Out of respect for the players who were here when he became the men’s basketball coach at LSU in the spring of 2012, Johnny Jones never spent time thinking about the day he would have a team made up solely of his players.
Jones simply went to work with what he had, winning 19 and 20 games in his first two seasons with a mix of his own and some players that remained when Trent Johnson left for TCU.
But when the Tigers began preseason practice last week, Jones had 15 players on his roster — all brought in by his staff — and for the first time in his three seasons had two key elements needed to win: depth and size.
There are enough bodies, he said during media day Wednesday, to have at least a nine-man rotation instead of relying on a handful of talented players logging too many minutes, and just as importantly, adequate size in the frontcourt.
With five new faces on the floor to go with a trio of top returnees from a top-15 recruiting class a year ago, Jones said his program is ready to take the next step after reaching the National Invitation Tournament a year ago.
“We’re excited about the next step of our journey with this program,” he said. “I felt our first year we came in, great things happened for us, and we wound up winning 19 games. The second year, I felt we continued to build, get better, and we won 20 games.
“We were able to get to postseason play (reaching the second round of the NIT), won some big games against teams in the Top 10, Top 15 and Top 20 as well,” Jones said. “We’re really excited about our guys in the way they’ve bought in … the way they’ve come in and competed.”
Sophomore forwards Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin, who both thought about entering the NBA draft, form the foundation, along with sophomore guard Tim Quarterman.
But three highly recruited freshmen — guard Jalyn Patterson, center Elbert Robinson III and forward Aaron Epps — and transfers Keith Hornsby and Josh Gray, a pair of guards, should make this the deepest team in Jones’ three seasons.
“We’re hopeful that our depth is right and that we will have an opportunity to put guys in position and get guys to hopefully (play) around 28 to 30 minutes.” Jones said. “I think it will be great for us.
“Sometimes it’s tough, and it was difficult for us a little bit last year to get down to that number for a couple of our guys. But we’re hopeful that with the makeup of our team, we can do that.”
Jones is excited about the luxury of having a potential frontcourt featuring Mickey, who stands 6 feet, 8 inches, the 6-10 Martin and the 7-1 Robinson with Epps, at 6-9, and 7-footer Darcy Malone, a returnee from last season, also helping out.
At the same time, Jones pointed out it will take some time for the players — new and old — to mesh, with the season opener less than a month away.
“You’re talking about five new faces, and some of the guys are going to have to be key components,” Jones said when asked when he’ll know what he has. “We have to expect some things from them early, and with that being said, I think we’ll certainly be into the season.
“We’ll see some great things from them in practice, but we’ll get into our schedule and we’ll know a little bit more about our team once our season starts. It’s still a learning time and a learning phase for our team. We’ll go through some growing pains with this team.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.