Jones sizes up 2014-15 Tigers

In an exclusive interview with TSD's Ben Love, Johnny Jones sheds light on his plans for the upcoming edition of LSU basketball while also giving a state-of-the-program address entering his third year at the helm.

Last week I published a portion of my one-on-one sitdown with LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones, diving specifically into how the Tigers will use two open scholarships.

Today I bring you the rest of that exclusive Q&A, one that touched on a wide range of topics - from specific players (Josh Gray, Jarell Martin, Elbert Robinson), to whether or not the team's style of play will change in 2014-15, to how he views the arc of the program.

All of that and much more is below.


Where the program is at beginning of year three compared to when he inherited it?

"A lot of times people say the proof is in the pudding. You look at records, and I think they're great indicators of program-building. Winning is certainly important, but there's a lot more that goes into building a program than winning and losing. Even though I think it's very significant, you also have to talk about academics, strength-and-conditioning program, talent level, all those things. I think all of them are vastly important, and I think each of those have been addressed and there's a lot of improvement in all those areas. It's just black and white.

"If you want to look at conference records two years or whatever prior to our arrival to where we are the last two years, also overall winning percentage and points per game and attendance and APR, I think all those things are up compared to where they were. I think those are always important in building a championship-caliber program. When you look at our recruiting classes, where they've been ranked, it's the same thing. So everything, I feel like, has really been on the upswing. We look forward to continuing to build it that way."

Does he feel offseason announcements regarding the NBA, going or staying, help the program?

"It speaks volumes about your program when young men have decisions to make at season's end – that they do have an opportunity to put their name in the Draft because it's consistent with what has transpired during the year in terms of the interest from the NBA. When those kinds of things happen, it's really important because it says you have a certain level of player in your program. It also speaks volumes to how your program is perceived, not just because you have talented guys but because they are in winning programs. Even if kids are talented, I don't think NBA scouts go to losing programs looking for guys. Because if they can't help you win at this level, they certainly don't think that you're capable of helping them win at their level. So you have to really be a difference-maker here."

Is there still a chance of movement on his staff this offseason?

"I think all the time, especially just like players, things can always develop and you have to certainly be prepared for that. Our mission is to make sure we're trying to put the basketball program in the most positive situation to give us the best avenue or chance of continuing to build this thing and create the type of environment and excitement around it to give us the best opportunity to win. If there are developments that should take place, then we would have to deal with that at that time."

How, if at all, does Jarell's role change this coming season?

"We're just hoping he can get off to a great start in terms of being healthy. I think we all had an opportunity to witness once he was comfortable and healthy on the floor, after learning two positions, that he was probably one of the best players in our league. The coaches voted him as much by putting him on the All-Freshman Team. I think had he been healthy early on, who knows what could've possibly happened for him?

"As far as next year, absolutely (he'll still play both positions). I think it's really helped him because even at the four spot it puts him on the perimeter. We know he can step away from the basket and make plays at the three spot, which he was able to do last year toward the end. His ability to play inside and out is great for our team that he has that type of flexibility."

There's an assumption your team will be more perimeter-oriented next season. As the coach, how do you handle implementing that schematic shift?

"It really doesn't have to be. Our team will have a similar type of makeup that we had last year. When you've got Elbert Robinson coming in at 7-foot, he's certainly an imposing player in the paint area. That's where Johnny O'Bryant played last year, so we have the ability to do that as well. I think the way that Jordan Mickey and Jarell showed they can step away from the basket, that helps with our team's guard play.

"We'll have Keith Hornsby and Jalyn Patterson and their ability to really stretch a defense and shoot the basketball, then the creativity and ability to score with Josh Gray, and Tim Quarterman has shown that he can play the one, two and three. I think our team has got a lot of versatility. Then there's the improvement of the guys returning. We're hoping we'll have an opportunity to figure out where Brian Bridgewater will have an opportunity to fit because he can play inside and out as well."

On Elbert Robinson ...

"He looks good. I saw him last Sunday (May 18). He's very disciplined in terms of what he does and his approach. To have a young man like that, that's kinda gone about his business and is really excited about getting on campus, it's great for us. People just don't know and they have no idea yet – he's a big kid and he's disciplined. His family has done a tremendous job in preparing him and getting him ready. It'll be exciting."

On Josh Gray and fitting in as a volume scorer ...

"I think where he was he did what he needed to do to give his team the best opportunity to win. Prior to that I don't think he's ever been in a situation where he's needed to shoot as much, but he's a winner. I think you put good, solid people around him, and he'll create opportunities for others. That's a gift that he has. He has a strong presence out there on the floor. He's a very capable scorer, a great passer and he has a leadership ability on the floor that's uncanny."

Who all can play the point on this team?

"Well, you've had an opportunity to see Tim Quarterman last year. He'll be bigger and stronger. Understand that he has a year of NCAA basketball under his belt, which is huge. Jalyn Patterson is very capable. (Follow-up Question: Can he really make an impact in year one?) Oh yeah, he can play. He's really talented, really good. Those guys and Josh Gray, of course. There will be a lot of competition out there, which is good."

Some feel it's a tournament-or-bust season. How do you view it?

"Our goal is to always try to be the best we can be. The first year I was here we were certainly trying to get to the tournament. That was our goal, and we came close. Last year, same thing. I think we're only a couple of games away from maybe punching that ticket. Our goal is not just trying to reach the tournament, that's our mission and we want to be really good in terms of getting there, but we want to be able to compete at the highest level. We think through recruitment, coaching and preparation that we've really put ourselves close. Our mission is to be there."

What does it take to get over that hump?

"Take this past year, we failed to close out on some opportunities we had. There were some spots where he had the ball on the last possession, be it going into overtime or having the opportunity to win games in regulation. It just didn't happen. Sometimes that comes with maturity. Those shots could've very well gone in, and we'd have had a better record. But does that really make you a better team? It's certainly objective at the time. But you've got to build winning in a certain way, and that comes with a mentality and attitude. It takes some time to make it happen."

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