One of the many things that excited LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones going into the 2014-15 season was the versatility of his top players.
With at least five players he was counting heavily on having the ability to contribute at two or three positions, Jones was looking forward to having more flexibility in his lineup for whatever the situation dictates.
That flexibility could be supremely tested when his banged-up LSU team goes against UAB at 8 p.m. Thursday in Birmingham, Alabama.
The availability of junior point guard Josh Gray and his potential replacement in the starting lineup, sophomore Tim Quarterman, is in question after they were injured in Saturday night’s win against Sam Houston State.
Gray hurt his right ankle three minutes into the second half and Quarterman limped around for a few seconds with an undisclosed injury after hitting the floor in the closing seconds of the game.
Gray, who averages 11.1 points and 4.7 assists per game as the Tigers’ floor leader, left the practice facility Saturday night on crutches wearing a walking boot.
Jones said neither player practiced Monday and were being treated for their injuries prior to Tuesday’s workout. At the time, Jones said there was a chance Quarterman, who’s averaging 11.8 points a game, would be available for UAB.
If either or both are unable to go, Jones will have to go to the next option.
“At certain times this year, we have had adversity or something has been different for us, and our kids have done an excellent job of filling that void and being able to fight through it,” he said. “We’re possibly going to be presented with that same type of challenge.”
While there was no official word Wednesday, there was at least some good news Tuesday night in a tweet from Gray: “The treatment process has been amazing finally out of the boot. As of today I’m walking on my own! My ankle feel(s) great!”
Still, Gray will likely be questionable and Quarterman, who has averaged 15.4 points and 32.8 minutes a game in the last five outings, probable as LSU (7-2) seeks its fifth consecutive win against UAB (4-6).
Quarterman, who can play both guard spots and small forward, has made an impact as the Tigers’ sixth man. Jones said he’ll start — if ready — if Gray can’t play with freshman Jalyn Patterson as the backup.
If Gray and Quarterman are held out, Patterson would get the first start of his career.
That would lead to the flexibility Jones talked about in the preseason.
Shooting guard Keith Hornsby could move to the point to give Patterson a breather with forward Jarell Martin swinging from small forward to the two-guard spot. Freshman forward Aaron Epps, who’s been bothered by injuries, is healthy now, Jones said, and could play either forward.
In addition to Patterson, who logged a career-high 24 minutes Saturday night, and Epps, there could be increased playing time for forward Brian Bridgewater.
“It’s certainly going to present a challenge for us,” Jones said. “It’s early in the season and it’s just like everything else. It’s going to force some other guys to have to play.
“When that has occurred, guys have done an excellent job. When guys have had to play extended minutes for us, they have done a good job.”
While injuries are not what any coach wants to deal with, Jones said there can be an upside to playing a number of players at different positions — especially early in the season.
“It forces your team to grow up,” he said. “It forces you to make some decisions early in the season that may be beneficial for you in the latter part of the year because of the experience you had early on.
“When guys go hard and are competing at a certain level, unfortunately, those things happen. I think it’s a sign of a good team when they’re able to make adjustments and have guys (play) and be able to get through it.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.