“I feel good about their willingness to be receptive about the things we’re asking them to do,” Johnson said during media days on Tuesday. “The key for any team I’ve ever been involved with is when they’re good they take ownership and they buy in on a consistent basis and compete at a high level. That’s how they win games.”
Johnson said that he doesn’t talk about goals and expectations for the season; rather he has a real simple philosophy that he and his players will live by.
“The bottom line is you take care of the little things, the details every day, and learn how to compete,” said Johnson. “We as coaches and players all want to win, but this time of the year everyone feels that they’re going to the Final Four, the Sweet 16, the NCAA Tournament. The bottom line is we have to be competitive on a day-in and day-out basis then at the end of the year, the course of the year, it will all take care of itself.”
Johnson said that there are three areas that will determine how good his first team at LSU will be and it will be based on how well it defends, rebounds, and protects the ball.
With four starters coming back from last season’s squad that finished 13-18, Johnson has some players with experience, but he doesn’t have a lot of experienced depth.
The Tigers have gone through six practices over the last four days and with 25 days to go until the season opener the focus will be on identifying his starting five for Jackson State.
“Probably Garrett would play the three if we had to play today then Tas (Tasmin Mitchell) would play the four and Chris (Johnson) would play the five,” Johnson said. “Terry Martin, Marcus Thornton, Alex Farrer, one of those guys would be at the two depending on which one wants to defend.”
Tiger fans may be surprised to hear that Thornton does not have a spot locked down yet after finishing second in the conference last year with 19.6 points a game.
Thornton’s offensive production is as good as it gets in the SEC, but he must improve on the defensive end if he is going to succeed in Johnson’s system.
“Right now, Marcus needs to understand that he has to a better job of making his teammates better and do a better job on the defensive end of the floor,” said Johnson.
Sometimes it’s harder for a pure shooter to adjust to having to play just as hard on both ends of the floor, but Johnson says his scorer has the right attitude and is working on being a better all-around player.
The other starting position that is up for grabs is the point, which according to Johnson is the toughest position to play in his system.
“Without question the point position is the hardest one to play,” Johnson said. “They control a lot of what we do offensively such as making the calls and the right passes, and defensively that is where our defense is going to be generated at the point of attack.
“Bo’s done a good job,” added Johnson. “He’s got a better basketball I.Q. than I thought and the key for him is he’s been asked to do more than he’s ever had to do. But he’s done a good job up to this point.
“Now, Chris Bass is a high school kid that plays fast,” added Johnson. “Like most freshmen he has no idea in the short six practices what’s going on. He makes the same mistake over and over, but that’s what you expect. The thing I like about both kids is they are working extremely hard and want to learn. That’s a start right there.”
The veterans are going to have to help the young point guards along the way and Johnson will look to junior forward Tasmin Mitchell to provide leadership as he returns from missing all but three games last season due to a stress fracture in his shin bone.
“I think anytime you sit out as much as a guy like Tas sat out then you’re going to be hungry,” said Johnson. “Knock on wood but he’s extremely healthy right now and has a lot of bounce in his legs. I think he’s going to be one of our go-to guys.”
The older players like Mitchell are going to need to be mentors to the younger guys because life in the SEC is a lot different than playing in a high school gym on Friday night.
The guys, old and young, are going to learn very quickly that the coaches will be patient with their development, but only with certain aspects of the game.
“Defensively, rebounding-wide, taking care of the ball, there will be no patience whatsoever,” said Johnson. “On the offensive end, as long as we’re setting good screens and making each other better, we’ll be patient. Kids don’t try to miss free throws. They don’t try to miss shots. The offensive end is one they should enjoy playing as long as they play within themselves. But, the other three facets, no patience whatsoever.”
Trent Johnson said that Donnie Guerinoni and Keith Richard will work primarily with the guards during practice with Richard focusing on the point guards and Guerinoni with the No. 2 guards.
Brent Scott and Johnson will work with the center and forwards on the offensive end of the court.
Garrett Green is still the only player that is out right now with an injury to his lower back. He is scheduled to have an MRI in about a week.
Johnson said that some of the other players have some nicks and bruises but nothing serious.