Like any high school player who proved enough at that level to warrant a college scholarship, LSU freshman Johnny O’Bryant showed up on campus eager to make a big splash.
In fact, as the highest profile recruit in Trent Johnson’s four-year tenure, O’Bryant likely arrived in Baton Rouge with expectations a little higher than most of his teammates.
The first time he hit the floor for the Tigers, O’Bryant followed that script. He came off the bench to produce 12 points and grab 8 rebounds in his college debut and two games later dumped in 21 points against Northwestern.
Before his star rose too high, too fast, though, O’Bryant showed he was human, hitting a four-game rough patch when he scored only 19 points and never cracked double digits.
Instead of going into a shell, though, the 6-foot-9, 262-pound former McDonald’s and Parade Magazine All-American chose another path. He embraced his role on a team with upgraded talent – enough for him to adjust to the college level at a slower pace instead of having to carry the load like he did at East Side High in Cleveland, Miss.
Now O’Bryant is back in a comfort zone with back-to-back solid, albeit not spectacular, showings with 11 points against Rutgers and 10 vs. Boise State.
He and the Tigers (6-3) get their next chance to grow Thursday when UC Irvine (2-7) visits the Pete Maravich Assembly Center for a 7 p.m. contest.
“From the day we started practicing, (LSU coach Trent Johnson) has preached being team-oriented and all of us doing whatever we can to help this team win,” said O’Bryant, who joined the starting lineup three games ago. “You have to come to practice every single day and compete against these guys and when you do that, it makes you a better player.”
That’s coming from a player who from his first session with the media in July talked about having a big impact from day one and made no bones about his desire to be one-and-done before heading to the NBA.
“When I signed, I knew a lot would be expected of me,” O’Bryant said in the summer. “I'm going to accept the role and try my hardest to get better each day. … Hopefully, I won't be here too long, but while I am, I’ll do my best to help the team.”
Those plans might’ve been shifted, with some humility injected.
O’Bryant’s early statistics are solid: 9.1 points and a team-best 6.4 rebounds a game. But bigger than anything that shows up on a score sheet is the way the talented freshman has reshaped his thinking.
“You always want to be consistent and that’s something I have to keep working on,” he said. “We’ve got so many guys who can score here and so many leaders. You just have to be ready to jump on whatever opportunities you get.”
Johnson seems pleased enough with O’Bryant’s progress, though he’s ready to see the process accelerate after nine games and some ups and downs.
The win against Boise State is a prime example.
|O'Bryant: Adjusting to a non-starring role|
In the first half, O’Bryant struggled to get into the flow, didn’t even attempt a shot in 9 minutes and turned the ball over twice. Unfazed, he came out more aggressive in the second half and produced 10 points without coughing the ball up.
“He’s physical and has got some tools and gifts,” Johnson said. “Having your motor run and being able to compete at as high a level as you can, that’s important right now. He’s got to get there sooner than later.”
If there’s any lingering doubt that O’Bryant is comfortable with whatever role Johnson has in mind for him, he might’ve squashed it against Boise.
With the floor spread after the Tigers built their lead to double figures in the second half, O’Bryant made a nice move along the baseline for a reverse layup – the kind of improvisation he might not have even thought about while he was getting comfortable in Johnson’s motion offense.
“You’ve got to work hard to gain Coach’s trust in practice, but when you do, you have to show him you can do the things he wants you to do,” O’Bryant said.
As his evolution continues, O’Bryant doesn’t have to worry about being pushed in practice.
His daily competition comes from three veteran big men – Storm Warren, Malcolm White and Justin Hamilton. Each forces O’Bryant to test himself in a different way. He said the 7-foot, 260-pound Hamilton is usually his toughest test.
“He’s so fundamentally sound and makes you work hard for everything,” O’Bryant said. “That’s what I need. It’s helping me improve every day.”
And those every-day battles move O’Bryant closer to being the kind of dominant force he planned on being all along.