The opportunity to start developing some team chemistry early has been the biggest benefit for the LSU men’s basketball team as it prepares for its upcoming exhibition trip to Australia.
The Tigers got a two-month jump on full-scale practices, which are allowed for 10 days before the trip by the NCAA, giving coach Johnny Jones and his staff ample opportunity to get prized recruits Ben Simmons, Antonio Blakeney and Brandon Sampson some extra time with their new teammates.
LSU reached the halfway point of their preparation Tuesday with six practices in the books since starting Saturday evening. Before that, players got two hours per week to work with coaches during the summer semester.
“Practice these last few days has been great for us,” Jones said. “As expected, we have looked forward to these guys coming out with a great deal of energy and excitement and being eager to learn. They’ve done that.”
In addition to getting the newcomers to mesh with returning guards Tim Quarterman, Keith Hornsby, Jalyn Patterson and Josh Gray and forwards Aaron Epps and Brian Bridgewater, Jones has to replace his two All-Southeastern first-team picks — Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey.
“This has been really good for us, this early part, of not waiting until October (to practice),” Jones said. “One, the coaches are always eager to get started. To get started this early, it really helps you scratch that itch that you’re looking for prior to the start of the season.
“We certainly have a ways to go, but right now it’s really all about the process,” he said. “The new guys have come in with the right attitude, and the returning guys have done a tremendous job accepting them and working together and trying to bond.”
In putting his team through brief practices twice a day, Jones and his staff have been experimenting with different lineups — another benefit to playing five exhibition games during the Aug. 11-23 trip.
During a 30-minute period media were allowed in for Tuesday, the purple starting unit was composed of Quarterman, Hornsby, Blakeney, Simmons and Darcy Malone. Epps did get some work with that group while Simmons had his hamstrings stretched on the sideline.
The gold second unit included Patterson, Sampson, Gray, Epps and Elbert Robinson III. Arizona transfer Craig Victor isn’t allowed to practice or play in Australia because he won’t be eligible until the fall semester ends Dec. 12.
“We’ve had some challenging scrimmages; it’s been pretty balanced with what we have been doing,” Jones said. “We’ve had different guys competing against each other in five- to 10-minute segments. They have been very competitive.”
Rules crash course
While in Australia, LSU will be playing with International Basketball Federation (FIBA) rules — which are quite different from those used in the college game in the United States.
The lane is wider and the shot clock is 24 seconds, with only eight seconds to get the ball across the midcourt stripe. Another change is the ball is live once it hits the rim, which allows defenders to swat it away or offensive players to dunk it without goaltending being called.
“We’ve had to introduce a lot of those things to our guys,” Jones said. “It’s going to be difficult for them, and it’s not easy for them to pick up on those things. Hopefully, these next few days of practice will help us.”
Jones said Bridgewater, who rode a stationary bike Tuesday, has a leg injury and may not be able to play with the Tigers during the tour.
“Something happened and he wound up going to the doctor (Monday),” Jones said. “I’m not sure if he’s going to participate while we’re away. It’s going to be day-to-day for him.
“If he’s able to get better, he may be able to participate in a game or two. But he’s injured right now.”
Bridgewater averaged 2.2 points and 1.1 rebounds a game in 29 games last season, his first with the Tigers.
A brief break
After four days of practice, the Tigers will get a day of rest Wednesday.
Jones will put his squad through longer single practices Thursday and Friday and will work daily through the team’s departure next Tuesday. A couple of scrimmages are also on the schedule, Jones said.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.