As he celebrated Thanksgiving with his LSU basketball team Thursday, coach Johnny Jones gave thanks for his health and his family and all the usual blessings.
This year, he had one more development for which to be thankful.
“Being here at LSU and part of the program again,” Jones said.
Seven months have passed since Jones, a four-year letterman for LSU from 1980-84 who later spent 13 years as a Dale Brown assistant, left North Texas to accept his dream job coaching his alma mater.
He’s off to a promising start.
A big early splash on the recruiting trail included keeping Madison Prep star Jarell Martin at home to join a group of November signees that could put the new coach’s first recruiting class among the nation’s top 10. But the returns have been just as impressive on the court.
LSU has a chance to reach 4-0 for the first time since 2008 when the Tigers welcome Mississippi Valley State (0-3) to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center for a 7 p.m. tip-off Saturday.
“It’s another game for us is how I look at it, and we need to focus on ourselves rather than the opponent,” Jones said. “What we need to do is go out and see if we can improve from the last game.”
LSU is coming off a 102-95 victory over Northwestern State on Tuesday, the first time an LSU team has hit triple digits since early in the 2005-06 season.
But some breakdowns on defense allowed the Demons to rally from 21 points down to make a game of it in the final minutes.
Jones put LSU through a morning workout Thursday, then invited the players to have Thanksgiving dinner with their coach and his family. The team ate turkey and watched football — and basketball.
When the Tigers returned to the gym Friday morning, they continued to work on what went wrong late in the Northwestern game.
“We unfortunately didn’t take our scouting report from practice into the game,” Jones said.
Junior-college transfer Shavon Coleman leads a list of newcomers who have made major contributions early in their LSU careers.
Coleman followed up his 25-point performance in a rout of McNeese State with a team-high 22 points Tuesday against Northwestern. He leads LSU with an average of 17.7 points despite coming off the bench in two of the three games.
Johnny O’Bryant had 13 points and six rebounds Tuesday in his first game back from a left calf injury that sidelined him in the first half of the season opener.
Jones said O’Bryant is ready to make his second straight start Saturday, but said injured forward Jalen Courtney, hobbled by a chronic knee injury, will likely be sidelined for the second straight game.
The Tigers face a Valley team coming off a 21-win season in 2011-12 that included the Southwestern Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles and the school’s fifth NCAA tournament appearance. But the Delta Devils lost coach Sean Woods to Morehead State and welcomed back only one returnee.
Valley enters the PMAC amid a stretch of 11 straight road games to start the season.
The new coach at Valley is former Woods assistant Chico Potts, who spent the 1997-98 season at LSU before finishing his playing career at Delta State.
Jones said he expects Potts to have strong emotions about coaching in the building where he once played college basketball. Jones himself experienced such a scenario when he brought North Texas to the PMAC in December 2010 and sat on the visiting bench as a head coach for the first time.
North Texas rolled to a 75-55 win in that game.
“I’m sure he’ll have his team ready to play and be excited about being on the sideline,” Jones said of Potts.
Junior-college transfer Davon Usher is coming off a 35-point performance in Valley’s 81-68 loss to Northwestern. He averages 22.3 points per game.
Although the Tigers have a shot at starting Jones’ tenure 4-0, they have yet to face an opponent from a BCS conference.
That will change when Seton Hall comes to town Thursday as part of the SEC-Big East Challenge and the strength of the LSU schedule begins to ramp up. But Jones said the Delta Devils will have his team’s full attention.
“These guys have been around me and they know how I operate,” he said. “We will never look ahead.”