With eight regular season games, a conference tournament appearance and a possible postseason berth still in the balance in 2012-13, it's hardly time to flip the page to next season for LSU basketball.
Still, that doesn't negate the fact that there's genuine excitement building for the future with a top-10 signing class coming into Baton Rouge (the Tigers' 2013 haul currently ranks seventh nationally on Scout).
And perhaps the biggest question at this point, with four signees already inked and two additional commitments on the hook, isn't who's coming to play for Johnny Jones, but who's staying?
A whirlwind of speculation over the past weeks and months has had sophomores Anthony Hickey and Johnny O'Bryant tabbed as the two to watch, with Hickey a rumored transfer possibility and O'Bryant always considered to have one eye on the NBA.
On Tuesday TSD caught up with both players, and one was firmly ready to put the subject of his potential departure to bed.
"I want to be back here next year," said Hickey, LSU's starting point guard and the nation's leader in steals. "I want to get my education and just take things slowly. I'm not worried about the NBA or anything else right now. I'm just worried about getting my education and playing LSU basketball."
Hickey, tied with O'Bryant for the team lead in scoring at 12.3 points per game, said he's already made a promise to someone important in his life that he's staying put and he plans to honor his word.
"No," he replied when asked if transferring was something he's considered, "and I've already promised my mom that I wouldn't transfer. I'm going to be here until if something happens that I'm blessed enough to go to the NBA. Until then I'm an LSU Tiger."
The Hopkinsville, Ky., native also credited Jones, in his first year as LSU head coach, for helping him turn things around off the court and get him pointed in the right direction.
"All that stuff's behind me, the bad things that I did at the beginning of the season," Hickey explained. "There was a growing up part that had to happen. I'm more mature now thanks to Coach Jones. He made me a better person, not just at basketball."
O'Bryant, for his part, wasn't as definitive on what his future holds. LSU's starting power forward is content playing as hard as he can, trying to help the team reach new heights and letting the chips fall where they may.
"Right now I'm just trying to focus on finishing this season out strong, trying to make the tournament, things like that," said O'Bryant. "When that time comes, it will come. I'll talk to the people in my circle – my parents, Coach Jones, people like that. So when it comes, it will come."
The former McDonald's All-American and Jordan Brand Classic participant did say, however, that he's receptive to the notion of returning for a junior season.
"It's definitely something I'm open to," O'Bryant continued. "I really haven't even thought about the process much. I'm just trying to focus on the year and take it one game at a time. If it's my turn then it's my turn. I'm going to have to look closer at that when it's time."
Despite leading the team in rebounding with 8.5 boards per game, O'Bryant, a Cleveland, Miss., native, knows he still has much to work on before making the leap to the next level.
It's something the 6-9 post player had no problem acknowledging.
"Guys have always got things they can work on. As for myself, I think I can work on a lot," said O'Bryant. "It's definitely something I've got to look at if I choose to make that step to jump: Are there things that I can do to contribute better on the next level?
"Shooting, continuing to work on my body and my conditioning, becoming more explosive and cutting down on turnovers. I can also do better with reading the floor. There are a lot of things really."
Hickey indicated that while he would never interfere with another person's decisions, especially one as big as this, he's made sure to remain in O'Bryant's ear about what they could build together if the duo would continue to partner.
"Oh yeah, I've been pitching him that I want him to be here with me," Hickey stated with a smile. "I can't make the decision for him, though. Johnny's on his own two feet. I'm sure he's got high hopes, but I'm sure he wants to get his education too. We talk about that all the time. It's his decision, though.
"That's his future. I can't speak for Johnny. Whatever decision he makes, I'm sure he's got big goals and big dreams. I just tell him to follow his heart. Don't listen to what everybody else says, just follow your heart."
One thing the two agree on is that the outlook is bright for LSU's program.
Said Hickey: "We have big things that can happen this year and next year. But we're going to be bigger next year. I know that. I've got good hopes for this team and for this program."
And O'Bryant: "If everybody does come back, I definitely think we've got a great chance to be a top team in this country. It would definitely be a great opportunity to see a ranked number beside our name."
The latter added one more take on some of the incoming talent for the Tigers and his excitement to see them enter the fold in purple and gold.
"I talked to Jarell [Martin] a lot early on and then Jordan [Mickey], on his visit, we talked and chilled a lot," recalled O'Bryant. "Then the kid from Savannah, I talked to him a lot. They're all good kids and they can really play basketball. We're looking forward to getting them in here."
All that remains to be seen is if O'Bryant will be around to roll out the welcoming mat.
One eye on the future
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