Now that Antonio Blakeney will return for his sophomore season after deciding to pass on the NBA draft, LSU coach Johnny Jones can go about the task of preparing his team for summer workouts knowing what he’ll have to work with — particularly in the backcourt.
Blakeney announced Tuesday that he won’t put his name in the draft, just 2½ weeks after saying he wanted to explore his professional options, but wouldn’t hire an agent — allowing him to retain his college eligibility.
Jones will now have two of his top six scorers from last year’s 19-14 team back. Blakeney, a sophomore-to-be, ranked third with 12.6 points per game and forward Craig Victor, who will be a junior, was fourth with 11.5 per contest.
Jones already knew he would have a new-look team after losing freshman forward Ben Simmons and junior guard Tim Quarterman to the NBA draft, with senior guards Keith Hornsby and Josh Gray also departing.
But the loss of Quarterman, Hornsby and Gray, who combined for 122 starts the past two seasons, was lessened a bit by the return of Blakeney, who was in the starting lineup for 24 of 33 games as a freshman.
In addition to Blakeney, a McDonald’s All-American who chose LSU over Kentucky and Missouri, Jones will have Jalyn Patterson and Brandon Sampson back at guard along with three newcomers — junior-college transfer Branden Jenkins and freshmen Skylar Mays and Kieran Hayward.
The 6-foot-4 Jenkins, who can play the point as well as the two- and three-guard spots, averaged 15.6 points and shot 50.9 percent from the field for Lee College in Baytown, Texas, last season.
Mays, a 6-4 point guard, averaged 10.9 points and 5.3 assists at Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, while Hayward, 6-5, is an Australian who drew the attention of several major colleges after starring on the AAU circuit last summer.
The Tigers also signed 6-10 forward Duop Reath, Jenkins’ teammate at Lee College in Baytown, Texas, and forward Wayde Sims, a former University High standout.
Reath averaged 14.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots this season and Sims, Louisiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2015, averaged 21.2 points per game in helping U-High claim its third consecutive Class 3A state title.
Sims and Mays were teammates at U-High until Mays left to play his senior season at Findlay Prep.
Blakeney, Victor, Patterson and Sampson should form the nucleus of the team that will have to rely on improved play from two other juniors — forward Aaron Epps and center Elbert Robinson — as well as two seniors in forward Brian Bridgewater and center Darcy Malone.
Epps, Robinson, Bridgewater and Malone have had minimal impact so far, but Jones is hoping the light goes on in what figures to be an important offseason for the program.
“With that group, we’ll have some juniors and seniors — which will give us stability in the program,” Jones said last month. “All those guys played in an NCAA tournament (in 2015).”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.