After taking one hit after another for nearly two months, the LSU basketball team finally got some good news Tuesday.
Guard Antonio Blakeney, who informed coach Johnny Jones on April 1 that he would explore his options about a pro career, announced he will not submit his name for the NBA draft and will be back for his sophomore season.
Blakeney, a native of Sarasota, Florida, didn’t hire an agent while he gathered information about his draft chances, allowing him to retain his college eligibility and return to LSU if he desired.
The deadline for entering the NBA draft is Sunday.
“After consulting with my coaches and with my family, I have decided to return to LSU for my sophomore season,” Blakeney said in a news release. “I believe I can further improve my skill set in different areas to become even more effective for my team in the future.
“Although I finished the year strong and posted a solid season, I think it is in my best interest to return and continue to improve as I strive and prepare to be the best I can be,” he said. “This will also allow me to continue with my schoolwork and continue to move forward on my college degree.”
Blakeney, a McDonald’s All-American who chose LSU over Kentucky and Missouri, was third on the team with 12.6 points a game after coming on late in the season. He averaged 18.6 points in the final 11 games and earned a spot on the Southeastern Conference Coaches All-Freshman team.
A two-time SEC freshman of the week honoree, he started 24 of LSU’s 33 games and averaged 30.8 minutes per contest. He shot 42.5 percent from the field, knocked down 52 3-point shots, and made 31 of his last 32 free-throw attempts — including 28 in a row — in shooting 74.8 percent from the line.
Blakeney scored 20 points or more in eight games. He poured in a career-high 32 at home against Florida on Feb. 27, topping the 31-point effort he had against Mississippi State on Feb. 6.
If Blakeney had applied for the draft, he could have participated in the NBA combine workouts in mid-May if invited and would have had until May 25 to withdraw his name.
The return of Blakeney gives a little bit of clarity to the upcoming season for Jones and his team, which is in the midst of spring strength and conditioning drills following a disappointing 19-14 season.
LSU lost freshman forward Ben Simmons and junior guard Tim Quarterman to the NBA draft shortly after the Tigers didn’t receive an NCAA tournament bid, and Jones and his staff decided not to participate in any other tournament.
The Tigers also lost senior guards Keith Hornsby and Josh Gray.
Hornsby missed the first seven games of the season after having sports hernia surgery in early November, then was sidelined for the team’s final six games after aggravating the injury on Feb. 20 at Tennessee.
Hornsby’s loss was the start of a string of bad news days for the Tigers.
LSU, which tied for third place in the SEC, dropped four of its last seven games — a stretch capped by a 71-38 thrashing at the hands of Texas A&M in the semifinals of the SEC tournament.
Shortly after the unfulfilling season ended, Simmons and Quarterman said they were entering the NBA draft and hired agents although the departure of Simmons, a first-team All-American, was hardly unexpected.
Then, on the same day Blakeney announced he would explore his options, associate head coach/recruiting coordinator David Patrick left to join the staff of new TCU coach Jamie Dixon.
A week later, Ronald Dupree, who was director of student-athlete development last season after serving the previous year as a student assistant, accepted a job at Nevada under former LSU assistant coach Eric Musselman.
Blakeney will be the cornerstone for LSU’s team next season along with forward Craig Victor and guards Jalyn Patterson and Brandon Sampson. Jones will also look for improvement from returning forwards Aaron Epps and Brian Bridgewater and centers Elbert Robinson and Darcy Malone.
“We’re excited about Antonio Blakeney’s decision to return for his sophomore season at LSU,” Jones said in the news release. “His return will automatically give us another prolific scorer and the experience factor that is needed as we continue moving forward for next season.
“We will work diligently to help him continue to improve this offseason as he strives to be the best.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.