Hitting the trail right away

After landing the LSU job, Johnny Jones jumped into the recruiting fray as quickly as he could.

Most new jobs come with a built-in transition period, some time to ease into the new gig a little.


Johnny Jones knew better when he landed his new job last Friday.


The new LSU basketball coach accepted his new post early that evening and was making travel arrangements to hit the recruiting trail soon after that.


Cleared by his new employer’s compliance office, Jones was out beating the recruiting bushes Saturday morning – a self-proclaimed one-band since he doesn’t officially have a staff hired.


“We made some progress,” Jones said Monday after he was introduced. “I hope in the next few days to get some signatures.”


Shane Hammink

There are plenty of places for future players to sign.


LSU has five scholarships to fill, although two and maybe three of those spots may be spoken for.


Thibodaux native Shavon Coleman (6-foot-6, 200 pounds) and Shane Hammink (6-6, 200), the son of former Tigers center Geert Hammink, are two players former coach Trent Johnson was in pursuit of and who seem to be leaning toward LSU. A third player, 6-3½, 185-pound guard Pat Swilling from College of Southern Idaho via Brother Martin, is also eager for a scholarship from the Tigers. He spent a season at St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia.


Should Jones land two or all three of those players to go along with fall signee Malik Morgan (6-3, 180), LSU will have a full complement of new guards and wings next season. But that doesn’t exactly meet with the Tigers’ current recruiting needs.


Of the seven returning scholarship players, six are also guards or swingmen – rising sophomore Johnny O’Bryant (6-9, 262) is the only true post player. Eddie Ludwig (6-9, 210) and Jalen Courtney (6-8, 228) could both shift to more frontcourt-oriented roles, but both played sparingly last season.


Even if Jones committed to go a four-guard, one-post player format, a la Missouri and Marquette from this season, the Tigers still desperately need bigger bodies for depth.


“We desperately need another post player or two inside,” Jones said. “That’s an area we have to take a look at right away.”

John Odoh


One possibility is John Odoh, a 6-11, 240-pound sophomore from Hill College in Texas. The native Nigerian signed with North Texas in the early signing period, but he could seek a release because of the coaching change. As a sophomore this season, Odoh averaged 12.4 points, 14.3 rebounds and 4.7 blocks a game.


Another junior-college big man looking for a landing place is Fahro Alihodzic (6-9, 240), who had committed to Nebraska but was released from his letter of intent after a coaching change there. The Bosnian big man spent a season at Fordham before transferring to Southeastern Iowa Community College, where he averaged 15.2 points and 7.5 boards a game before being removed from the team with several other players later in the season.


One option that isn’t feasible is current LSU junior Justin Hamilton switching gears and returning for his final season.


Jones said he has not spoken to the 7-footer who led the Tigers with 12.9 points and 7.2 rebounds a game last winter, but had spoken to his LSU teammates about him.


“What I understand is that he may be a little far gone with some of the steps he’s taken after he decided to leave,” Jones said.


Chip Armelin

Two other guards could also be on Jones’ radar: Point man Josh Gray from Christian Life Center Academy in Humble, Texas, who was released from a letter of intent from Mississippi State after Rick Stansbury retired; and sharpshooter Chip Armelin, who sought a transfer from Minnesota last week following his sophomore season.


Both have state ties. Gray is originally from Lake Charles and Armelin was a star at Sulphur High for three seasons, graduating in 2010.


Pursuing those two matches up with what Jones made very clear will be a commitment to reconnecting with the state’s best players.


Johnson was able to land an occasional in-state recruit, including Morgan. But most of Louisiana’s top talent has conspicuously gotten away in the last four seasons.


“The big thing is to get to all of that, we have to make sure that we do a great job here in the state at uniting with these high school coaches,” Jones said. “They’re incredible. We’ve got to make sure that we blanket this state and get the best players out of the state of Louisiana, just like (LSU football coach Les Miles) and all the other coaches have done.


“We have to make sure that it is attention to detail. We have to make sure that they understand – them along with the AAU coaches out there – that this is going to be a hands-on deal. We want to make sure that we have a relationship with them. Not only just a relationship, but we have to make sure that we have a partnership that will transfer to everyone out there who will understand how important it is to have ownership of this basketball program. When you have ownership in something, you really buy into it and you want to have an opportunity to see them succeed."

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