Notes, quotes and assorted leftovers from the Southeastern Conference Tipoff ’16 held Wednesday in Charlotte, North Carolina:
For the second year in a row, the LSU basketball team was picked for a fourth-place finish in the SEC this season in a vote of national media and reporters who cover the league.
LSU, which had the nation’s No. 3 recruiting class this spring, came in behind Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M in the poll released at media day. LSU had 333 points, just 24 behind Vanderbilt and 11 behind A&M.
Last season, the Tigers finished in a tie for third in the actual standings after being picked behind Kentucky, Florida and Arkansas in the preseason poll.
Being fourth in the preseason going into LSU’s most anticipated season in years wasn’t a problem for coach Johnny Jones or guard Keith Hornsby. Freshman forward Ben Simmons also represented the school at media day.
“Again, it’s preseason, but a number of teams have guys back from last year that had a great deal of success,” Jones said, pointing especially to Vanderbilt and A&M. “We lost two players (Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey) to the NBA draft that were all-conference picks. That was 50 percent of our rebounding and 45 percent of our scoring — a void that needs to be filled — so that’s something that was probably taken into account.”
Said Hornsby, LSU’s top returning scorer from last season: “It just depends on how you look at it. Really, it’s all a guess right now. Those things don’t mean anything until you play a few games and really get into the season. But it is pretty interesting how close it was for second, third and fourth.”
With the addition of Alabama’s Avery Johnson and Florida’s Michael White, four of the SEC’s 14 men’s basketball coaches played their high school basketball in Louisiana — three of them in New Orleans.
Johnson, the former Southern University star, played at St. Augustine and White, the son of former Tulane athletic director Kevin White, played at Jesuit.
They join LSU’s Jones, a standout at DeRidder High, and Texas A&M’s Billy Kennedy, who played at Holy Cross in New Orleans.
Jones said it was unique to have four head coaches from Louisiana in the league and wished them all well — except in recruiting. He joked they should all stay in the states they’re in now to look for talent.
When told that, Johnson, a longtime friend of Jones, laughed and said: “You know what? I’m starting to regret my friendship with Johnny now.”
Damian Jones is back
It’s no surprise that Baton Rouge native and Scotlandville High graduate Damian Jones was a first-team pick on the preseason All-SEC squad team chosen by the media, but what’s surprising to some is he’s back.
Jones, a 6-foot-10 center, averaged 14.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks a game for Vanderbilt, and many thought he would enter the NBA draft after two seasons there. He was a first-team All-SEC selection and was a member of the coaches All-Defensive team.
But Jones, who averaged 11.3 points and 5.7 rebounds as a freshman, said he decided midway through the SEC schedule that he would return to school.
“It was my decision and I felt like I could have gone, but I thought I could use more development and more school,” he said. “I need to be able to handle the ball better and gain more outside touch. I feel those things are really huge for my development.”
Jones on Jones
Johnny Jones, who tried to recruit Damian Jones to LSU, was asked Wednesday about the one that got away from the Tigers.
“He was a tremendous high school player and he’s continued to develop each year and continued to get better,” Johnny Jones said. “He’s a special force and he’s a dominant true center. You’ve seen his hard work really pay off year in and year out and he’s been able to transfer that on to the court.”
On the subject of Damian Jones not leaving early, Johnny Jones quipped he would have encouraged him to leave — but not necessarily for the NBA.
“If I talked to Damian, I’d have probably told him he needed to leave early, come out and transfer and come back home,” Johnny Jones said with a laugh. “It’s really good for him sticking around ... he made the right moves for him and his future.”
During preseason practice in August, LSU football coach Les Miles joked he wouldn’t mind having Simmons, a 6-10 forward who was voted the SEC preseason player of the year, line up at tight end.
Miles envisioned inserting Simmons in goal-line situations and let him box out defenders as his quarterbacks lobbed easy touchdown passes Simmons’ way.
Jones got a chance Wednesday to turn the tables on Miles, saying he wouldn’t mind having 230-pound running back Leonard Fournette leading his fast-break offense.
“He’d be a tremendous point guard,” Jones said. “I think he has great ball-handling skills, he can get out in the open floor and I don’t think there’s a guy in college basketball that can probably contain him when he comes down off the bounce-dribble and keep him from getting to the rim.”
Or take a charge?
“They’d probably take one, but that would be it,” Jones said with a laugh.
When a reporter asked Simmons why he chose LSU, he said it was because his favorite colors are purple and gold.
“Really?” the reporter asked.
“Nah,” a grinning Simmons said. “I felt like it’s a family here. Coach Jones has treated me well since I met him, and it’s the same way with my teammates. Keith (Hornsby) was my host here, and it just felt like a family.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter: @MicklesAdvocate.