Hoops notes: Johnson, Tigers prep for opener

LSU basketball team eager for season opener Saturday vs. Nicholls State

Two days from his fourth season beginning, LSU basketball coach Trent Johnson was quietly intense and optimistic Thursday, moods that his players carried as well.


It certainly seems like this 2011-12 edition of the Tigers is ready to go.


LSU tips off the new season at noon Saturday when Nicholls State visits the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.


“Guys are very testy,” Johnson said in his final media session before the new season gets off the ground. “We’ve been very physical among ourselves.”


Johnson has put the Tigers through the paces of several spirited scrimmages, including one against Rice that LSU won by double digits with a strong second-half effort.


For the third time in as many weeks, the fourth-year Tigers coach said nobody has distinguished himself from the rest of the team – a crew that’s much deeper and, from all appearances, more talented than the Tigers have been since the 2008-09 team that won the SEC regular-season crown.


Not surprisingly, the message of how LSU will play continued to be the same from Johnson and his players: The Tigers will be aggressive with a focus on defense, rebounding and taking care of the ball.


There will be some noteworthy changes, though. The increased depth and versatility at different spots should LSU will play more up-tempo.


“Against certain people we’re going to play extremely fast, we’re going to be able to pick up full-court and defend,” Johnson said. “I haven’t had that since I’ve been here.


“We’re going to be able to really get up and play fast and defend fast with a sense of urgency.”


Who exactly will be on the floor will be a work in progress, perhaps one that goes on all season.


Ralston Turner led Tigers with 12.3 points per game last season.

It’s likely sophomore guard Ralston Turner will be a fixture in the lineup, and shooting guard Andre Stringer is likely to be on the floor with the first unit most of the time.


After that, a talented blend of newcomers and veterans will vie for playing time on a practice-by-practice basis.


“It’s always going to be a game-day decision with this group,” Johnson said.


While defense and rebounding will be the Tigers’ meat and potatoes, they will have to generate offense from what is expected to be a motion style that takes advantage of athletic forwards Storm Warren, two seniors who are expected to mesh well with Malcolm White and 7-foot junior transfer Justin Hamilton’s passing skills.


Turner scored in double digits in 18 of 27 games he played in last season and averaged a team-best 12.3 points a game. Stringer was second with 11.2 points a contest, and with a shift back to the off guard spot, should blossom as a bigger perimeter shooting threat.


After that…


“The one guy I know is going to score the ball for us is Ralston,” Johnson said, noting that several players had taken turns topping the team in scoring in scrimmages,


“I think we have a chance to be really balanced.”


That balance will be on display very soon.


“We need to get out there and get started,” Turner said.

VIDEO: Trent Johnson

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