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Tigers look for athleticism in hoops

3/21/2012

Today is three weeks before the start of college basketball's regular (most call it "late") signing period April 11 and while there has been precious little news from the LSU front, there is plenty to watch for as the period nears.

LSU coach Trent Johnson said in a season-ending news conference last week that his staff "has some work to do in terms of trying to get two more guys into this basketball program, maybe three."

That would mean an overall class of three or four players, considering that in the early signing period LSU signed Malik Morgan - a shooting guard from John Curtis Christian in River Ridge, La., who led his team past reigning Louisiana Mr. Basketball Ricardo Gathers (who is committed to Baylor) and Riverside Academy for the Class 2A state title. LSU can sign as many as five players total, but speculation is that one scholarship may be held to entertain a deep 2013 class in Louisiana (the Tigers have only two scholarship seniors coming back next season).

With the 6-foot-3 Morgan on board, what else will LSU be after?

Johnson gave clues on where LSU's emphasis might be when he said that "We have to improve our athleticism" and "We need to improve our overall quickness," during the post-season news conference. LSU, 18-15 and a loser in the first round of the NIT in 2012, will return the five players who started the most games in the 2011-12 season.

But that lineup lacked length and athleticism on the wing. LSU also lost two reserve post players in seniors Storm Warren and Malcolm White, so inside depth could be an issue too.

So it makes sense that LSU entertained 6-6 junior college wing Shavon Coleman, a native of Thibodaux, La. who played at Howard College in Texas, in an official visit last weekend. If LSU were to land Coleman, it could go from having to start 5-9 combo guard Andre Stringer at the off guard (next to the also small 5-11 Anthony Hickey at the point) to being able to sport a lineup that includes Coleman, who is noted for his ability to guard all perimeter positions, and 6-6 Ralston Turner, giving the Tigers legitimate SEC length on the wing.

Other prospects have been harder to wrap one's arms around.

There's been much talk about 6-6 Dutch wing Shane Hammink, the son of former LSU center Geert Hammink. Reports have Hammink with offers from both LSU and Florida in the SEC.

Hammink, who was born in Baton Rouge, is a perimeter player, unlike his 7-foot father. He spent this season playing for an academy in the Canary Islands that prepares foreign players to play in the United States or professionally. We'll have more on Hammink soon.

The addition of either wing would address LSU's need for size, athleticism and versatility outside. But the Tigers would still need an inside presence because behind starters Justin Hamilton and Johnny O'Bryant, LSU has two players who, at some point in their career, were moved to the perimeter: Eddie Ludwig and Jalen Courtney. LSU will also return little-used walk-on Andrew Del Piero.

One big man to keep an eye on is 6-9 Norvel Pelle, a prep school center from California whose name has been attached to LSU after his AAU coach told an Iowa website that Pelle was interested in the Tigers, along with Iowa State, San Diego State and Texas-El Paso and UConn.

If the interest is genuine, this would be a huge signing for LSU if the Tigers were indeed able to land him. Pelle was Rivals.com's top-rated center prospect in the 2011 class (ESPN had him as the No. 13 power forward) when he signed with St. John's last year. But he wound up in prep school after he was ruled academically ineligible.

If LSU were to get Pelle, the Tigers would have a lot of quality depth inside. Hamilton, the Tigers' 7-foot center, was second-team all-SEC as a junior and O'Bryant, who started 17 games as a freshman, was the first McDonald's All-American Johnson signed for LSU.

Whether or not it's Pelle, one would suspect LSU to go after another big man, considering that it just lost two and will lose Hamilton and Del Piero after the 2013 season.

Check back with us and we'll keep you updated with information as signing day nears.