Most college basketball coaches would be concerned about having only two starters back from a team that reached the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.
Not LSU men’s coach Johnny Jones, who, a little more than six months after the Tigers’ 20-win season came to an end with a setback to SMU in Dallas, is looking to take the next step and reach the NCAA tournament this time in his third season leading the program.
After more than three months of offseason preparation, including a rigorous, six-week strength and conditioning program, LSU will officially take the court in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center practice facility Wednesday afternoon.
While sophomore forwards Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin return as starters, a group of newcomers that includes freshmen Jalyn Patterson, Elbert Robinson III and Aaron Epps as well as junior transfers Keith Hornsby and Josh Gray will be in the spotlight as well.
“We’re looking forward to it. … I’ve got five new faces out there and two returning starters,” Jones said Tuesday. “We look forward to the new guys coming in, and the impact they’ll have the opportunity to make on this team.”
Long wait over
The first practice of the preseason couldn’t come fast enough for Hornsby, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard who sat out the 2013-14 season after transferring from UNC Asheville.
“It’s almost harder now because it’s in my sights, but we still have a month to go before our exhibition game (Nov. 7 against Morehouse College),” Hornsby said. “I can’t look at it that way. I have to realize that this month is so important for us to prepare for the season.
“The most frustrating part was at the beginning of (last) year because I spent the whole month of October practicing with the guys as if I was going to be playing. When the exhibition game came and I was sitting on the bench, it really hit me like, ‘Man, this is going to be hard.’ ”
Lean and mean
Robinson looked like a different man than the one reporters met with during an informal media session for the program’s newcomers in early July.
When Robinson reported to campus in early June for summer school, he carried 315 pounds on his 7-foot-1 frame. By Tuesday, he’d shed 50 pounds and was a svelte 265 — the lowest he’s been since his freshman year of high school in Garland, Texas.
“It was tough, but my coaches helped me through it,” said Robinson, who noted that running in the heat and humidity of south Louisiana in the summer months helped a lot. “I started eating right and the weight started coming off. I wasn’t fat, I was solid … I think they just wanted me in better shape.”
Even Hornsby admitted to having to do a double-take when he sees a sleeker Robinson walking around campus.
“When he first came here, we expected him to be a little out of shape,” Hornsby said. “Throughout a six-week stretch that we called boot camp, our strength and conditioning work, you could tell the improvements were vast.
“It’s funny, when you see him walking around you notice the difference. Every time I see him, I think it’s (6-9, 203-pound forward) Aaron (Epps). I’m like, ‘What? That’s Elbert.’ It’s great.”
Jones said Patterson, a 6-footer from Alpharetta, Georgia, who’ll vie with Gray for the starting point guard job, and Epps, a 6-9 forward who played at Tioga High School, underwent cleanup surgeries before enrolling at LSU and are healthy and ready for the start of practice. ... The Tigers, who’ll normally practice six times a week leading up to the regular-season opener on Nov. 15 against Gardner Webb, will work Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before getting the weekend off.