Friday, October 25, 2013
LSU making noise on recruiting trail
By Jeff Goodman
Johnny Jones' recruiting success has LSU in prime position to contend next season.
When Trent Johnson left Stanford for LSU in 2008, it sent shock waves -- not fear -- throughout the coaching fraternity. Johnson was revered for his high character, and he had success in Palo Alto with the Lopez twins, but SEC coaches knew he was an outsider, that he wouldn’t be a legitimate threat to keep the top talent at home.
Johnny Jones was hired a little more than a year ago to replace Johnson in Baton Rouge, and it sent a different kind of reaction throughout the league: panic and trepidation.
“We all knew how hard it would be to get players out of the state of Louisiana,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “Johnny works -- and he’s so connected down there.”
Sure, Johnson did manage to land highly rated Johnny O’Bryant in the class of 2011, but the gems have been few and far between during his four-year tenure with the Tigers. Already, the homegrown Jones -- the popular pick when Johnson was hired -- has made waves on the recruiting trail.
Jones wasted no time in keeping Baton Rouge product Jarell Martin (ESPN, No. 11), a consensus Top 25 player and potential one-and-done kid, at home. He also brought in two more Top-100 caliber players -- big man Jordan Mickey (No. 38) and guard Tim Quarterman (No. 80) -- as part of a freshman class that ranked in the Top 10 nationally.
Ben Simmons, ESPN's No. 4 player in the Class of 2015, committed to LSU earlier this month.
Jones has also landed big man Elbert Robinson (No. 54) in the Class of 2014, and -- with the help of assistant David Patrick -- received a commitment from one of the elite players in the Class of 2015: skilled Australian forward Ben Simmons (No. 4).
LSU is back. Well, maybe not completely -- but the Tigers are coming.
There's little doubt, though, that LSU will soon become relevant again nationally. Remember, this is a program that went to the Final Four in 2006 under John Brady. However, Brady was fired less than two seasons later, and the Tigers have been a virtual afterthought ever since.
Temple doesn’t claim to be completely objective when it comes to Jones. They met when Jones was a sophomore at DeRidder High School in the western part of the state. Jones wound up playing on LSU’s Final Four team in 1981, and later was an assistant on Dale Brown’s staff. He helped lure players such as Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Jackson and Randy Livingston to Baton Rouge.
“Johnny’s one of the top three head coach recruiters in the country,” Temple said. “He can be like Nick Saban -- he can recruit and coach. But he’s got one up on Saban -- everyone loves him. Black, white, polka dot, old, young, rich or poor. He covers every base. You cannot dislike Johnny Jones.”
With the arrival of Martin, Mickey and Quarterman, along with the holdovers from the Johnson regime (O’Bryant and solid veteran guards Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer), the Tigers are the pick as the “best of the rest” this season in the SEC. It basically means they are expected to finish just behind Kentucky, Florida and Tennessee.
But it’s realistic that Jones will be able to get this program to where it’s a legitimate threat to John Calipari and Billy Donovan in the near future. The frontcourt could be loaded in 2014-15 if everyone returns. Picture Martin at small forward, Mickey at power forward and O’Bryant in the middle, with Robinson coming off the bench. That’s a group that could hold its own with anyone.
The 6-foot-5 Quarterman likely will start at the point from Day One this season, and Jones also will have Hickey, who averaged 11.2 points last season, back in the fold as a senior. Jones also is optimistic that 6-foot-4 sophomore wing Malik Morgan can make a significant jump from a freshman campaign during which he started 14 contests.
The key for Jones, though, is protecting his home turf.
Greg Monroe, who many had as the No. 1 player in the country, left the state in 2008 and went to Georgetown. Oklahoma State's Markel Brown is another Louisiana kid who is thriving out of state.
“Nobody can beat him in Louisiana,” Temple said of Jones. “No one will be able to come in here and take a player from him here.”
But Jones’ ties stretch deeper than just Louisiana. He had been at North Texas for 11 years (two NCAA tourney appearances), and built relationships in Texas. In fact, Jones should be able to get in the door for most of the kids down south -- and he’s also taken advantage of the connections his assistant, David Patrick, has in Australia by landing skilled 7-foot freshman Darcy Malone and the highly touted Simmons.
Jones is considered a quality X’s and O’s guy, but it’s ultimately about players. LSU is starting to accumulate enough of those to make this program relevant again.
“This freshman class has been really, really good for us,” Jones said. “It gives us an opportunity to compete, but everything goes in cycles. I was very fortunate coming back to have Jarell Martin in Baton Rouge. I’m happy with where the program is, and I’m hoping to move the program forward.”