A clean slate

The LSU basketball program will celebrate two special occasions on Saturday when the Tigers open the 2008-09 season against Jackson State at 1 p.m. in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

This season marks the 101st year of LSU basketball, and Saturday will be Trent Johnson's first game as head coach at LSU.


After a Final Four appearance in 2005-06, the Tigers slumped to 17-15 two seasons ago, following that up with a 13-18 campaign last season. That slide led the LSU administration in a different direction, taking them out West where they would find Johnson, who became the 20th head coach of the Tigers on April 10.


LSU returns three regular starters from last year's squad in the Southeastern Conference's leading scorer Marcus Thornton (19.6 ppg), Garrett Temple, and Chris Johnson (11.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg), to go along with Terry Martin (8.3 ppg) and Alex Farrar (3.0 ppg), who started 17 and 14 games, respectively.


Also returning to action for the Tigers is Tasmin Mitchell, who was a pre-season All-SEC selection last year, but was lost for the season after only three games due to a stress fracture in the left shin bone.


Mitchell has started every game of his LSU career - 71 games - and averaged 14.7 points as a sophomore.


This LSU squad, which goes 14 deep, will look to the 6-7 forward on both ends of the court, and Mitchell feels that he is up for the challenge.


"Saturday is what I'll point to," Mitchell said. "I think I'm back. I feel good about myself and I feel good about the system. I feel good about the team chemistry we have going on and the coaching staff. Everything is falling into place."


The Tigers will also turn to senior guard Garrett Temple, a three-year starter who has taken on a new role after playing mostly at point guard his entire career.


The 6-6, 190-pounder will play the three-spot this season, and with his new role comes a fresh start for both himself and his team.


"It's a whole new season. The only way we look at last year is to build on it," said Temple, who averaged 6.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game last year. "We learned a lot of lessons from last year, and we need to build on it. We didn't have a good season last year, but now it's over.


"We've got a whole new team, a new vision and a new coaching staff, and anything can happen," Temple added. "In the first game of the season, we've got a clean slate, so we're not really worried about last year as much as just playing this one game. No matter who we play, we're going to come out and play hard."


Johnson prides himself on having a team that rebounds, plays sound defense, and protects the ball.


His team will face a pesky Jackson State squad on Saturday that finished 14-20 and 10-8 in Southwest Athletic Conference play a year ago.


JSU returns four starters from last season in 6-7 forward Grant Maxey (14.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg), 6-8 senior center Jeremy Caldwell (11.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg), 6-3 guard Darrion Griffin (14.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg), and 6-6 swingman Garrison Johnson (7.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg).


The Tigers defeated Miles College 79-43 in their only exhibition game, while LSU scrimmaged Tulane and UNO to prepare for the upcoming schedule.


Some coaches use their non-conference games as a way to only get better, not placing as much emphasis on the outcome. However, LSU's new headman isn't one of those coaches.


"I approach it like every game. It doesn't matter if it's non-conference, conference, it's the same," Johnson said. "We try everything we can to win the game and do everything we can to play the game the right way.


"Shame on any player, shame on any coach if they think what happens in March or any SEC tournament is more important than what happens now," Johnson added. "That's just a lack of respect for competition as far I'm concerned."


That same type of approach has carried down to his players and will be obvious to the fans in attendance come Saturday.


"They're going to see more of a defensive team and a team that's going to get after our opponent,” said LSU center Chris Johnson. “We're going to be prepared. We're going to dive on the floor for loose balls, rebound, and take care of the ball. We're going to do whatever we have to do to win ballgames and take it one game at a time."

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