COLUMN: Trent Johnson unplugged

On a day to discuss his team's Italian trip, LSU coach Trent Johnson speaks his mind on whether players should be paid.

Having not covered LSU basketball as closely the last three years under Trent Johnson as I did when John Brady was running the show, I will readily admit I don't have a huge template to deal with in terms of Johnson's press conference history.

The ones I have been to … well, not hugely invigorating for the most part. Johnson is usually pretty measured in what he says, rarely stirring the pot w whole bunch.

Then there was Thursday.

Back from an 11-day junket with his team to Italy, Johnson went all unplugged when the topic of subsidizing players popped up.

And you know what? Good for him.

Let's face it, this is a guy whose program is reeling after back-to-back 11-win campaigns and a 5-27 SEC record. He needs to infuse a little sizzle into things to re-ignite some interest from a fan base that has lost some confidence.

So when somebody asked Thursday about South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier's notion of coaches paying players a stipend for every game, Johnson pounced.

He recalled that when he was a player at Boise State and struggled to scrounge up meal money. Just like AL Pacino in "Scent of a Woman," he was just getting warmed up.

"I'll tell you who should pay for it, in my mind," Johnson said. "Why doesn't the NCAA pay for it? Why can't they pay for it? If you're a student-athlete on a scholarship, regardless of what the sport is, how come you can't pay for a full training meal? How come they can't pay for it? Do they not have enough money? I don't know.

"So when you start talking about paying players and all of that, there needs to be some type of compensation from somebody."

Not done yet.

"Or why is there a limit on tickets? Just start there," Johnson railed on. "Why do certain guys have to worry about a housing allowance? I mean ... other than his teammates, who in the hell cares if someone wants to go sell some memorabilia to get a tattoo, so he can do whatever the hell he wants with it?"

Now, I don't wholly agree with Johnson or Spurrier. I've always thought receiving a paid-for college education was a pretty nice pay day. I could maybe be convinced that athletes should get a little more meal money each month, but I'm not on board with $300 a game, no matter who's paying for it.

But that's a whole other column for a whole other day.

Point here is, it's refreshing to see Johnson come out of the corner throwing punches, especially on a day set up for innocuous questions about the trip to Italy (hmm, another nice benefit, but I won't digress).

There needs to be a new edge for the Tigers program on the court next season and what better place to start than with the head coach?

Perhaps Thursday was the first step in that process and Johnson made sure it was a good first step.

Now about that trip overseas…

• Johnson said the six games in Italy gave his revamped team a chance to start evolving offensively because a 24-second shot clock forced the Tigers into situations "where they (had) to learn to make plays on their own, learn how to play faster and learn to maintain a level of aggressiveness when things got tight."

At the core of the evolution is a motion offense, which will utilize the LSU big men differently – particularly 6-foot-11 transfer Justin Hamilton.

"Motion teaches you how to play," Johnson said. "It teaches kids how to make plays on their own and there's a level of predictability that you don't have."

Hamilton was a pleasant surprise on the Italian tour, averaging 14.5 points and 8.9 rebounds in six games.

His emergence should allow junior swingman Eddie Luwdig to play facing the basket next season and also help open up the interior more for forwards Storm Warren, Malcolm White and incoming freshman Johnny O'Bryant.

"There's certain things he does from a skill set standpoint that are going to really help our basketball team," Johnson said of Hamilton. "It speaks volumes about how well Storm and Malcolm play because he's a different type of player. He can catch it, he can pass it and he understands the game. He's not as explosive as those two, but it's a different dimension, not to mention the fact that he can score the basketball.

• The coaching staff was shuffled when LSU got back from Italy.

Veteran assistant coach Lynn Nance re-retired after one season with the Tigers. The former Washington coach – where Johnson was his assistant – didn't travel with the team last season.

Taking his place is Nick Robinson, who was the Director of Basketball Operations last season. The 31-year-old former Stanford player under both Johnson and Mike Montgomery will make $140,000 a year in his new role.

Also, trainer Juan Pablo Reggiardo is leaving to return to the West Coast.

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