LSU basketball: Looking ahead

PART 1: After the Tigers show improvement in 2011-12, fourth-year coach Trent Johnson eyes the future and where he wants the program to be a year from now and beyond.

His season abruptly over with a 86-76 loss at Oregon in the NIT on Tuesday, LSU coach Trent Johnson didn't waste any time with his postseason media session, holding it Wednesday less than 12 hours after his team got back to Baton Rouge on a charter flight.

Nor did Johnson beat around the bush when he spoke about a program he just completed his fourth season leading.

"We're going to be better," Johnson said matter-of-factly about a team that should return nine of 12 players and add 3-4 recruits before the 2012-13 school year begins. Among the nine players expected back are the top five scorers (Justin Hamilton, Andre Stringer, Anthony Hickey, Ralston Turner, Johnny O'Bryant). Hamilton was a second-team All-SEC pick by the league coaches and Hickey was pegged for the All-Freshmen team, an honor Turner earned in 2010-11.

"Providing we are injury-free in key positions … I'm very confident. But I also understand the challenge in front of us. The reason I'm so confident is because of what these guy experienced (Tuesday) night and what they experienced in the SEC Tournament."

Johnson's team produced the second winning season in his four campaigns and increased its victory total from 11 the last two years to 18 this winter, capped by the NIT berth.

But the 20-point loss to Oregon was a microcosm of the Tigers' season: Snapshots of promising success, prolonged struggles in certain areas that created a big deficit, a late comeback that sparked hope but a rally hitting the wall when it mattered the most.

Johnson reflected on that Wednesday, emphasizing that he wants his players to remember the 17-10 record they reached on Feb. 22, as well as the five losses in the last six games to wind up 18-15.

"I dwell on the finish and always have; I dwell on the five of six," Johnson said.

"Don't lose sight of what this group has accomplished up until about three weeks ago.

"The positive is that we were 17-10, 7-6 (SEC) and had everything in front of us. The negative is that we didn't get it done. They need to have that taste in their mouth going into the spring."

"That got that close and that next step is so hard."

To take that step, Johnson said the process begins in earnest in early April after his players get back from spring break.

Repeatedly, Johnson hammered the point that he wants his players to focus on getting bigger, stronger and especially quicker – a feat that will be accomplished through conditioning and recruiting.

LSU has one commitment now from John Curtis guard Malik Morgan, one of the top shooting guards in Louisiana who just helped lead the Patriots to the Class 2A state championship.

That leaves the Tigers' coaches with three scholarships to give now that the program has cleared the NCAA-imposed scholarship reduction as a result of low APR scores.

Shavon Coleman

One player high on LSU's wish list is 6-foot-6 swingman Shavon Coleman from Howard College and a former star at Thibodaux High.

"There's going to be a lot of competitiveness in the spring. Malik Morgan is going to help this team in the worse way," Johnson said.

"We've got to get bigger and stronger and improve our perimeter skills. We've got a lot of catch-and-shoot in our perimeter. We've got make better decisions off the bounce."

"This is a group that I know in the spring we can push harder."

The obvious goals for LSU moving forward include being in the hunt for the SEC Championship and NCAA Tournament berths. More than that, Johnson said he wants to establish consistency and not be on the same pendulum swinging between good seasons and rebuilding ones as has been the case most of the last 20 years.

He pointed out that the Tigers have had five winning SEC records in the last 20, and that's a trend he feels his team is ready to buck.

"I don't anticipate that being a problem here in the future," Johnson said. "We're in a position now because of the quality of the kids in the program and the maturity in the program, that all we've got to do is continue to put better players and better people in that are going to play for the school and for their teammates."

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