Jones, Simmons, Hornsby set for SEC Men’s Tipoff _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Men's head coach Johnny Jones speaks Wednesday at media day for the men's and women's basketball teams at LSU.

In the thick of campaign season, Johnny Jones has been out on the trail stumping for his basketball team.

Jones was working the campus this week, passing out schedules to students at the union and Free Speech Alley, much the way his coach Dale Brown used to crisscross the state handing out purple and gold basketball nets.

Ever thought of reprising that, Johnny?

“I think these days you’d have to hand out purple and gold Xboxes,” Jones said with a knowing chuckle.

Once, LSU basketball was a product that sold itself.

I remember my brother and I buying season tickets for the 1989-90 season, the season of Shaq and Chris Jackson and Stanley Roberts.

We couldn’t even get seats side by side, settling for a pair of perches one behind the other in the top couple of rows of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

That was long, long ago. Now, an LSU fan base scarred by many years of teams that bumped along the bottom of the SEC standings instead of scaling the championship mountain tops needs to be cajoled, convinced, enticed.

Even with a generational player like Ben Simmons taking the court Friday night for his collegiate debut against McNeese State, some LSU fans are probably hesitant to give their hearts over to program that has so often left them wanting more.

If LSU fans are to be wooed to pack the PMAC in droves, game after game, it’s going to take a little convincing.

No one better to do that than Simmons himself.

Someone asked Simmons, who really does typically speak about himself in modest terms, what “making it” in basketball would mean to him.

“Making it for me is to be the best player in the world,” the 19-year-old said plainly.

For now, he will probably at least prove to be the best LSU player since Shaq. People compare him to LeBron and Magic Johnson for his ability to score and pass and block and rebound and run the floor like a much smaller player.

This season, and this will be his only season at LSU, may well be the ground floor on his basketball future. But wouldn’t it be neat to say one day you watched the hardwood version of DaVinci sitting down at his canvas just as he made his first brush strokes on the Mona Lisa.

Clearly though, the excitement is building. It reminds Jones, a guard on LSU’s 1981 Final Four team, still the best team in LSU history, of those heady days.

He wants to see them come back.

“I remember when the students lined up outside (the PMAC) when we had Chris and Shaq and were going to the Final Four,” Jones said. “We hope we can continue that kind of buzz.”

Junior guard Tim Quarterman knows there’s more anticipation for this season than his first two at LSU.

“It’s definitely a different feeling,” he said. “The students say they’re coming out (to watch).”

What exactly will they get to see? At first, an unfinished product. Senior guard Keith Hornsby, LSU’s toughest hombre, is expected to miss most if not all of the pre-SEC schedule after surgery. Rebound magnet Craig Victor, a beefy 6-foot-9 transfer from Arizona, won’t be eligible until after the fall semester.

is LSU team mean with its fans? Will it be just getting back to the NCAA tournament for the second straight year, something the Tigers haven’t done in a decade? Or winning a tournament game (last done in 2009)? Will it mean reaching the second weekend of the tourney? How about getting back to the Final Four, last done in 2006?

There is certainly a sense LSU will have to try to grab all the glory it can while Simmons is here, because nothing after that is guaranteed.

Maybe that’s what part of the buzz, laced with anxious anticipation, is all about.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.