Already we’ve taken a stab at projecting the starters.
Now we’re running out a five-part installment that will hone in on the biggest talking points surrounding the Tigers, posing important questions and then providing insight in answering them.
From Monday: Who will run the point?
From Tuesday: Is there enough inside?
TODAY’S TOPIC: CHEMISTRY
This is something every college team in America has to address year after year, particularly the ones bringing on one-and-done talents, so it’s nothing exclusive to LSU.
But, perhaps more than most coaches in the SEC this offseason, Johnny Jones has a lot of new and different puzzle pieces to configure and the players themselves a lot of bonding to do.
That’s what happens when two First-Team All-SEC players (Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey) depart and a quartet of blue-chip prospects/transfers (Antonio Blakeney, Brandon Sampson, Ben Simmons and Craig Victor) arrive.
A changing of the guard in Baton Rouge is certainly underway, but, and this is at the core of today’s “Look Ahead,” there remain on the roster three starters from the 2014-15 team – senior Keith Hornsby, junior Tim Quarterman and sophomore Jalyn Patterson.
How that trio meshes with the celebrated 2015 signing class will go a long way in determining if LSU will be talented but flawed this season or elite on a national level.
I’ll toss out two chemistry-related questions, neither of which anyone will know the answer to until the season tips, followed by two positive feathers in the Tigers’ cap regarding everyone coming together.
QUESTION 1: Will veterans have a problem kowtowing to Simmons?
It’s not a matter of if they’ll have to do that but how much. With his game and ability to score the basketball, Simmons will see a lot of the ball and likely big shots late (more on this in tomorrow’s installment). He’ll also be a media darling for his year on campus.
Will this weigh on anybody?
For point guards like Quarterman and Josh Gray, there will also have to be concessions in bringing the ball up the court as Simmons is a virtual lock to grab defensive boards and take it up himself.
Will this cause any friction?
The good news when it comes to Simmons is that by all accounts he’s been a great teammate over the last three seasons at Montverde Academy. And, while he does command a lot of the basketball, he’s a willing distributor, something that has endeared him to teammates.
If that trend continues for the Aussie, this question mark in late April could turn into one of the team’s strong suits by next February.
Bottom line: There’s a difference between Simmons being the best player on the team and LSU being Simmons’ team. I’m interested to see how that dynamic develops once he arrives on campus this summer.
QUESTION 2: How will Victor play in the locker room?
College basketball players, for the most part, have no shortage of confidence. Having gone through prep and AAU circuits being constantly praised and patted on the back, they typically arrive at college knowing they have the goods.
Which is why, when Quarterman – a player who knows a thing or two about swagger, told me in an interview late last season that Craig Victor is “a very confident basketball player,” it stood out to me as more than just a line.
It also fit with some of the evaluations of Victor coming out of high school.
So, in this context, the questions are: Will it rub teammates the wrong way and cause conflicts? Or, is it just the type of attitude and no-fake toughness this team needs to compete at the highest level?
Like the question above, time will tell. But one thing is for sure: Quarterman and other LSU players asked sure liked what he was bringing to team practices throughout the second semester last season.
FEATHER 1: When in doubt, lean on senior leader Hornsby
He was one of the primary leaders on last year’s squad, but, especially now that Martin and Mickey are gone, Hornsby will be the backbone of the 2015-16 team’s non-coaching leadership.
Hornsby, who will be the Tigers’ oldest player with John Odo graduated, is also the voice of reason.
Should tempers occasionally flare or if dissension in the ranks is sensed, Hornsby has the capability – and on-court credentials – to squash it. This should be a valuable tool if there’s a clash between the old guard and the new guard at LSU.
It’s never a bad thing when one of your best returning players, and a senior at that, operates on an even-keel. No LSU basketball player I’ve covered over the last six seasons has that temperament quite like Hornsby does.
FEATHER 2: Australia can be the gift that keeps on giving
What could be better for a group that needs to get to know one another in a hurry than to pack them on a plane, send them to Australia, and make them live together, travel together and play against grown men together for a few weeks?
For the first time in four years LSU’s program is taking a summer trip abroad, and it couldn’t come in advance of a more ideal season.
The competition against professionals will be one thing, helping build on-court cooperation, confidence and toughness (last time LSU went abroad, to Italy, foul calls were reserved only for tackling).
But the bonding, as cheesy as it sounds, will be the bigger get from this trip down under. Young gets to meet old, see where each came from, where each wants to go and can better relate to teammates as people.
It will also give Johnny Jones a point to relate back to all season long, the kind of thing that coaches seek but sometimes have a hard time creating.
Success, and chemistry, in 2015-16 will truly begin a world away from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.