how extensively he has impressed the coaching staff.
In that time he has compiled averages of 14 points and — here's the shock — 10 rebounds and five blocks per contest. Known as a finesse player in the prep ranks, he has played huge in Baton Rouge and should begin to garner serious national attention.
Granted, LSU hasn't played in marquee games and Mickey must prove he can perform at a similar level versus tougher competition, but he warrants tracking along with the nation's more celebrated freshmen.
Incidentally, Mickey was ruled ineligible during the summer due to his high school's status, but he won his eligibility upon appeal. Little did we all realize at the time how significant that decision would prove to be.
Wing Tim Quarterman also has earned significant minutes. He isn't producing eye-catching stats, but 18 minutes per night out of the gate is impressive for a freshman ranked No. 80 in his class.
Center Darcy Malone needs time to develop but has shown flashes of promise during his limited appearances. The other freshman signee, Brian Bridgewater, entered the season hindered by NCAA eligibility issues of his own and has yet to take the court. Though not a freshman, juco center John Odo has received limited playing time thus far but gives the program another big body.
Looking ahead, two questions dominate the discussion:
Can Mickey possibly maintain that level of performance? He's a 6-8 (at most), 220 pound forward playing like a seven-footer. Given that college basketball appears weak at the center position this season, he's all the more unique and valuable. Compared side by side against the most heralded rookies, Mickey's play has equaled or surpassed some of those even in the national top 10.
Second, when will Martin return to health and how will Jones manage his playing time without harming Mickey or junior Johnny O'Bryant? Martin also is a rebounder and shotblocker, so role assimilation could be an ongoing — and ultimately very rewarding — process.