HOOVER, Ala. – I had the chance during SEC Basketball Media Day last week to catch up with Joe Dean Jr., SEC basketball analyst and son of former LSU hoops great and athletic director Joe Dean Sr.
Dean Jr. shared his thoughts on the hire of Johnny Jones, the coup of landing recruiting guru Robert Kirby and the future prospects of LSU men's basketball.
Catch it all below in my Q&A with Joe Dean Jr.
Ben Love: You're obviously very familiar with Johnny Jones. Is he a good hire and good fit at this time for LSU?
Joe Dean Jr.: Oh, I think it's a great hire. I go back a long way with Johnny. I was an assistant at Kentucky back in the late seventies when Johnny was a point guard at DeRidder High School. I had the chance to watch him play in high school, and he was a really good player. Of course he played for Coach [Dale] Brown, played on the 1981 Final Four team.
So he's got the background and the heritage at LSU. He understands the program and the culture and the state like nobody else does, so from that standpoint I think it was a great hire. And he's a great guy and an excellent basketball coach. I think he proved himself at North Texas, making it to the NCAA Tournament two or three times at a mid-major program. Now he's ready to move up and jump into the SEC. I think he'll do a great job.
BL: The fact that he was passed over at least once (2008) for this job, do you think that all that seasoning at North Texas made this the right time?
JDJ: Yeah, I think it's helped him, but I think the big thing for Johnny is he's hungry. This has probably been his dream job his whole life – to coach at his alma mater in his home state. I think he's eager. I think he'll put more into it. It's going to mean more to him than it would if you brought in an outside guy who didn't have any relationship to LSU. He knows all the people. He knows the great former players like Joe Dean Sr. (Laughing.) I think he's ready.
BL: Johnny has made it clear he wants to come in and play more up-tempo. With today's player, does that attract a higher level of recruit?
JDJ: Well I think we all realize that the players today are more athletic than they've ever been, and they want to run and press and shoot threes and dunk. So you're smart to play like that if you want to recruit high-level players. And if you're going to win in the SEC and compete for the championship, you better have high-level, NBA-caliber players. Johnny will recruit those kinds of players.
Plus Johnny has Anthony Hickey, who's a fast, athletic point guard, and Johnny's style will play right into his strengths, getting the ball up and down the court to create offense in the open court.
BL: We touched on recruiting a little bit, and obviously Robert Kirby will be a big factor there on the LSU coaching staff. Does he rank among the best in the country at what he does?
JDJ: I think he does. That was one of the things I was most impressed with when Johnny got the job was the staff that he put together. Robert Kirby, I've known a long, long time. Obviously he was at Mississippi State, my alma mater, and Robert's as good a recruiter as there is in the country and a first-class guy. Charlie Leonard is one of the best basketball minds out there. He's a former head coach, and he's been with Johnny a long time at Memphis and at North Texas. Charlie will be a good steadying influence on the bench and at practice.
And David Patrick I happen to know because he happens to be very close to a close friend of mine in Baton Rouge, so I know him. He played at Syracuse, and he's got a lot of upside as an assistant. Then Tom Kelsey, who played at David Lipscomb, coached at Alabama, was the head coach at Belhaven, he's the director of basketball operations. I mean, he's a heck of a basketball coach in his own right. So I think it's a really, really good staff, and it says a lot about Johnny's leadership.
BL: Do you expect they'll take their lumps this year? LSU is a shorter team without even a full roster at this point.
JDJ: I think they'll be competitive at home, but I think they'll probably be a team that will struggle on the road a little bit with new players and not having quite as much firepower as maybe some of the other teams in the league. This is a good league this year. You can look at one through about eight or nine teams, and there are some really good teams. I think LSU is going to have to play above and beyond their capability to get into that middle level of the SEC.
BL: But longterm, do you think this is a program that can compete with the best in the SEC?
JDJ: Absolutely. I mean I've always felt like LSU is one of the top 20 basketball jobs in the country. When you think of the facilities, the fan base, the great talent in the state of Louisiana, LSU should be in my estimation a perennial top-20 team.
When you look at what Dale Brown did basically from 1979 through Shaq's last year, they were a top-20 team every single year. They made two Final Fours, won four SEC championships. I think LSU is capable of doing that under the right head coach, and I think Johnny Jones is the guy.
Q & A: Joe Dean Jr.
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