Basketball Practice Tidbits

Johnny Jones put his players through their first practice of the season Friday. How did they look? And which newcomer stood out with his play?

I had the opportunity to sit in on LSU's first practice of the year Friday afternoon for 30-45 minutes. With the volleyball team having played its usual Friday game on Wednesday this week (against Tennessee), the men were able to work out in the PMAC instead of the practice facility.

The portion of practice we saw entailed running/warming-up/calisthenics followed by a number of drills geared toward defense, closing out and boxing out. There was also a decent amount of two-on-two and three-on-three in the halfcourt, working more on the defensive side of the ball and stressing help defense.

Here were my takeaways:

- Far and away the biggest facet of the game emphasized today was rebounding, closing out on defenders when a shot goes in the air and boxing out. When you think about it, it's pretty smart ... and necessary. As short as this team is on length, it will be imperative they box out well and establish position to have a chance at rebounding the basketball in many situations against taller squads. Obviously that's being drilled into their heads from day one. They worked on boxing out offensive players individually, in groups of three then with all five out there, each time with an assistant coach heaving up a brick to see if the defenders could box out well enough to let the ball hit the floor.

- Malik Morgan is going to play a good bit of basketball for this team, even as a freshman. He was the most impressive player through the portion of practice we saw. Not saying he is the best player on the team, but that he showed the most today of anybody out there. Morgan, listed at 6-4, 188, hustled, diving for loose balls (and drawing claps, praise from several assistants), challenged 6-9, 262-pound Johnny O'Bryant at the rim (deterring his shot successfully without fouling), delivered a deft behind-the-back pass to Shavon Coleman for an easy deuce and put in a silky pull-up jumper at the foul line during three-on-three drills. He's known as a scorer coming from high school, and I could see that today, but I was most impressed - and slightly surprised - with his aggression, hustle and efforts on defense. I tweeted this earlier, but he looks to me like a more assertive lefty version of Ralston Turner. He'll find his way into the rotation without question.

- Nobody on the team is as fast as Anthony Hickey, and no one's even close to as fast with the ball in their hands. This won't exactly come as breaking news, but, even without the benefit of fast-break (all we saw today was halfcourt shell drills), his quickness was obvious. I was also impressed with Hickey playing defense on Corban Collins today in two-on-two work. Despite giving up a decent bit of size, Hickey bodied up to him and didn't let Collins back him down in the paint, holding his own. I think there's a definite competitive thing going on between those two, and the result looks like it'll be Hickey playing inspired ball. Interesting how that dynamic may help him pick his game up to another level. He clearly never had that "scare" a year ago with Chris Bass.

- Andre Stringer splashed the only two threes we saw him take, and he did so on consecutive plays. Both came with him off the ball, spotting up, catching and shooting on kick-outs. Look for him to do a lot more of that this season now that the junior won't have much (if any) ball-handling responsibility, in terms of bringing the ball up the court ... Eddie Ludwig caught an elbow right above the eye 15 minutes in to the session. He started bleeding pretty good, and the doctors took him off for a few minutes to the locker room to tend to him. Within 15 minutes, Ludwig was back out there. So, there you have it, 15 minutes into the first practice, the first blood has been shed in LSU basketball.

- A programming note as far as coaches go: Tom Kelsey, director of basketball operations (who left a head-coaching gig at Belhaven to come to LSU), is not allowed to technically coach during practice, so he sits in a chair off in the corner and just watches. Not allowed to instruct. That means the coaches out there with Johnny Jones actually monitoring and leading practice are assistants David Patrick, Charlie Leonard and Robert Kirby. From what I saw, Patrick tends to get the most involved, outside of Jones, on correcting/working with the players. But it's early. I'm sure these guys are getting used to each other as we speak.

- Finally, a couple of interesting sightings: 1. Jones busting out a set of what looked like 10 push-ups on the baseline as the players went through jogging paces. 2. Center Andrew Del Piero slamming one home on a nice feed during three-on-three drills.

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