LSU’s heralded basketball freshmen Ben Simmons, Antonio Blakeney, Brandon Sampson raising expectations, and one's talking national championship _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER McCLELLAND -- LSU men's basketball coach Johnny Jones talks to media about the upcoming season Wednesday.

LSU men’s basketball coach Johnny Jones admitted Wednesday it was easier to take a trip to Australia next month considering he has assistant head coach David Patrick and freshman Ben Simmons on his team.

Patrick lived in Australia before playing professionally there, while Simmons grew up there before moving with his parents to Florida 2½ years ago.

It also didn’t hurt, Jones said, that Kentucky was able to take a similar trip to The Bahamas last August that helped the Wildcats bond and build chemistry before preseason practice began in October.

Jones’ team will be able to get 10 practices in starting Aug. 1 before leaving Baton Rouge and will have unlimited opportunities to work out there from Aug. 13-23 in addition to playing five games against pro teams.

“To be able to practice and prepare for those games is exciting,” Jones said Wednesday after his heralded freshmen class of Simmons, Antonio Blakeney and Brandon Sampson met with local media for the first time.

Jones noted Kentucky played several games in The Bahamas, which allowed the Wildcats to jell while coach John Calipari experimented with his starting lineup and player rotations in contests that didn’t count in the standings.

The quality of competition his team will face was another factor, Jones said.

“There are some guys in Australia that were former NBA players and guys who were some great college players here in the states that will be participating against them as well,” he said.

No tips needed

Jones said he didn’t have to bend Calipari’s ear about what his team got out of its trip because the Kentucky coach talked about it enough on TV last season.

“During their time there, I got a lot from it and saw how beneficial it was,” Jones said. “I had a chance to watch some of the games on TV and I thought it was a really good experience for his team. He didn’t really burn those guys out. The games they played were good, and I learned just from watching and listening.”

One thing Jones won’t be doing is sitting in the stands, as Calipari did, while his assistants actually coached.

“I’ll be on the bench down on the floor,” Jones said. “I don’t think we have nine or 10 McDonald’s All-Americans on our team. … We have two, so I’m going to stay as close to that bench as I possibly can.”

Martin and Mickey

Jones said in his mind the selection of former LSU forwards Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey in the NBA draft last week capped a successful season that saw the Tigers win 22 games and earn their first NCAA tournament bid since 2009.

A first-round pick, Martin was the 25th overall selection of the Memphis Grizzlies, while Mickey went eight picks later with the third choice of the second round to the Boston Celtics.

“I don’t think enough has been made of their development over the two years, or year and a half, that they were here,” Jones said. “They went from not being first-team (all-conference picks) to both being all-conference picks, so we’re excited about having those two guys drafted.”

Simmons honored

Simmons and Blakeney were the only incoming freshmen to be among the 27 invitees to the inaugural Nike Basketball Academy that wrapped up Monday in Santa Monica, California.

The 6-foot-10 Simmons was chosen as the power forward on the All-Nike The Academy Team, which also included point guard Kris Dunn, shooting guard DeAndre Bembry, small forward Taurean Prince and center Damian Jones.

A Baton Rouge native and former Scotlandville High standout, Jones will be a junior at Vanderbilt this season.

Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter: @MicklesAdvocate.