Johnson, who led LSU to its 10th SEC championship and guided the Tigers to a 25-6 record, became one of a select few coaches to earn Coach of the Year honors in three different conferences - Western Athletic Conference, Pac-10 and SEC.
Not surprisingly though, the first-year headman didn’t have much to say when asked about his latest accolade.
“It is what it is,” he said. “I inherited a good group of players who are good people, and I don’t have a good staff; I have an excellent staff. It is what it is, whether you’re embarrassed or you’re modest. That’s just the fact of the matter is.”
It’s become customary for Johnson to dodge questions about his own fortunes, but the Tigers’ leader wasn’t nearly as quiet about Thornton’s distinction.
“It’s gratifying because of the magnitude and caliber of players in this league that were mentioned for that award, and it speaks volumes to what the coaches in this league think of him as a player and how he’s developed … I’m very proud of him,” Johnson said.
Thornton was one of five unanimous selections for First-Team All-SEC honors as the senior from Baton Rouge was second in the league in scoring for the second straight year, averaging 20.9 points per game.
Thornton is the seventh LSU player to win Player of the Year in the league since 1968 and this makes the 11th time an LSU player has captured the honor.
“I don’t know if he shared this, but that was one of his individual goals that he mentioned to me way back in the Field House after I had been here only a month,” said Johnson. “He mentioned that after we had talked and after he had talked about being in a situation where he could be playing in meaningful games.”
Thornton didn’t reveal any of these lofty ambitions himself, but the junior college transfer said his numbers only matter because of the numbers in the win column.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Thornton said. “Last year, I had put up similar numbers, but we didn’t win as much. This year I put up the same numbers, and we won, so I give credit to my teammates. Without winning the games, I probably wouldn’t be in the conservation for Player of the Year, so I’m just happy I had these guys to fall back on to help me through the games.”
The Tigers are also one of only two teams in the SEC with two first team All-SEC selections. Thornton and junior forward Tasmin Mitchell – along with Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson – are the only duos on the first team.
After being limited to just three games in the 2007-08 season, Mitchell is averaging 16.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game heading into the SEC tournament. The junior from Denham Springs, who took a medical redshirt last season, is eighth in the league in scoring and eleventh in rebounding.
Temple averaged 7.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.9 assists a game in the regular season. He is the all-time leader in minutes played at LSU with 4,298 and will finish his career ranked in LSU's all-time Top 10 in assists, steals and blocks.
Like Temple, Johnson made his mark on the defensive end. He’s averaging 2.7 blocked shots a game and his 166 career blocks is second to only Shaquille O’Neal, who is the SEC’s all-time leader with 412.
Temple said the accolades are nice, but they aren’t important now that the regular season is out of the way.
“This week is very important for us. We’ve been practicing hard. We don’t play until Friday, so we are going to have two or three really tough practices before we head to Tampa Bay,” said Temple. “We just have to focus and get back to LSU basketball. We haven’t been playing that lately.”