LSU freshman Johnny O’Bryant III, who came off the bench the first six games before starting the last two, thought hard Thursday when asked how long it had been since he was used in a reserve role.
Aside from coming off the bench in the Jordan Brand All-Star Classic this past spring, O’Bryant said he hadn’t experienced life as a non-starter since playing for the East Side High varsity as an eighth-grader at Eastwood Middle School in Cleveland, Miss.
Really, though, O’Bryant said he’s fine either way.
“You have to be ready to play no matter the position you’re in,” he said. “I don’t get caught up in whether I’m starting or coming off the bench.”
LSU coach Trent Johnson clearly shares the sentiment.
When he gave O’Bryant his first college start Nov. 29 at Houston, Johnson never spoke a word about it to one of the top prospects in the 2011 recruiting class.
“He just wrote it on the board,” O’Bryant recalled.
Johnson has said he considers O’Bryant one of four “starters” in the post, along with Justin Hamilton, Storm Warren and Malcolm White. He has pointed out that Warren was the “best player on the floor” in games against Georgia Tech and Houston, even though he started only one of the two.
No matter his role Saturday night when LSU returns home to face Boise State, O’Bryant has certainly done enough in the early season to garner the confidence of his coaches and teammates.
O’Bryant ranks fifth on LSU’s balanced list of scoring leaders, averaging nine points per game. He leads the team with 6.4 rebounds.
However, he is still working to become more consistent.
O’Bryant looked like a one-man wrecking crew in a 21-point, eight-rebound performance Nov. 17 against Northwestern. Yet he had only seven points in the next two games combined.
“Guys in college aren’t just bigger, faster and stronger,” O’Bryant said. “They’re smarter. They know the game.”
O’Bryant continues to adjust.
He rebounded from a three-point outing against Houston to score 11 points and grab six rebounds Saturday against Rutgers, helping LSU pick up a 55-50 win while making his second career start.
With 12 seconds to go, O’Bryant turned a one-point lead into a three-point cushion when Anthony Hickey found him for a breakaway dunk. O’Bryant said he probably would have thrown home a nasty reverse or tomahawk back in his high-school days. Not here.
“I just put it in,” he said. “I didn’t want to do anything fancy and make it bounce out or anything.”
Learning to tone down his game, O’Bryant said, has been part of the learning curve.
“You’ve got to understand when to go and when not to go,” he said. “When to go fast. When to go slow. I’m just trying to get a feel for what college is like.”