At last, the long wait for Craig Victor is nearly over.
In just one week, Victor will have the opportunity to play in a basketball game that counts for the first time in 11 months following his transfer from the University of Arizona after one semester there.
That he’ll be playing for his home-state team will make it even better when Victor, a New Orleans native and former St. Augustine High School standout, suits up for LSU’s matchup with Houston on Dec. 13 in Hofheinz Pavilion.
Victor, a sophomore, will be eligible after final exams are completed Saturday. He was forced to sit out the first seven regular-season games for leaving Arizona last January after playing in eight of a possible 14 games.
But that’s almost behind him now.
LSU can certainly use the 6-foot-9, 234-pound power forward down low. The Tigers have been outrebounded in five of seven games so far and are getting 2.3 fewer rebounds per game than their opponents.
Ask Victor about his strengths, and the first things that come out of his mouth are “rebounding and being physical in the paint.”
“I just want to come in and be able to help my teammates and help the team in areas that we need help in,” he said. “Whether that’s rebounding, or needing me to be a leader, or needing somebody on the defensive end. That’s what I bring to the table.”
LSU can use some help on the defensive end as well, but rebounding has been the main concern for coach Johnny Jones in his team’s 4-3 start.
One of the most glaring examples was in an overtime loss to North Carolina State at the Legends Classic, where the Tigers were outrebounded decisively 54-41.
Freshman Ben Simmons has done yeoman work for LSU so far and is leading the nation with 14.9 rebounds per game. But the next player on the Tigers’ list, 6-6 point guard Tim Quarterman, is averaging just 4.4 a game.
Victor could help fill the void left by the departure of All-Southeastern Conference forwards Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey for the NBA draft last spring. Mickey averaged 9.9 rebounds a game, and Martin got 9.2 per contest while defending the paint area.
“Craig is another post guy that should be able to defend in the post and help rebound,” Jones said at media day. “Even though he’s never played a minute for us, we’re going to be expecting big things from him.”
Part of those expectations are based on Victor’s junior season at St. Augustine, where he was a first-team Class 5A all-state pick in averaging 14.1 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.0 blocked shots a game.
“We feel like he is very capable of producing,” Jones said. “He’s a guy who has an excellent midrange shot. He’s a good passer as well and has some leadership skills.”
The Tigers almost got to see that potential last season.
Victor, who played his senior year of high school at Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, signed with Arizona with LSU coming in a close second.
Oklahoma State and Kansas were also in the mix for the four-star prospect, who was ranked the 37th overall recruit and No. 9 power forward in the Class of 2014 by ESPN.
“I was very close, real close, to coming here,” a smiling Victor said. “But I was already there on the West Coast, and my year in prep school went well. So I kind of had a feel for how things were going.”
By the end of December, however, Victor, who’d been away from Louisiana for almost two years, was ready to come home. It didn’t hurt that he averaged just 3.1 points and 1.1 rebounds in 7.1 minutes per game for the Wildcats.
“Leaving wasn’t a knock on Arizona,” said Victor, who obtained his release from the school and on Jan. 9 signed with LSU over Oklahoma State. “It was a great experience there, but I just wanted to further my experience here at LSU.”
On the day he signed the papers to join Jones’ program, Victor hinted that he was a little homesick.
“The key thing for me was staying home and being close to my family,” he said at the time about picking LSU. “I’ve been gone almost two years. … There’s nothing like (New Orleans).”
At the time, Victor didn’t know if Martin and Mickey would enter the NBA draft, but he jumped at a second chance to sign with LSU.
“I wasn’t too sure if they were going to be gone or not, but I figured it’s always good to be closer to home,” Victor said. “Being this close to home, any time I need I can call my mom because she’s right there.”
That Jones and Tigers assistant head coach David Patrick were the first to call him when he was cleared to transfer was a plus for him and the program.
“I wasn’t surprised they called … I was happy, man,” Victor said. “It’s the home team, and being closer to home is what I wanted at the time. Without a doubt, it was something I was looking forward to.”
In one week, he’ll be able to finally feel it.
“It’s a blessing to be back,” Victor said. “They gave me an opportunity to actually come back home and be close to the family. Being able to live out my dreams with these guys and with this team is truly a blessing.”
The season premiere of “Inside LSU Basketball” is set for Sunday. The show will air in New Orleans at 10:30 p.m. (WWL), in Baton Rouge at 10:35 p.m. (WBRZ) and in Lafayette at 11 p.m. (KADN).
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter: @MicklesAdvocate.