In his first few days with the LSU men’s basketball team, point guard Josh Gray noticed something about new teammate Jordan Mickey.
In going into the paint and challenging Mickey, a 6-foot-8 forward with an imposing 87-inch wingspan, Gray figured there was a 50-50 chance the ball would be swatted away by the Southeastern Conference’s leader in blocked shots last season.
If it didn’t get blocked, Gray said, there was a good chance the shot was going to be altered.
“He’s got me one or two times the whole year, but I learned my lesson,” Gray said with a wry smile. “I just try to put the ball at the top of the square (on the backboard above the rim).
“Sometimes he goes and gets it; sometimes it’ll be a little too high,” he said. “You definitely have to alter your shot and put it as high as possible.”
You also have to hope Mickey can’t get to everything, although it seems like he is this season — especially in a recent seven-game stretch in which he’s averaging 5.0 blocks.
In the Tigers’ past four games, Mickey rejected seven shots against Alabama-Birmingham and then recorded six blocks against College of Charleston, Southern Miss and Savannah State.
So far, Mickey has 44 blocks shots and is leading the SEC again with 3.7 per game going into the league opener Thursday night at Missouri.
Combined with the 106 he had as a freshman, he has 150 in just 46 career games (3.3 per game) to rank third in school history behind Shaquille O’Neal’s 412 and Chris Johnson’s 176.
Like a lot of other things in life, timing is important in blocking shots — particularly when you’re not a 7-footer towering over smaller shooters.
“He’s got unbelievable timing in terms of leaving the floor when the shot leaves someone’s hand,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “He anticipates well, so the timing and his wingspan and ability to jump put him in position to get a lot of blocks.”
“You have to have timing, and what goes into the timing is anticipation and his understanding of how to block a shot,” said LSU radio analyst Ricky Blanton, a former Tigers’ player. “The one thing you notice is he doesn’t block a lot of them out of bounds.”
That was evident during a highlight-reel sequence against College of Charleston on Dec. 22.
Mickey wowed the home crowd when he blocked three shots on one possession, then erased another one on the subsequent trip down the floor for four blocks in just 43 seconds.
“I was just trying to play the best defense I could,” he said.
While he may make it look easy, Mickey said it isn’t.
“It takes a lot of work on the court. … It takes timing and having to watch people’s shots,” he said. “That’s something I try to work on in practice every day and take to the game.”
Mickey said it’s something his father, who played collegiately at Abilene Christian, taught him early in his career.
“My dad told me the first things that keep you on the court are defense and rebounding, so those are things I worked on,” Mickey said. “Blocking shots just came with playing defense, so I was able to continue to improve on it.
“I learned some things: how to block shots, how not to block the ball in people’s hands, how to block it when they shoot it.”
“If he gets in foul trouble, he doesn’t try to block all of them and pick up an unnecessary foul,” Blanton said. “To me, for his size, he may be the best shot blocker that I’ve seen in college basketball.”
Like Gray, other teammates marvel at how Mickey gets to shots most 6-8 defenders wouldn’t get close to.
“It’s amazing how he does that. … I still wonder how he does that,” forward Jarell Martin said. “Jordan has excellent timing when it comes to blocking shots.
“He’s real explosive getting off the ground and he has long arms.”
At 6-10, Martin is two inches taller than Mickey. But Martin said he sometimes gets rejected by his frontcourt mate when they go one-on-one.
“I’m still trying to find ways of scoring on him without going through him,” Martin said with a laugh.
Guard Keith Hornsby knows what Martin is talking about even though he said Mickey sometimes can’t get his high-arcing floaters in practice.
“He’ll go for it hard, but I know I can’t challenge him regularly,” Hornsby said. “That would not work out well.”
Just call it lesson learned.