A couple of weeks have passed during LSU's pre-season preparations for the 2002-03 basketball campaign, and an early look indicates the Tigers are putting together a squad that will be a factor in the Southeastern Conference.
Just based on sheer numbers alone, head coach John Brady will have the manpower at his disposal to match up against the physical demands of the league. But that's not to say the Tigers are short on talent. These October sessions of practice are revealing a team that should hold its own against the majority of foes within the conference.
A breakdown of pre-season practices over the last few seasons wouldn't take up much space due to Brady's limited numbers, but this year's full roster calls for a player-by-player analysis to show who's coming on strong and who could be stronger with the season fast approaching.
Let begin our breakdown with a look at the scholarship players, sorted by class:
Brad Bridgewater – A slight knee sprain limited Bridgewater's practice availability last week, but it won't damage his standing in the eyes of Brady. The head coach sees him as very capable of executing the new high-low post offense, largely due to his understanding of the fundamentals and philosophy behind the game plan.
Plus, Brady knows Bridgewater's heart is the same size as his jersey.
Bridgewater has improved his offensive skills every year he's been at LSU, and 2002-03 should provide him the stage to show he has even more ability to score close to the goal. We expect him to figure into the starting five when the season begins and contribute throughout the season.
Torris Bright – If practice effort were directly linked to performance, Torris Bright would be in store for an All-American season. The Slidell product regularly sets the pace for his teammates during workouts and has been a lights-out shooter when the Tigers move into their scrimmage mode.
Brady has mentioned a couple of times about how he and his veteran point guard have had their differences, and this might be indication of an improved chemistry between the two. Not that extremely poor relations existed, but there must be a renewed focus on Bright's part if Brady feels comfortable enough to discuss their rough spots from the past.
Thomas Davis – The jury's out on whether Davis can have a significant impact for the Tigers on the inside. He is still on the mend from a knee sprain and has been unavailable for practice. Davis shined in moments as a role player for the Tigers last season and could be valuable to LSU in the same role this year.
Ronald Dupree – Perhaps no other player on the LSU roster enters the 2002-03 season with greater expectations upon his shoulders than Dupree. Twice a second-team All-SEC selection, this could be the year that the Biloxi, Miss., native rises to the top among the league's best.
In order to reach those unprecedented individual heights, Dupree needs to invest himself in the team aspect of the game. By no means would we label Dupree a selfish player, but it appears the stellar Engineering student has yet to equate a strong showing in October with positive results during the season.
Put another way, Dupree should be dominating his teammates in the pre-season but seems to be coasting at the moment. He is still above and beyond the rest of the Tigers in terms of his ability, but he appears content to rely solely on that ability in practice. For the sake of the future, it would be great if Dupree could set an example for the other Tigers - especially the newcomers - to follow before the season begins.
Our money says he will see the light in time to make an impact. Count on Brady to help him with this.
Collis Temple III – It's the same song, different verse for Temple. Injuries (his latest being a pop in the eye that cost him a week of practice time) have him a step behind the rest of the Tigers through the first half of October.
As the Tigers work their perimeter players in a new scheme, Temple is finding that there is no substitute for experience. The repetitive work will improve his conditioning and understanding of his role on offense.
In the meantime, Temple just has to guard against frustration. The system will come to him in good time, and his potential is great as long as his body cooperates.
Shawnson Johnson – It has been intriguing to track Johnson's progress over the last two weeks. Based upon what we saw last season when he could practice but not play with the Tigers, it was obvious that he possessed athletic ability. But with a defined role on the LSU team, he has to take a major step in his basketball education.
Johnson was challenged to play physical in the first week of practice and often let his competition get the best of him. Lately, he seems to be gaining ground in this department and uses his size and strength advantage near the basket. He takes pride in his ability to rebound.
There are still a few mistakes that creep up in Johnson's game during the course of a practice, but an encouraging sign is that he seems to catch his miscues just a split-second after he commits them. Coaches will tell you that a player who learns from his mistakes is heading in the right direction.
Jaime Lloreda – All signs point to Lloreda being the go-to man for the Tigers on the inside, and Brady is making sure his Panamanian import has his game refined to serve in that capacity. He currently stands out for his tenaciousness near the basket and ability to handle the ball away from it.
One thing Brady has stressed on occasion is for Lloreda to be a little more selfish if he has the ball on the inside. As the coach put it once, he didn't bring the 6-foot-9 National Junior College Player of the Year to LSU to pass the ball.
Judging by his performance thus far in October, it won't take much convincing for Lloreda to increase his offensive intensity.
Defensively, Lloreda is just as aggressive cleaning the glass but will have to work on the fundamentals of challenging his opponent with the ball.
Courtney Trask – The Tigers have a fine guard in reserve thanks to Trask making the transfer from Memphis. He handles the ball well and has shown a toughness when put through the rigors of Brady's motion-based offense. Defensively, there's proof of a player well grounded in the fundamentals of the game.
The presence of Trask gives the Tigers a couple of different options on how they'll use Bright, but you'll read later where Trask faces competition from a couple of newcomers.
Tony Gipson – Brady is enamored with the quickness and vertical ability Gipson possesses. The motion offense LSU employs seeks to create mismatches, and there will be few players who can handle the speed Gipson displays on the court.
The transfer from Panola Junior College is a hard worker who enters the season in excellent shape. At 6-foot-1, 160 pounds, he doesn't strike an imposing figure but doesn't shy away from going to the basket.
Antonio Hudson – The pride of Grambling just quietly goes about his business during the practice day, showing a great grasp of his assignments and eagerness to improve. Hudson has challenged himself to be the team's top defensive specialist in the mold of former Tigers Jermaine Williams and Lamont Roland.
It will be a challenge for the coaching staff to find ways to get the most out of Hudson and still give the newcomers a chance to make an impact. As the star of the SEC Tournament for LSU last season, he won't give an inch to the challengers.
Xavier Whipple – A consistent effort from Whipple in practice is the norm for the McIntyre, Ga., athlete. As he improves, so do his teammates by going up against him. He is setting a good example for the newcomers at guard to follow and could become a clutch role player this season.
Tim Bush - Bush's one-year layoff from basketball rears its head at times; he's still getting into basketball shape and trying to sharpen his skills. His effort has been strong for the most part as he continues to adjust to college basketball.
Like many newcomers, Bush will have to avoid frustration and show up to work each day with a lunch pail ready to put in the hours it will take for him to be a contributor.
Darrel Mitchell – The freshman from St. Martinville is working really hard and making a strong impression in the pre-season. He has recognized that his defense was the area he needed to improve on the most, and his progress has been noteworthy to this point.
A 5-11 player, he doesn't back away from taking the charge thanks to the Tigers' weightlifting program that has sculpted his 175-pound frame. As a coach's son, he gets the most out of practice even when watching his teammates on the court.
It is important to highlight the contributions that LSU's veteran volunteers are making in pre-season camp. The knowledge that senior Brian Green and junior Charlie Thompson possess is invaluable for getting the entire team ready for the season. No one outworks these two.
Freshman Milden Ambres of Opelousas brings a bit more to the table than your average walk-on and has the versatility to make a difference down the line. It's easy to see why he will be on scholarship next year.