LSU makes cut in simulated draft for NCAA tourney _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- LSU coach Johnny Jones cheers on his players against Auburn in February.

LSU basketball signee Benny Simmons and commit Antonio Blakeney could be making their final pitch to a fellow five-star recruit in the coming week.

From the looks of it, it better be a good one.

With the spring signing period beginning Wednesday, Simmons, who signed with the Tigers in November, and Blakeney, who committed in early January, are still hard at work trying to convince combo guard Malik Newman that he should come join them.

If successful, it would make a McDonald’s All-American trio for LSU coach Johnny Jones although the task for Simmons and Blakeney might have become a little tougher Thursday when Kentucky’s top seven players from a team that started 38-0 this season declared for the NBA draft.

Kentucky and LSU are among the schools Newman, who is ranked fourth on the ESPN 100 list, is considering. The others are Kansas, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and N.C. State.

But with Kentucky losing guards Aaron Harrison and his twin brother, Andrew, and Devin Booker, could it persuade Newman, a star for Callaway High in Jackson, Mississippi, to head to the Bluegrass State?

No one knows at this point although Simmons and Blakeney, who made a strong case with Newman at the McDonald’s All-American game last week, will have another go at it this week in the Jordan Brand Classic game to be played Friday night in Brooklyn, New York.

Players arrive in New York on Tuesday with practice sessions Wednesday and Thursday, giving Simmons, a 6-foot-10 forward, and Blakeney, a 6-4 shooting guard, ample time to work on Newman — if he hasn’t decided by then.

Unlike the McDonald’s game, when Simmons and Blakeney played for the East team and Newman suited up for the West, all three will be teammates on the West squad.

“We’re still working on him,” Blakeney said Friday. “He already knows what we have to offer, but we’ll be working on Malik up there as well.”

Calls to Newman’s coach, David Sanders, and Newman’s father were not returned Friday.

In an interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader after the seven Kentucky players announced they’re leaving, Sanders said their departure could influence Newman’s decision.

“Well, I think it definitely helps,” Sanders told the paper. “Malik is a guy who wants to play. … I know one of the main things he talks about, on that level, is he’s a competitive guy and he loves to be on the floor competing. It definitely opens up some spots for him to come in and play major minutes.”

Sanders said he doesn’t know when Newman, the son of former Mississippi State standout Horatio Webster, will announce his choice and doesn’t believe any of the finalists have been eliminated.

“I don’t think anybody is off his list yet,” Sanders said. “I’ve heard all kinds of things. I’ve heard people say he’s already committed to LSU and all this crazy stuff. I don’t know where this LSU stuff came from.

“Now, LSU is definitely an option,” he added. “But we went down for that visit, just to watch a game (against Kentucky), and the next thing you know (people are saying) he’s committed to LSU.”

Signing day could be a slow one for LSU, which could have only two scholarships available. The Tigers have eight potential returnees and have signed Simmons and Arizona transfer Craig Victor. With Blakeney, they will have used 11 of their 13 allowable scholarships.

Blakeney said he probably won’t sign until after the Jordan Brand Classic, while Newman could do the same.

LSU is also in the hunt for 6- 7 forward Melvin Frazier of L.W. Higgins High in Marrero, who is considering Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Arkansas, Higgins coach Marshall Jackson said Friday.

“Other schools are starting to come into the picture,” Jackson said. “St. John’s has started recruiting him, and Western Kentucky has been in the picture. They were pretty persistent from the start and have been right there with all the rest.”

The state’s top player, Madison Prep guard Brandon Sampson, also reportedly has an offer from LSU. Since re-opening his recruitment after initially committing to St. John’s, Sampson may be eying SMU, Alabama and Oklahoma State.

Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.