A bumpy road ahead?

LSU men's basketball head coach Trent Johnson is already looking ahead to next season. In a breakaway from his typical reserved demeanor, the headman recently made light of a season still fresh with the taste of defeat.

Of course, he had a reason for his upbeat attitude on the afternoon.

"Next time this year, things might not be as funny," Johnson said.

The reality is evident.

LSU, fresh off an NCAA Round of 32 tournament run that ended at the hands of the top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels, loses five seniors from a team that made two Big Dance appearances in four season's time.

Marcus Thornton, the reigning Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, is among those names.

"When you lose a player the caliber of Marcus, you don't replace that," Johnson said. "You can't replace that with a high school or junior college player, or with anybody."

That means that Johnson will be in search of someone to make up the missing 21.1 points, 38.8 three point field goal percentage, 5.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.

Where he is not replacing points, Johnson will be looking for a way to patch up the leadership void left by Garrett Temple, who graduates with his masters’ degree as the Tigers' all-time leader in minutes played.

"You don’t replace Garrett's leadership, and what he's done here for four years," Johnson said. "You are not going out and getting a guy in the summer or spring like that. These next guys will be mainstays of our program and have to contribute and help, but there is no replacing."

Chris Johnson, who finished second in school history in blocks, Quinton Thornton and Terry Martin round out the departing Tigers.

Tasmin Mitchell, if he elects to pass on the NBA draft, returns to the team as the lone piece of the 2006 Final Four run that was, thanks in large part to a medical redshirt the junior was granted last season. Whether or not Mitchell returns is still in question, but that is something that he and Johnson are currently addressing.


“I’ve had a conversation with Tasmin as of yesterday and we’re compiling as much information as possible so he’ll have facts and he’ll be able to make a decision that’s best for him,” Johnson said. “One of the things I’ve told Tasmin is that I want what’s best for him. He’s going to graduate this summer and he’s in a great position. My advice is to look at the facts and before he makes that decision, and this coaching staff will have the necessary information.”

Bo Spencer will run the show at point guard once more. Yet, how the breakout sophomore will handle the lights when his act moves to the main stage will be paramount to LSU's success in 2009-10.

"Marcus and Garrett were Bo's security blanket," Johnson said. "He will need to do a lot of work between now and then. Really, for the whole team, the biggest thing is this spring and this summer."

The Tigers will pick back up with workouts at the beginning of next month, a time that could also see LSU add more talent to their 2009 signing class.

"There is a good possibility that we can add a player or two to this class," Johnson said. "The mainstay of what we are going to do next year though will come from the guys we have now.

"Another positive base we have is that the 2010 recruiting is going very well," added Johnson. "There is a lot of positive feedback from the standpoint of LSU basketball. We are going to continue to get the quality of player to compete at a high level and do what we did last year."

From Johnson's words on Wednesday, the 2009 Tiger lineup will be a far cry from the 2008 card.

Garrett Green may move in for Johnson at center, with Storm Warren at power forward in place for Mitchell. Johnson said that Mitchell's return would move him to small forward, keeping Spencer at the point and leaving the two-spot open for competition.


Of course, a lot of that depends on Green’s health.


“The best thing for me and for this basketball team is I want Garrett Green completely healthy, walking without pain by the first day of school,” Johnson said. “I don’t care if he doesn’t do anything all summer, but by the first day of school I want him to be healthy and ready to start over.


“He’s a guy that, in drills last spring, really shoots it well. All the physical attributes, all the skill sets you like he has. I just want him to get to a point where he’s healthy and he’s happy and we’ll go from there.”

Variations in the scheme will shake down between now and the fall, mainly surrounding the play of freshman Chris Bass and incoming recruit Aaron Dotson.

Johnson said that Bass, a true point guard, could make the off-season push to get the start as the Tiger's ball handler, which would move Spencer to the two-spot. Dotson, a rangy six-foot-four, 194 pound small forward, could also work his way into the starting rotation.

No matter, the rebuilding process begins now for Johnson, who said that the expectations of the coming season will be no different than the one that recently passed.

"Inside the locker room we just push to be as good as we possibly could be everyday," he said. "There is never anything about winning the SEC, winning the conference tournament or going to the Final Four. When you put those limitations on yourself, and you add the possibility of injuries, you set your expectations too high.

"This team has to prove they are worthy of competing at a high level and that they are worthy of what happened this past year."

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