LSU coach Johnny Jones met with the media on Wednesday for his preseason luncheon and covered a lot in the 25-minute session. Among the topics, was Craig Victor stepping up for LSU, Skylar Mays pushing Jalyn Patterson, and expectations for Duop Reath.
Jones said there's plenty to build off of last season even though the team missed the NCAA Tournament.
"Certainly looking forward to another exciting season. Looking back at last season, a lot of great things were accomplished. We continue to build off a top three finish, finishing in the top of the conference, top two or so in scoring, field goal percentage."
Chemistry and defense are the two things this team expects to improve the most this season. Both were a big offseason focus and Jones said last week that he expects that to come together nicely.
“With this team early on, the chemistry, the excitement from these guys gives us reason to really be excited, and I know they're looking forward to building on a lot of successes from last year," Jones said. "With the challenging schedule that we'll be faced with early on, it will give us an opportunity to find out where we are."
There's some concern that while LSU saw the biggest jump in attendance in the country last year and the team drew big crowds on the road, that without Ben Simmons, LSU might not see the same support. Jones said the attendance growth has been something the team has been building for years and an 8-1 home record will improve that.
“That's one thing about our fans that I've known for many, many years. If you're playing the right way and are aware of certain things, they're more concerned about the letters on the front of that jersey, LSU, than the names across the back.”
LSU G Antonio Blakeney says team has plenty of playmakers
The attention is all on Blakeney for LSU to lead this team in scoring and on the floor this season with Simmons departure, but for the sophomore who spurned the NBA to return, it's all on the defensive side of the floor that he wants to work on.
"The biggest difference for me is knowing we have to work hard on the defensive end trying to work hard," Blakeney said. "I don't think it's really built around me. We have a lot of guys that can score the ball."
Jones expects Blakeney to come out of the shadows and build on his end to last season.
"I thought Blakeney playing in the shadows last year -- last 10, 11 games of the year, he averaged about 18, 20 points a game. So he was able to -- he was playing a certain role early on, and he stepped out of the shadows," Jones said. "We're hoping he gets off to a great start this year and we will have a good, balanced scoring attack."
The team will look to Blakeney to make his fair share of shots, but he's eager to look to his teammates that can also make those shots and contribute as well to help space the floor more.
"We got a lot of good shooters and a lot of bigs that can finish around the rim. The main thing is being aggressive and being confident in each other. I know that Brandon Sampson or Jalyn can knock that shot down or vice versa," Blakeney said.
Blakeney said the team's chemistry has drastically improved over the summer, saying the team all hangs out together and goes to the movies and things like that. Everyone's on the same page as far as the team's goal.
"That's something we want to do is make it to the tournament. We definitely have a chip on our shoulder."
Reath impressing early on with length, size in the post
For big man Duop Reath, Jones expects a lot out of him and to step in right away as a true rim protector for LSU, which is something the team missed from last year.
“I think one of the big surprises (is) Duop Reath from junior college, from Lee," Jones said. "He's done a great job of filling in and filling something that we feel like we missed from last year -- a rim protector -- a guy that can play in the paint, excellent rebounder, defending the paint, and also can stretch the defense offensively in terms of the way he plays. Excellent athlete. Really runs the floor."
The 6-10, 230-pound big man said he's adjusted to the physicality of college basketball thanks to his two years at Lee College. Physically, he's grown the most in his lower body strength, being able to battle day in and day out at the college level.
Coming over here from junior college, guys there, they can play. It's not like high school so I've got some experience in me," Reath said. "This is the biggest stage. It's the SEC. It's another level."
Antonio Blakeney said that Reath brings a lot of energy to the floor and an ability to block shots. Without having to adjust to the college game, Reath expects to do just that.
"If I was a freshman, it'd be harder. Coming from a junior college, it makes the transition to college and the SEC a lot faster," Reath said. "It's been great. The coaches and my teammates have been great."
LSU G Jalyn Patterson continuing to put in work on his game
Jones praised Patterson for his ability to shoot and take care of the ball on Wednesday and expects him to be a big part of LSU's rotation this season.
“Jalyn Patterson, as we know, can really stretch the defense. He can knock down shots. But he's a crafty ball handler as well. He can get inside the defense and make plays, and really a good passer. His numbers are very low in terms of turnovers. He can certainly get the ball and create opportunities for others on the floor."
The junior guard said that he's stepping up as a leader now that he's a older and he put in the work this summer to reflect that.
"This summer was huge for me. Last year, we didn't get what we needed to get done so I went back and worked hard on my game," Patterson said. "We still have a month left until the season starts so just still working on that."
Wednesday, Patterson continues to see time in the "off the bench" group in practice it appears. Patterson had a miscommunication with Robinson on a lob pass as he tried to float it over Reath for a bucket, but Robinson and Patterson weren't on the same page.
LSU G Brandon Sampson stepping into leadership role
LSU guards Brandon Sampson and Antonio Blakeney feed off each other in practice, stepping up as leaders and working on their games. Jones said on Wednesday that the pressure isn't on Sampson to perform, but can still hurt opposing teams.
“The good thing about Brandon, he's got a sidekick over there in Antonio Blakeney, and he's not a guy that people can just focus and concentrate on and just trying to stop (Sampson) from scoring because of the explosiveness that Blakeney brings."
The threat of another guard that can score from about anywhere will help LSU's team develop and turn the corner this season, Jones said.
"Sampson in his own right should be able to help Antonio because of his ability to score and really stretch the defense, and he's excellent in terms of ball (handling) in the open floor. If we can get him out on the open floor and allow him to attack the basket, with his athleticism, it certainly brings an added dimension to our team."
Going against Blakeney every day, Sampson says it's his growth as a defender that will continue to improve.
"Antonio is a pure scorer so just going against him every day, I'm making myself a better defender. I think we're both pushing each other and every day it's like competition," Sampson said. "We're just trying to be the best on-ball defenders we can be."
LSU G Skylar Mays impresses with high basketball IQ, vision
In his press conference, Jones highlighted the work that Mays put in this summer to be ready to take such an active role early on. The staff is "thrilled" according to Jones with Mays' development and said he'll be a bright spot for this team.
“I'll tell you what I saw more so than even when we started practice, just this off-season, how hard he worked during the summer, time and energy he put in. As soon as school started as well. He puts a lot of time in the gym. He's put a lot of time into his body."
The staff likes how Mays understands everyone's role on the floor and that's something Mays said he gets more comfortable with each day.
"He has great basketball IQ, understands how to play, and as he continued to develop and understand exactly what we're looking for, as we implement our offense and defensive schemes, he's going to continue to get better because he does a great job of picking things up," Jones said.
Going against guys like Patterson every day allows Mays to pick up more and more each day. He admits defensively is where he still needs to learn the most, but he's working on keeping a positive attitude as a freshman.
"It's great because playing against him you can learn how to attack a pick and roll and defend. Every practice has been like that for us," Mays said. "The biggest thing is being a freshman, just have to stay positive. I feel like I'm getting a better feel for how my teammates play."
Patterson said Mays brings that IQ to the floor that will only benefit the team.
"He works hard, he plays smart and he makes good plays for us out on the floor," Patterson said.
It continues to be the little things for Mays that impress the staff like getting a hand in players' eyes versus going up trying to block a shot. Mays said he brings that and more to the team.
"A winning attitude who wants to get guys involved. Being a cerebral player, understanding how to see the floor. I feel like I matured a lot (at Findlay Prep) and just learned how to play the game."
Mays wants to be an Academic All-American and get onto the freshman All-SEC team, but it's all about getting to the NCAA Tournament.
Nuts and Bolts
- It was one of the most physical practices to date for the fall practices for LSU. Players were flying around going for loose balls and battling on the floor for balls until a whistle blew.
- A group of three freshmen in a Hayward, Mays, Graves and sophomore Reed Vial went up against five including Sampson, Blakeney, Epps and Sims. The older bunch got the best of the freshmen in a drill based on fighting and scrapping for every rebound and point as many times as they could whether there was a whistle or not. The younger group ran a few sprints because of it.
- Reath continues to be a presence with his length. Simple passes around the perimeter are more difficult for players to make if Reath steps out to guard someone. Multiple times, the 6-10 big man tipped passes away while covering on the perimeter.
- The staff communicated to Patterson that he needs to have vision of as much of the court as possible, backing all the way down to the baseline to see both his man in the corner and when the ball is in the opposite corner. The same was said for Elbert Robinson, but the staff let him know not to cheat too much to the opposite corner man, not wanting to get beat by a cross-court pass.
- Victor continues to be a big presence for LSU on the effort side of things. He cleaned up a Robinson miss as he flew into the paint and was not boxed out. That type of effort drew praise from the staff.
- Reath showed his range as he helped Sampson, who picked up his dribble, by popping just outside the elbow and hitting almost a three-point shot over Robinson's outstretched hand.
- Antonio Blakeney took Kieran Hayward all the way to the rim and over powered him for the score.
- Duop Reath and Craig Victor battled hard with Reath losing control at one point before Victor blocked Reath's attempt to drive the ball after he got by Victor. A hard-fought, aggressive 1-on-1 pairing.
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