Johnny Jones is searching for the next Tim Quarterman.
Who better to aid the process than Quarterman himself.
Subbing for an idle Les Miles at LSU’s weekly press luncheon, Jones touched on a variety of topics 11 days before his No. 19 Tigers play their first exhibition game, but the overriding theme centered around Quarterman-esque, freshman-to-sophomore adjustments for two second-year role players needed to help down low with the absence of NBA Draft picks Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin.
“The impact that Tim made from year one as a freshman to year two as a sophomore, becoming a starter, impacting our team to be picked preseason as a junior on the all-conference team, who would that person be,” Jones said. “I guess our candidates early on would be Elbert Robinson or Aaron Epps.”
Quarterman’s selection on the second team all-SEC team last week was a manifestation of the dramatic improvement Jones seeks from the two sophomores this season. After a freshman season where he started just three games and dished 49 assists, Quarterman played a crucial role both off the bench and in a starting role last season, getting 13 starts where he averaged 12.3 points and had 126 assists.
It was a welcome sign to a thin Tiger bench that played the fewest minutes of any SEC team, a predicament Jones hopes he won’t have again.
“The valuable minutes that some of them had an opportunity to maybe play over in Australia, the practices that they have under their belt from last year to this season, we’re hopeful that early on we’re able to take some looks at those guys,” Jones said. “I thought it hurt us last year, although we were successful winning 22 games, you just wonder if you were able to rest some of those guys and keep them fresh and healthy down the stretch if we would have had the ability to pull out some of maybe the other close games that we had setbacks in.”
Robinson, who started the first four games of his college career in the middle, saw his playing time deteriorate — he played just seven total minutes after Jan. 8 — but now has refocused and is in better basketball shape, according to Quarterman.
“Coming out of high school you get all types of accolades and all types of achievements and when you come to college, it’s a different ballgame,” Quarterman said. “(Robinson) can help down low with Jarell and Jordan being gone and I think he can definitely step up and play a big role for our team. Off the court stuff. In the weight room, getting toned up, getting more in shape. He just has a positive attitude and goes out and plays his hardest.”
Epps, a 6-foot-9 guard who played both the 3 to the 4 last season, played single-digit minutes in 13 of his 14 appearances, but saw an increase in March when the Tiger regulars began to feel the effects of such a short bench.
Those late appearances, coupled with better court awareness and typical second-year strengthening, have Epps primed to contribute in whatever capacity needed.
“His decision making (is better),” senior Keith Hornsby said. “It’s kind of hard to practice but it’s that he’s more comfortable. Stronger down low, stronger rebounder, stronger finisher around the basket and in addition to that he’s continued to have his outside shot, which him being a down-low player for us now, he can pick-and-pop or pick-and-roll. Of course, his flight ability helps out.
Tigers to face former coach Saturday
Jones said the Tigers will have a closed-door scrimmage Saturday morning in Shreveport, though he said he wasn’t at liberty to reveal the opponent until after the game. Multiple LSU players who met with reporters Monday confirmed the team is TCU — coached by Jones’ LSU predecessor, Trent Johnson.
It’ll be a matchup of two polar opposite offensive styles, Jones’ run-n-gun against Johnson’s deliberate, half-court sets that he showcased in Baton Rouge during his four seasons from 2008-2012.
“We don’t want to get comfortable just guarding what we do,” Hornsby said. “Obviously, we’ll play so many teams throughout the year that have different styles, slow to fast to medium. It’ll be a good first test for us. Especially a change of style, that’ll be interesting.”
Jones added the entire team was healthy, aside from the customary bumps and bruises associated with hard practices. Brian Bridgewater, who was hobbled with a leg injury throughout the summer, was cleared for full practices last week and went through a full-go with the team on Friday and Saturday.