LAFAYETTE — Johnathan Stove was an offensive tour de force at Christian Life Academy in Baton Rouge, averaging nearly 20 points in an all-state junior season and following that up with a senior season in which he scored 25.9 points per game.
But between those seasons, watching Stove play on a court in Indianapolis, Louisiana-Lafayette coach Bob Marlin was struck by something other than Stove’s offensive ability.
“I watched he and Bryce (Washington) play when they were juniors going into their senior season,” Marlin said. “Johnathan did a great job of guarding a young man from Jacksonville that had signed to play at the University of Florida, a top-100 player. And Johnathan shut him down. So I always remind him of that, that that’s how he first caught my attention.”
And that’s something Stove has always tried to remember as he continues to carve out his role with the Ragin’ Cajuns. He knows that it’s defense his team needs, so defense is what he tries to provide.
“When Coach Marlin recruited me, he told me he wanted me to be a lock-down defender,” Stove said. “That’s one of the keys for me, to be a defensive leader. I know I’m one of the strongest and quickest guys, especially on the wing position. So I have to take initiative to guard the best player sometimes.”
When Stove came to the program a few summers ago, Marlin continued drilling the importance of playing strong defense into Stove’s head.
That sometimes requires a little versatility on Stove’s part.
“Last year, I told him, ‘You will get on the floor quicker if you really defend,’ ” Marlin said. “That goes for all of our guys. We put a premium on defense, and he can be a really good guy on the perimeter and he can also battle big guys inside.”
With star forward Shawn Long held out of the first half of Monday’s game against UNO, the 6-foot-4 Stove started the game as the Cajuns’ de facto power forward, and he guarded bigger players inside.
After halftime, Marlin shifted Stove to the perimeter to defend UNO guard Nate Frye, who scored 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the first half. Frye finished with 16 points on 4-of-11 shooting.
Now that he has worked himself into being a valuable member of the rotation — Stove is one of two players who has started every game this season, and his 23.8 minutes per game rank third on the team — he hopes he can return to being the impact player on both offense and defense that he was in high school.
Assistant coaches Neil Hardin and Gus Hauser have talked to Stove about being more assertive on offense.
Long’s absence in the first half Monday also showed what Stove is capable of offensively. As just about everyone else struggled to get something going, Stove flourished, leading the team with 10 first-half points. He finished with a season-high 16.
Stove’s in a place where he’s still defining what he needs to be for the team to be most successful. He said he “has to be” more of an impact player on offense, then immediately follows it up by saying that’s not his primary objective.
“I’m more of a team guy,” Stove said. “I like scoring the ball, especially coming from high school, but I feel like that’s not my role on this team. (Coaches) say I need to step up and do that more for this team to be successful.”
For now, while he figures that part out, he’ll focus on doing what he was brought here to do.
“I know I can score,” Stove said.
“That’s not really my job. I’m out here to play defense.”