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Q & A: New LSU assistant coach Eric Musselman

Former Arizona State associate head coach Eric Musselman was hired Tuesday to fill a spot on the LSU coaching staff.

Former Arizona State associate head coach Eric Musselman was hired Tuesday to fill a spot on the LSU coaching staff.

By now, the news is out and digested.

Former NBA coach and recent Arizona State associate coach Eric Musselman has been hired by LSU to fill the two-week old vacancy created when Korey McCray left the program.

I’ll have a full story on Musselman, a basketball lifer and son of a former coach in Bill Musselman, bring some schematic acumen to a staff who faced critiques on that point last season.

For now, though, here’s a transcript of the 18-minute chat I had with Musselman on Tuesday afternoon as he drove to pick up son from a camp in California.

Q: I’m sure answering this question is deja vu, but why stick with coaching at the college level as opposed to trying to work your way back into the professional ranks?

A: Our family made a decision a few years ago that we were going to change our path and go from pro ball to college. You know, my wife loves the college environment. I love it from a coaching standpoint. The players are so eager to learn and you can have such an impact not only on the floor, but also off the court. All those things have drawn me to really love being a part of a college campus.”

Q: What do you like about the player-coach dynamic and interaction appeals to a professional league?

A: It’s interesting, because my time in the NBA D-League, I always looked at my relationship with players. In the D-League, you’re dealing with guys all the time. You’re staying in all different types of hotels, and it’s more similar to college. You can have more of an impact and lifetime relationships. So that’s a same type thing: Being around guys where you’re not just with them at practice or a game. You can have a much deeper relationship. Even the guys at ASU, being around them for two years you can develop that kind of lifelong relationship. To me that’s a really neat thing.

Q: Is it sort of a middle ground then to work at that level, and does it open the path up to committing full-time to the college ranks? The guys are still hungry to learn and reach the professional level, but there’s that college amount of intimacy?

A: That’s a perfect way to phrase it. It’s a little bit in between. You really pride yourself on having an impact on someone’s life, like Gerald Green. The thing with Gerald was he needed to learn how to prepare himself for practice, prepare himself for the game, understand the importance of scouting reports. He had all the natural talent and gifts, but it was all those intangibles and he was willing to let us help him see the light. You get that aspect much more at the collegiate level than you do at the professional level.

Q: So does that open up a desire to go full bore into college?

A: I don’t think there’s any doubt that the relationships in the D-League are so much different than they are in the NBA, because you are around them off the floor. There’s only so many restaurants in Erie, Pa., when you’re on a road trip. You end up eating with guys. Those relationships off the floor become stronger, and whether it’s Gerald Green or Jeremy Lin, finding ways for those guys to reach their goals becomes really important. At the college level, to get a player to understand that if they have NBA aspirations, this is what they’re going to talk about in a draft room. I’ve done it. I’ve been in it. Your body language coming in and out off a game. Your body language when a coach is talking to you. Are you engaged? Are you a guy in warm-ups who prepares the right way? All those intangibles are things you can talk to a player at the college level and try to open his eyes to things he maybe hasn’t heard from anyone else before.

Q: You said when you get to Arizona State it was a chance to re-learn the game? You’ve said the style, learning how not to over coach and handling guys off the floor were in play. What did your two years in Tempe impart?

A: There’s so many differences between the two games on the floor that you wouldn’t know unless you’ve done both. I’ve learned a ton the last two years, and I know I’ll learn a ton from Johnny and his staff. That’s part of the thing that’s so exciting to me is to continue to learn as a coach. There’s little things, like baseline out of bounds defense is so important in college basketball. It’s much more a premium than in the pro game, where side out-of-bounds offense and defense is so vital. That’s a little thing that becomes monumental in close games. Even the way you can get emotionally up for a game is different than in the NBA. In the NBA, the emotions don’t start taking place until the playoffs. In the college game, when ASU is playing Arizona, and you’ve got a chance to knock off the No. 1 team in the country, it’s not just another game. You’re not playing four or five games a week, it allows you to get so emotionally invested in it from a preparation standpoint and with the players. All those things are different and unique.

Q: You met Herb Sendek a couple years ago at a shootaround when they were up in Berkely at a shootaround. What’s the backstory with LSU?

A: David Patrick and I are really good friends. When David was at Saint Mary’s, I was hanging out at Saint Mary’s a lot. Randy Bennett, who’s the head coach at Saint Mary’s, was the head coach at San Diego when I played there. So there’s that little Saint Mary’s tree. Randy and I are friends, and David and I are friends. That was the bridge to coach Jones.

Q: Obviously, Johnny’s not just a peer but a boss. What appealed to you about the possible working relationship and how he oversees LSU?

The more I talked to Johnny about the job, the more I got excited. And we talked about it a lot. Again, each conversation led me to feel that this was the right place. I was offered a NBA assistant’s job in basically the same time frame, and this felt like the perfect fit to me. My wife is really excited. My two sons are really, really excited. We sat a dinner table and talked about the NBA and college. We went back and forth, and it was unanimous between myself, wife and two sons. We did our own little voting, and it came out 4-0. I was really fortunate to have the opportunity I’ve had at the pro level,a nd I know I still have a lot to learn at the college level. I just want to come in and try to do anything that coach Jones wants. Camaraderie on a staff is so important, and I just feel that we’re going to have an opportunity to have that great staff chemistry.

Q: A lot of people will look at your background and say, ‘He’s an Xs and Os guy.’ You’re a coach’s son, and you’ve lived the game since a kid. What do those experiences bring to the staff? If there’s been a critique of the staff, it’s they might need someone with your kind of track record. Is that the role, or is it still to be defined?

A: I think it’s still to be defined. Coach has been great about talking about it. Eventually, roles evolved. We’ve talked a lot of Xs and Os. I’m going to learn a lot being there. I don’t know (assistant coach) Charlie (Leonard) very well. I just know David and Johnny. We’ve talked hoops, and I think everybody brings something to table.

Q: When I look stylistically, Arizona State and LSU played at pretty good clips tempo. You all were known for that at Golden State. How is the fit from a style and personnel standpoint?

A: I think it’s a perfect fit. That’s a lot of the reason it made sense to be a part of Johnny’s staff. We have a lot of similar beliefs in how the game is played. That was really important that he believes in an up-tempo style and transition baskets. From that standpoint, it’s a great fit.

Q: How much have you been able to sort of digest any tape from last year of the team? Is that the goal when you get into Baton Rouge?

A: I have a lot of catching up to do, not only with LSU. I want to dive into the other teams in the conference and try to learn their strength and weakness. I have a learning curve where I’ll have to catch up with the rest of the staff. I have been watching tape. That was part of the decision-making process. They’ve done an unbelievable job recruiting, and both of the bigs from last year have great upside. The incoming recruiting class in an exciting one. The point guard (Josh Gray) and the kid coming in from Texas (Elbert Robinson) mean there’s a lot of pieces to work with.

Q: Logistically, what’s the plan to relocate and get settled?

A: Obviously, we got all this finalized this morning. We’re getting on a plane Sunday. My son has camp until Saturday, and as soon as that ends we’re on a plane at 8 a.m. Sunday. My son will go to LSU’s campMonday. I’ll be working, and my wife will be looking for places to live.

Q: When did you all take the vote?

A: We took the vote about four days ago.

Q: Can you remember how far back Johnny reached out?

A: I can’t really even remember, but I know he’s a great recruiter because he got me. He has me sold.

Hickey visits Oklahoma State, mulls a choice, father says

Anthony Hickey, who left LSU last month appears close to landing at Oklahoma State, where he'd fill an immediate need. (The Advocate | Catherine Threlkeld)

Anthony Hickey, who left LSU last month appears close to landing at Oklahoma State, where he’d fill an immediate need. (The Advocate | Catherine Threlkeld)

Welcome to Stillwater, Anthony Hickey.

Maybe.

The Oklahoman reported Wednesday that Hickey is close to joining OklahomaState, a program in need of an experienced hand at the point guard spot after losing Marcus Smart and Markel Brown.

On Thursday, Anthony Hickey Sr., the point guard’s father, told The Advocate his son is currently on a campus visit, and may decide by the end of the day whether to pledge his services the Cowboys.

“He took a trip out there, and he’s sort of liked it so far,” Anthony Hickey Sr. said. “He might love it.” Roughly a month ago, LSU parted ways with the three-year starter after the program decided not to renew his scholarship.

Now, Hickey could have remained in Baton Rouge to finish his degree, but would not have been on the Tigers roster next season. It didn’t help Hickey’s efforts that he was released right on the cusp of a NCAA-mandated dead period that ran until June 1 and prevented in-person contact with coaches and campus visits.

“That’s what really messed it up,” Anthony Hickey Sr. said.

The guard fielded some interest from Purdue, Butler, Southern Mississippi, Western Kentucky, Southern Illinois and a “bunch” of low-major programs, Anthony Hickey Sr. said.

Still, OSU’s Travis Ford was one of the few head coaches to reach out and make contact, along with Cowboys assistant coach Butch Pierre.

“That stood out to our family,” Anthony Hickey Sr. said.

The linchpin could be whether the guard is immediately eligible next season, or whether he’s forced to sit out the usual one season as a transfer. A solution could be found in a little-used, little-known “run-off” waiver, which was created in 2012.

Under the guidelines for a waiver, Hickey would need to show his exit from the Tigers “was outside the control of the student athlete,” prove he is in good academic standing and get a statement from LSU indicating they support the request.

Right now, Anthony Hickey Sr. said he’s under the impression Jones’ program wouldn’t have any reason or desire to withhold that support.

“They said they will do anything to help,” he said. “Anything outside of that would be a surprise to us.”

The Cowboys, who were a top-10 early last season but stumbled to a second-round exit in the NCAA tournament as a No. 8 seed, face a measure of uncertainty about who will run the show next season.

With Smart and Brown out of the fold, one option is incoming freshman Tyree Griffin, a Landry-Walker product plucked out of New Orleans in April by Pierre — a former LSU assistant during John Brady’s tenure. Aside from Griffin, OSU tried to shore up depth with one of the nation’s better JUCO prospects in Jeff Newberry.

Scoring the commitment and signature of Hickey would round out a reasonable rotation, one that saw the program’s heir apparent exit in February when Steve Clark — a former consensus top-100 recruit — was booted from the program.

“It’s kind of a perfect situation for him,” Anthony Hickey Sr. said. “But he’s still going to weigh his options.”

Over their two seasons together, Jones and Hickey butted heads at times. There were missed study halls, tardiness to team meetings, and the coach never deemed the point guard a leader in spite of a position that required a hefty dose of that trait.

Nevertheless, Hickey started 85 games in his career, averaging 9.4 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. During his sophomore season, he carved out a niche as one of the Southeastern Conference’s best ball hawks after averaging 2.9 steals per game.

But this season, Hickey didn’t start the Tigers’ first three games after winding up in Jones’ doghouse, simultaneously allowing LSU to experiment with freshman Tim Quarterman in the lineup. The experiment didn’t yield sterling results, and Hickey was reinserted.

Yet, he curbed his risk-taking in the passing lanes, seeing his steals dip to 1.9 per game — a nod to the Tigers’ struggle at times keeping bigger guards from attacking the rim. Still, he became a more efficient distributor, posting a career-high 3.7 assists per game and a SEC-leading 2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio.

As a scorer, Hickey was more of a spot-up shooter, a profile confirmed by the fact 66.2 percent of his field-goal attempts came behind the 3-point arc and connected on 34.4 percent of them.

Now, perhaps those traits might be Big-12 bound.

“There’s nothing bad to say about LSU,” Anthony Hickey Sr. said. “He had a wonderful three years there.”

Spring signing period closes, and LSU needs to hit transfer market

Advocate File Photo | LSU coach Johnny Jones and his staff let the spring signing period pass without finding replacements for recent transfers such as Anthony Hickey.

Advocate File Photo | LSU coach Johnny Jones and his staff let the spring signing period pass without finding replacements for recent transfers such as Anthony Hickey.

Barring a rapid courting process, it was unlikely LSU would have announced landing two signatures to end the spring signing period Wednesday.

A week ago, LSU saw three players — Anthony Hickey, Shane Hammink and Malik Morgan — exit the program. The moves, whether voluntary or the result of a scholarship being pulled, left the Tigers two under the NCAA-mandated 13 scholarships for their roster.

Options, though, at dusk of the signing period were scant. One-time LSU recruit and LeeCollege product Deng Deng reportedly visited LSU and Nebraska before picking Baylor. But that was about it.

No murmurs escaped the program, either, in recent days about trying snag a prep or JUCO product.   CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein has reported Houston swingman Danuel House, who was a highly-touted high school prospect, has been in touch with LSU. Efforts to reach House’s camp were unsuccessful.

And, for the time being, that’s all we know about the program’s interest in those players still unclaimed.

In reality, quality graduate transfers, those players who have graduated and can be immediately eligible at their next stop, have been picked over. Peruse ESPN analyst Jeff Goodman’s list of transfers and you’re left with these names as remaining gems.

  • Courtesy North Carolina A&T

    Courtesy North Carolina A&T

    Richaud Pack, G, North Carolina A&T, 6-3, 183: Pack can fill it up, and more importantly shot 37.1 percent from behind the 3-point line last season. LSU needs a guy that can stretch defenses, and Pack fits the bill. But he can also attack the rim and get to the line — see a 78.9 free-throw rate, which ranked No. 39 nationally, per kenpom.com — if defenders crowd him. Unfortunately, Pack appears to close to a decision:

  • SSO-00299641185Byron Wesley, G,USC, 6-5, 210: If you click the link, you’ll see Wesley picked Gonzaga. The Trojans leading scorer is a coup for coach Mark Few, who will try to blend him in with a veteran-laden roster.  He would have been a nice fit for Jones’ system. Of his 409 field-goal attempts, roughly 43.5 percent came at the rim, per hoop-math.com, and he played in an open-wheeled system under first-year coach Andy Enfield.

Let’s take a break for a minute, too, and consider what LSU might be looking for in any addition, because I’ve hinted at it several times.

First, I don’t think scoring is a premium if you believe Keith Hornsby and Josh Gray can make a smooth transition. Both are capable at getting into the lane and finishing at the rim — a trait Hickey and Andre Stringer lacked. No, you don’t turn away a guy with that ability, especially as an insurance policy, but Jones has repeatedly sounded confident his aforementioned duo can do the job.

Second, you’ll want a 3-point shooter. Hornsby hit at 37.9-percent clip during his final season at UNC-Asheville. The problem is there’s not another reliable one on the roster. At OdessaCollege, Gray was only a 30.6-percent shooter from that distance. I don’t know if Darcy Malone, the 7-foot Aussie, can become a pick-and-pop weapon, but he does have a pure stroke. The problem is you yield interior defense, unless he gets stronger in the lane. Rising sophomore Tim Quarterman shot just 20.8 percent from long range, a figure he’s got to improve this offseason.

Third, can the new arrival defend and rebound? Not to thump and bludgeon a dead horse, but Hickey and Stringer were prone to getting bullied and outmanned by bigger wings — often when those guards barreled toward the rim off ball-screens. And forget rebounding. The duo ranked near the bottom of LSU’s roster for offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, according to kenpom.com. Morgan might have been foul prone (4.8 per 40 minutes), but his 9.3 offensive rebound percentage was the best among the Tigers’ guards.

Put it all together, and the right guy might be a 6-3, 200-pound wing that shoots 35 percent from the three-point line, is an average defender, and can rebound outside his area. Basically, he is a capable reserve that can provide a little scoring punch.

Now, a caveat: The Tigers have the summer to find a transfer. Hornsby wasn’t plucked until the middle of June last year. The question now is whether Jones and Co. can woo one of the remaining quality players available, or if they’ll need to wait for strife at another program to spit out a player that’s a suitable fit.

I scoured the list of ballers looking for a home, but CBS’ Jeff Borzello did his own market valuation Monday. So, I’ll start there.

  • Courtesy West Virginia

    Courtesy West Virginia

    Eron Harris, G, West Virginia, 6-3, 195: The sophomore is an Indianapolis native and based on the Indy Star appears keen on heading to Big Ten country.  But he shoots 42.2 percent from 3-point range, and is efficient (a 113.1 adjusted rating by KenPom.com) in his scoring. He has to sit out a year, but there’s no doubt he’s up there with House as one of the best transfers still left on the heap.

  • Terry Henderson, G, West Virginia, 6-4, 200: If anything, this might make LSU fans happy to see the Mountaineers, who face the Tigers on Dec. 4 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, happy. There’s an exodus of sorts in Morgantown. Still, Henderson has lots to like. He shots a decent 37.6 percent behind the arc. He has size, rebounds at an average rate and commits just 2.1 fouls per 40 minutes. Last season, he averaged 27.1 minutes per game. Yet Maryland already appears to be among the 15 programs pouncing on trying to secure Henderson’s services. UCLA, Wake Forest, N.C. State, Virginia, Miami and Richmond may also get visits.
  • Nick Faust, G, Maryland, 6-6, 205: He’s big and rangy, which fits the mold of what Jones looks for in prospects. The drawback is he largely settled for jumpers — 50.4 percent of his shots are 3-pointers — but only connected on 30.7 percent the ones hoisted up beyond the arc. So, it’s hard to say whether he would have been a factor offensively, but he had three years of experience in the ACC, and he was a steady perimeter player for the Terps.  He was going to Oregon State, but reopened his recruitment after coach Craig Robinson was fired.

And that’s about it as far as high-major prospects. Georgia Tech forward Robert Carter doesn’t appear a likely option. OregonState guard Hallice Cooke is Fred Hoiberg’s latest get at IowaState. Xavier forward Justin Martin is a graduate transfer option, but the Tigers’ front court is well stocked. For now, House is where LSU might have to pin its hopes, but any relief he provides wouldn’t arrive until 2015-2016.

Now, the mid-major level isn’t bereft of potential options. Hornsby’s presence shows, too, that it doesn’t mater to LSU coaches where they draw talent. Again, LSU has Gray, Hornsby, Quarterman and incoming freshman Jalyn Patterson. It’s too soon to know how the rotation will work, but if Hornsby and Gray do what’s expected, any newcomer could afford to sit and bide time.

  • download (1)Charles Cooke, G, James Madison, 6-6, 210: The sophomore fits the template physically of what Jones wants, but he only gets 34.3 percent of his shots at the rim, and only knocks down 34.6 percent of 2-point jumpers, per hoop-math.com. But he’s got a knack for getting to the foul line, and can defend reasonably well (2.6 fouls per 40 minutes).  Michigan State, shopping for Gary Harris’ replacement, reportedly looked into Cooke, too. Again, if you take Cooke knowing he’ll sit a year it’s a potential boon to bring him in.
  • Tre’ Coggins, G, Air Force, 6-2, 185: The Falcons’ leading scorer at 16.0 points per game left the academy because the military obligation became a strain. But he seems like a decent option to provide shooting. Over 54 percent of field-goal attempts were 3-pointers, and he connected on 38.1 percent of them. But another perk is that he can run the point.  And, at least so far, no program appears to have zeroed in on him.
  • Dmitri Batten, G, Old Dominion, 6-3, 205: First, Batten is a grad-transfer option. So that’s a perk. But for a guy that put 27.7 percent of the Monarchs shots when on the floor, he’s not very efficient. He went just 38 percent from the floor this season, and only 28.7 percent behind the 3-point arc. Yet he has a 14.8 defensive rebound percentage, hinting he can rebound well for his size.

Other mid-major guards looking for homes: Jay Canty,  Appalachian State; Sam Finley,  UC-Riverside; Karl Ziegler, Longwood; Keron DeShields, Montana.

All of this is fluid, and this is more a thought exercise than anything else. But now it’s possible to see what the landscape looks like moving forward this summer.

Lifting the veil on APR: A Q&A with LSU’s Miriam Segar

AP File Photo | LSU guard Anthony Hickey was one of three players to leave the program last week, exits that could potentially impact the program's Academic Progress Rate.

AP File Photo | LSU guard Anthony Hickey was one of three players to leave the program last week, exits that could potentially impact the program’s Academic Progress Rate.

Last week’s exit of three players from the LSU program raises questions of what impact might on and off the floor.

Already, sophomore guard Malik Morgan has landed at Tulane, while Anthony Hickey and Shane Hammink are still shopping for new homes. Earlier in April, junior forward Johnny O’Bryant III declared for the NBA Draft, and all total the program has watched four members depart the roster since bowing out of the NIT to SMU.

Aside from needing to fill two scholarships, the roster turnover also has the potential to hamper the program’s academic progress rate. The data for the most recent year was released last week, and the Tigers appear safe, landing a perfect score of 1,000 for the 2012-2013 academic years and a 955 for the past four years. Under NCAA regulations, schools must earn a multi-year APR of at least 930 to be eligible for the postseason.

So the question arises as to how LSU might be affected with four departures this season, and the possibility of losing rising sophomore forwards Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey to the NBA ranks.

Courtesy LSU | LSU Associate Athletic Director Miriam Segar

Courtesy LSU | LSU Associate Athletic Director Miriam Segar

To clear up the picture, I chatted with Miriam Segar, an associate athletic director at LSU who oversees the school’s APR efforts. First, a quick primer. The NCAA awards APR points on a semester basis, doling out one point for a player remaining eligible and another if he remains enrolled in school. Theoretically, each player under scholarship is worth up to four points each year. A team’s point total is added up and divided by the maximum amount of points available and multiplied by 1,000.

For example, a basketball team with 13 scholarship players has 52 APR points available. If they receive 49 of them, it would translate to an APR score of 942.31.

With that, here’s the chat I had with Segar.

Q: On first glance, it would seem difficult for LSU to maintain a perfect score for 2012-2013 after losing guard Corban Collins and forward Jalen Courtney to transfers. How do the mechanics work to allow that to happen?

Advocate File Photo | Former LSU guard Corban Collins, along with forward Jalen Courtney, transferred to Moorehead State after the 2012-2013 season. But the pair did not negatively impact the Tigers' APR.

Advocate File Photo | Former LSU guard Corban Collins, along with forward Jalen Courtney, transferred to Moorehead State after the 2012-2013 season. But the pair did not negatively impact the Tigers’ APR.

A: I’m going to talk more globally, because each of them have academic privacy and we can’t talk about specific kids. The NCAA has exceptions where APR points can be waived. For instance, if a student transfers and their overall GPA is a 2.6 or higher, the legislation says that they’re academically eligible at your school and if they transfer to another school — and you can document that — then you waive the point for retention.  So, in that case, you’re a 3-for-3, instead of a 3-for-4. Similarly, if you have a kid that leaves for professional athletics, and they’re eligible to return, instead of having for four possible points, you only have three possible points. There are cases where kids, for an academic year, can be a three-point value (in calculating the APR) instead of a four-point value. So it does change.

Q: So, in the case of the the academic year that just finished, it would seem that if forward Johnny O’Bryant III left for the NBA but finished in good standing, then LSU will not take a hit. Correct? Does he need to finish with a 2.6 GPA?

A: Professionally, you don’t need a certain GPA. If you complete the academic term and satisfy requirements to return to the school and you sign a professional contract, then you can waive the retention point. Instead of losing the point and counting as a 3-for-4 that year, you count as a 3-for-3.

Q: So O’Bryant would need to sign a contract? What documentation would the NCAA need to see?

Advocate File Photo | Junior forward Johnny O'Bryant III left for the NBA, but it may not haunt LSU if he signs a pro contract.

Advocate File Photo | Junior forward Johnny O’Bryant III left for the NBA, but it may not haunt LSU if he signs a pro contract.

A: He would just need to be on a roster. He would need to be picked up. For example, a football player signs a contract, but sometimes when they get picked up they may not. They may just be on a professional roster, so we’re able to use those as well.

Q: Is there a particular cut-off date when a player has to be on a roster in order for him not impact LSU’s APR score?

A: We will file next year’s numbers in October. It has to be before the filing deadline that it would need to be done.

Q: Three players — Shane Hammink, Malik Morgan and Anthony Hickey — left the program, too. We reported Anthony’s scholarship was not renewed. I know you can’t comment specifically on his case, but, generally speaking, is a nonrenewal of a scholarship treated the same as a transfer? Or is it different?

A: It’s the same rule. If they leave, are academically, and can qualify for a waiver to play at their next school, then the waiver we get for a retention point can still be executed.

Q: So there’s no distinction?

A: The school is accountable for any student that is enrolled and receives an athletic scholarship. Any athlete that doesn’t receive a scholarship isn’t counted?

Q: Can you all appeal the ruling of those waivers for retention points, or are the bylaws pretty cut and dry?

A: They’re pretty cut and dry.

Q: How is the advising process, and how involved do you all get, with players considering a move to the professional level about the impact their decision might have on the program’s APR?

Advocate File Photo | Sophomore guard Malik Morgan is moving on to Tulane, but if he left LSU in good academic standing then it shouldn't be a problem.

Advocate File Photo | Sophomore guard Malik Morgan is moving on to Tulane, but if he left LSU in good academic standing then it shouldn’t be a problem.

A: We’re very proactive. We look at their schedule, explain what they need to accomplish by the end of the term in order to help the university maintain that Academic Progress Rate, and that’s it’s very important to the program.

Q: How is that initiated?

A: It’s really a collaborative effort. We see the kids every day. Academics is very involved as well. Administratively, we have an idea, too. We try to educate the kids every year about APR. We talk to them in the fall and in the spring. They all understand, I think, the responsibility that comes with carrying an academic scholarships in terms of team GPA and success for the program. We are actively seeking kids to come back school (after turning pro) to graduate in order to get bonus points, because it helps our APR and our graduation rate.

Q: These numbers can be fairly abstract for an average fan, and so can the process for who they’re calculated. But it’s safe to say you all can project into the future what they might be.

A: We have no choice but to project. They’re can be substantial penalties, and it influences decisions our coaches make on potential players and academic risk. How many points can we lose this year? What does that mean for next year? It’s a four-year rolling average, and the number this year stays with us. That’s a concept where there’s a lot of accountability for the coaches and the university. If there’s one bad year, it lingers. But if there’s one good year, too, eventually it’s also going to roll off, and you could be left with a bad year and just a couple OK years.

Q: This may be a way of life, though, given that JohnnyJones has two players next year that may look to turn pro and transfers are a way of life now.

A: Just look at Kentucky and what they go through every year. As long as players leave eligible and sign that contract, you’re fine. But you’ve got have kids that understand. If you had kids that didn’t understand the serious impact that can have on the program, then it can be a difficult thing to do. There’s a certain amount of trust our coaches have to put in these kids.

In football, it’s easier: You finish a semester and have a bowl game. If you’re not going to come back and turn professional, you’re not dealing with kids not completing a term. Even in baseball, kids finish a term, and then finish they’re sport and leave. Basketball is the one that’s difficult, because they’re getting drafted before the semester ends — even our women’s basketball players. Making sure those kids understand and can complete the hours they need is a lot to ask, but we have kids doing it. We’ll just have to continue being proactive.

Q: So how confident are you all about next year’s score for the men’s program and where it might land?

A: We feel pretty confident. Obviously, the goal every year is to get as high as you can, but minimally a 930, which is the mandate. This is a great year, but it could be down a little bit. You just need to keep that four-year average high. I feel very confident that we’ll be dealing with an average APR that is above the minimum level we need.

 

LSU gets Old Dominion to open the Paradise Jam

Old Dominion guard Aaron Bacote led the Monarchs, who face LSU in the Paradise Jam on Nov. 21, with 15.5 points per game last season.

Old Dominion guard Aaron Bacote led the Monarchs, who face LSU in the Paradise Jam on Nov. 21, with 15.5 points per game last season.

Half of LSU’s nonconference schedule is set.

On Monday, the bracket for the eight-team Paradise Jam was released, with the Tigers drawing Old Dominion for their opening game on Nov. 21. They are paired with Illinois State and Weber State on their side of the draw.

The Monarchs, who are out of Conference USA, went 18-18 last season, reaching the semifinals of the CBI.  Coach Jeff Jones led ODU to 13 more victories in that it had the previous season after arriving from American University.

Old Dominion also brings back four of its top five scorers from last season — second-leading scorer Dimitri Batten transferred — to the fold. Still they finished just No. 251 in adjusted offensive efficiency, and struggled at points with valuing the basketball, per KenPom.com.  The Monarchs also finished the season at No. 164 in the NCAA’s official Ratings Percentage Index.

Clemson, Gardner-Webb, Nevada and Seton Hall make up the other side of the draw. LSU would face a team from that quartet on Nov. 24.

Overall, the Tigers’ nonconference schedule features games against a slate of teams that finished with an average RPI of 121.3. It’s likely they’ll fill in at least three games with in-state opponents — think the Southland Conference — and have reached out to a few ACC programs about possible home and homes.

Still, keep in mind LSU also needs to submit this schedule to the Southeastern Conference for review, and there’s also the goal to finish with a non-conference strength of schedule better than No. 150 nationally.

Here’s a look at the schedule so far, with RPIs in parentheses.

Nonconference home

  • Texas Tech (130)
  • UMass (26)

Nonconference road

  • UAB (153)
  • Dec. 4: West Virginia (92)

Neutral floor

  • Nov. 21: Old Dominion (164)
  • Nov. 22 or 23: Illinois State (133)/Weber State (151)
  • Nov. 24: Consolation/Championship game

SEC Home

  • Alabama (128)
  • Auburn (160)
  • Florida (1)
  • Georgia (72)
  • Kentucky (7)
  • Ole Miss (88)
  • South Carolina (139)
  • Tennessee (37)
  • Texas A&M (147)

SEC Road

  • Arkansas (67)
  • Auburn (160)
  • Florida (1)
  • Ole Miss (88)
  • Mississippi State (239)
  • Missouri (50)
  • Tennessee (37)
  • Texas A&M (147)
  • Vanderbilt (121)

 

LSU lands West Virginia for SEC/Big 12 Challlenge

LSU landed West Virginia as its draw for the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

But you knew that already, and it’s not the first time in recent memory they’ve locked horns.

The programs last met over a decade ago during a home-and-home series. West Virginia won 84-69 in Baton Rouge in the first meeting during the 2004 season, and LSU avenged the loss a year later with a 71-68 victory in Morgantown.

Let’s take a quick look at the rest of the pairings for the three-day event, which features 10 games between what the nation’s best power conference last  and the much maligned SEC.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014    

  • Auburn at Texas Tech

Thursday, December 4, 2014   

  • Arkansas at Iowa State
  • Baylor at Vanderbilt
  • TCU at Ole Miss

Friday, December 5, 2014

  • Florida at Kansas
  • Texas at Kentucky
  • Missouri at Oklahoma

Saturday, December 6, 2014

  • Oklahoma State at South Carolina
  • Kansas State at Tennessee

Now, Wednesday’s unveiling leaves the Tigers’ trying to fill five spots on their schedule. LSU already has the back end of home-and-home deals looming with UMass and Texas Tech coming to Baton Rouge and a visit planned to UAB. There’s also the three games guaranteed by playing in the Paradise Jam, which takes place in late November in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It’s also easy to sort out the rough breakdown of the Tigers’ draw in the SEC.

On paper, the Mountaineers are relatively solid draw. They were knocked out by Georgetown in the first round of the NIT, but eighth-year coach Bob Huggins. A middling 17-16 record may not sizzle, but West Virginia returns its top five scorers — three of whom were underclassmen — to go with Juwan Staten. Staten, a 6-1, 190-pound rising senior, passed on entering the NBA draft.

The bigger question is whether Huggins’ can get back toward the trend line that’s defined a very successful career. Over the past three seasons, WVU has a .500 record, while it missed the NCAA tournament for a second-consecutive season. I’ll wait for our pregame blog next season to delve into this issue, but put simply: The Mountaineers didn’t defend. At all. They finished No. 126 in adjusted efficiency and ninth in a 10-team Big 12, per kenpom.com. Offensive punch won’t be an issue for this group. Stopping people remains to be seen.

Still, in a climate where the NCAA selection committee wants to see teams hit the road for tough games, LSU has a chance to get a quality, top-100 RPI win away from Baton Rouge. Until the rest of the schedule is done, this might stand as their toughest game on the nonconference schedule.

So, how does the entire docket look in early May?

Below is a rough outline of the 2014-2015 LSU schedule so far. I’ve also put the NCAA’s official RPI of each team in parentheses.

Nonconference home

  • Texas Tech (130)
  • UMass (26)

Nonconference road

  • UAB (153)
  • West Virginia (92)

Neutral floor:

  • Three games at the Paradise Jam

SEC Home

  • Alabama (128)
  • Auburn (160)
  • Florida (1)
  • Georgia (72)
  • Kentucky (7)
  • Ole Miss (88)
  • South Carolina (139)
  • Tennessee (37)
  • Texas A&M (147)

SEC Road

  • Arkansas (67)
  • Auburn (160)
  • Florida (1)
  • Ole Miss (88)
  • Mississippi State (239)
  • Missouri (50)
  • Tennessee (37)
  • Texas A&M (147)
  • Vanderbilt (121)

Traditionally, LSU locks in up between three to five in-state schools — just take a look at last season — to round out the slate. As of March, though, the Tigers had resumed talks with Texas and several ACC programs — possibly Georgia Tech and N.C.State — about potential home-and-home series. The trick is whether the Tigers can get a power conference program to open any such deal by visiting Baton Rouge this season.  The Longhorns, for glitz and added juice to SOS, would be a big get, even if it does leave LSU playing three Big 12 schools. N.C. State will be rebuilding after squeaking into the NCAA tournament, while Georgia Tech is coming off a disappointing 16-17 season.

By now, you know the mandate handed down by the SEC last season: All nonconference schedules need to have an average rating better than No. 150, and the conference’s schools will submit their dockets for review by the home office. Operating off that standard, the Tigers will need to upgrade. The consensus of various formulas was LSU’s nonconference menu landed between No. 170 and No. 186 in the nation last season.

Whether it gets better — at least in the eyes of algorithms and regression formulas — is harder to gauge.

The Paradise Jam may not be a booster shot. Outside of Clemson and LSU, both of whom had top-100 RPIs, none of the remaining six teams in the field had a RPI better than No. 133, while their average slot in the index was No. 160.

It will be interesting to see what the program does to fill in remaining holes. The Tigers won’t abandon keeping money Louisiana and scheduling in-state opponents. But it’s important to note that last year the five schools LSU played had an average RPI of roughly No. 250.  If a couple of games materialize against power conference opponents, the Tigers may be able to pare back facing Southland Conference schools, minimizing the drag on their SOS.

If the goal is a return to the NCAA tournament, a place LSU hasn’t been in five seasons, then bolstering its schedule is a must. We’ll see what the program comes up with over the next couple months.

As for the SEC schedule, it’s a push. LSU has five games against teams I expect to vie for top-four finishes in Kentucky, Florida, Arkansas and Georgia. The boon, though, is three of those games — UK, UF and UGA — are at the PMAC. Auburn, Tennessee and Texas A&M are in various stages of rebuilding, and there are sneaky toss-ups with rival Ole Miss and a potential surprise squad in South Carolina. The road schedule seems manageable. Florida, Arkansas and Ole Miss are tough trips, but getting a torn-down Missouri, Texas A&M, Auburn, Tennessee and a struggling State balance it out.

 

A way too early look ahead in the SEC

So that usual mass exodus that rolls around every April from Lexington?

Or how Kentucky coach John Calipari just imports another slew of highly-touted recruits to represent Big Blue Nation for a lone season before heading off to cash their own NBA paychecks.

Well, what happens if those guy stick around. And then another crop of McDonald’s All-Americans drops off their bags?

After taking a flogging for simply feeding the one-and-done machine, Calipari can smirk today. ‘Cause the gang that tore off a run to the national title game after being left for dead in at the start of March is back.

The twins of Andrew and Aaron Harrison? Sticking around, per Yahoo! reporter Adrian Wojnarowski. The guards also join big men Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress — yes, UK will have two seasoned juniors on the roster — and rising sophomore Dakari Johnson.

Oh, and four top-30 prospects will fill in the ranks, giving the Wildcats roster nine members who have played in a high school all-star game sponsored by America’s preeminent fast-food chain.

So, pure snark alone, here’s one scribe’s prediction for the SEC race next season: Kentucky and then everybody else.

Obviously, recruiting is still unfolding — the spring signing period ends in May — and there can always be transfers. Plus, Missouri is in the midst of a coaching search. Caveats aside, I’ll take a stab at my initial pecking order.

1. Kentucky: So, Julius Randle is gone, but the nation’s best team on the offensive backboards should be loaded in front court again. To wit: Cauley-Stein is an able rim protector. Poythress can play inside-out. Johnson, who had modest numbers, projects to a guy capable of 14.7 points and 11.2 rebounds in 40 minutes. Add in elite freshman KarlTowns and Trey Lyles, too. The result is six players taller than 6-8, five of whom were top-40 recruits. If Andrew Harrison’s rapid improvement during the NCAA tournament continues, there’s talent, brawn and experience to make the league’s other coaches shudder at the top choice to open the season atop the polls.

2. Florida: The loss of seniors Scottie Wilbekin, the SEC player of the year, Casey Prather, Patric Young and Will Yeguete smarts. The Gators, the first team to go undefeated in conference play, lose 61.2 percent of their scoring, 52.9 percent of their rebounding and 52.7 percent of their minutes. But coach Billy Donovan isn’t facing a barren roster. Point guard Kasey Hill, a McDonald’s All-American nicked up last season, will take Wilbekin’s mantle as a sophomore. Forward Chris Walker missed half the season as the NCAA looked into academic eligibility. He only averaged 1.9 points and 1.3 rebounds, but he was still considered a potential first round talent as a freshman, and Dorian Finney-Smith (8.7 points and 6.7 rebounds) remains in the fold. Guard Michael Frazier, a 44.7 percent three-point shooter, is a senior, too. That’s a decent core to build around with the nation’s No. 11 recruiting class arriving.

3. Arkansas: Coach Mike Anderson’s track record tends to peg his fourth year as a breakthrough. The Razorbacks have the pieces, on first glance, to contend. Freshman All-SEC forward Bobby Portis, who averaged 12.3 points and 6.8 rebounds, stuck around. Alandise Harris (9.3 ppg, 3.3 rebounds) is a senior presence. Rashad Madden, who averaged 12.7 points and shot 40.0 percent behind the arc, can stretch defenses. Michael Qualls, who is adept at getting to the rim, rounds out a solid nucleus. By now, Anderson has his players in place and adequate depth to handle his preferred up-tempo pace, and the Hogs appeared to have shed their reputation for floundering on the road. An upset to South Carolina in the SEC tournament cost them a NCAA tournament bid, but expectations should be higher next season on The Hill.

4. Georgia: Nobody expected the Bulldogs’ third-place finish last season, but coach Mark Fox’s team won’t creep up on the conference this season. Bringing back their top five scorers helps. That includes the guard duo of juniors Charles Mann (13.9 ppg, 2.9 apg) slashing to lane and Kenny Gaines (13.0 ppg, 37.5 percent from 3-point range) launching from long range. Junior Brandon Morris and senior Marcus Thornton can pair up inside, while Nemanja Djurisic is a good floor spacer and able to knock down perimeter shots. Reserves Juwan Parker, J.J. Frazier and Cameron Forte give Fox a nice rotation to work with. More importantly, no team was better defensively, based on KenPom.com’s adjusted efficiency figures, outside of Florida and Tennessee than UGA. The takeaway: There’s experience, reliable scoring and ability to defend that can still improve. Maybe Georgia did, indeed, play over their heads. For now, though, I’ll keep them in the mix.

5. LSU: On paper, the Tigers might have more talent than Arkansas or Georgia. But they did last season, too, and still finished seventh. So it’s hard to put them ahead of two teams who extracted more from their rosters and bring back most of their pieces. Still. The loss of back-to-back All-SEC forward Johnny O’Bryant III to the NBA was expected. Keeping the SEC All-Freshmen tandem of Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin, though, is a coup for coach Johnny Jones. Add in 7-footer Elbert Robinson, the No. 56 prospect in this year’s class, and LSU’s front court could be formidable.  Point guard Anthony Hickey’s steal numbers dipped after he was asked to take less risks, but he averaged 4.0 assists per game with a 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio after SEC play arrived. But Jones hopes UNC-Asheville transfer Keith Hornsby and four-star JUCO prospect Josh Gray, who averaged a whopping 33.8 points per game at Odessa college, can add size and scoring punch on the wing. The Tigers have to shed one scholarship player, but the bench should allow Jones to go eight or nine deep. After a NIT berth this season, expectations are for a NCAA tournament trip.

6. Alabama:  They lose leading scorer Trevor Releford. Fair point. But the Tide bring back every there other five top scorers, led by rising senior Levi Randolph. There’s also guard Retin Obasohan, who showed streaky scoring ability, while 1.8 steals per game and 4.0 steal percentage hint at potential defensive prowess. If not Obasohan, then Rodney Cooper, whose only slightly more efficient offensively, will have to step forward. Inside, rising sophomore Shannon Hale is back, and he can be a sneaky pick-and-pop threat on the perimeter in shooting 35.2 percent behind the arc. Forward Nick Jacobs, the Tide’s best rebounder is also in the fold. Alabama also gets the services Tulane transfer Ricky Tarrant, who put up 15.7 points per game before leaving the Green Wave. Coach Anthony Grant put a premium on finding shooters in the nation’s No. 27 recruiting class, which features three Rivals top-150 prospects, led by four-star point guard Justin Coleman. Here’s betting Grant’s team — consistently among the top three in the SEC for defensive efficiency — does a course correction on that end of the floor after finishing seventh in points allowed and 10th in field-goal percentage defense.

7. Ole Miss: Again, a SEC program losing its leading scorer. But guard Marshall Henderson was a volume shooter, needing 14.8 shots per game to score 19.0 points. And 77.4 percent of his attempts were 3-pointers, a penchant that could throw off the offense as much as help. Yet the Rebels get back Jarvis Summers, who averaged 17.3 points and 3.8 assists per game. Summers defines efficient: A 59.4 true shooting percentage and 1.45 points per shot. Rising senior LaDarius White has nice size at 6-6, 211 pounds, but has to get more efficient offensively after sporting a 47.0 true shooting percentage, per KenPom.com. Coach Andy Kennedy, though, hit the transfer market to find wing scoring, notably Tennessee-Martin guard Terrence Smith, who averaged 14.6 points and was third in the OhioValley with a 43.4 three-point field goal percentage. Kennedy also went back to South Plains (Texas) Junior College for guard Roderick Lawrence, whom Kennedy deemed a slashing threat on the perimeter. Ole Miss needs more from its big men, but the Rebels have fewer roster questions to address than their peers.

8. South Carolina: Last season, the Gamecocks’ youth was too much. Five of their top seven players in minutes were underclassmen, while dual-sport star Bruce Ellington — a steadying presence and scoring option — elected to enter the NFL draft. Still, coach Frank Martin’s team bounced back from a 8-15 start to go 5-5 down the stretch, which included reaching the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament. The group took its lumps, but there’s talent. Namely, SEC All-Freshman guard Sindarius Thornwell, who averaged 13.4 points despite shooting only 38.6 percent. Thornwell is a four-star in-state product, who was joined by fellow four-star center Demetrius Henry. In this class, Martin didn’t have to leave Columbia to find four-star point guard Marcus Stroman. Entering his third season, Martin has managed to upgrade the talent level, and he’s got the coaching acumen to maximize its gifts.  But Henry, center Mindaugas Kacinas and undersized forward Michael Carerra need to be reliable. Fellow guards Duane Notice and Tyrone Johnson, who combined to average around 20 points per game last season,  return, too. Putting them here might be a reach, but every investment portfolio needs a little risk.

9. Vanderbilt:  The story is well-worn by now. Defections and disciplinary moves left coach Kevin Stallings with seven scholarship players, a reality that left the Commodores tottering and stumbling to the finish line last season. Veteran stalwarts in point guard Kyle Fuller and stretch forward Rod Odom have moved on. But help is coming. Maybe. That is if guard Kedren Johnson, who was suspended last season following “very poor judgment” returns. Freshman center Damian Jones, who averaged 11.3 points and 5.7 rebounds, should get more pub and is nice asset. Rising seniors Dai-Jon Parker (8.3 ppg, 2.1 apg) and James Siakam (7.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg) also saw heavy minutes. Matters are murky from there. Reserves Luke Kornet and Shelby moats are sure to see more minutes, but Vandy’s recruiting class features four-star guard Wade Baldwin. The wild card: Cornell transfer Nolan Cressler, who is eligible immediately after ranking fourth in the Ivy League with 16.8 points per game. I hate to doubt Stallings, and I won’t be surprised if they finish higher.

10. Texas A&M: There were two utter certainties with the Aggies last season: They could defend, but scoring was akin to putting a fifth-grader in a calculus glass. Heck, coach Billy Kennedy admitted the SEC’s worst offensive team needed shooting practice. Everybody of consequence is back, led by guard Jamal Jones (13.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and forward Kourtney Roberson (9.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg), and regulars such as guard Alex Caruso. Antwan Space transferred, but he was only a nominal member of the rotation. But the biggest addition is SMU transfer Jalen Jones, who is a bigger guard at 6-7, 220-pounds. He averaged 14.0 points and 7.7 rebounds for the Mustangs, and paired with Jones, who stands 6-7, Texas A&M will have some size and length on the wings. Plus, Kennedy and his bench coach parted ways this offseason, and maybe a change of approach — although, A&M will still grind out games — offensively can spur improvement.

11. Tennessee: The good vibes have dulled since a Sweet 16 run in March. Coach Cuonzo Martin bailed for the West Coast and Cal, skipping out a fanbase that never warmed to him and even petitioned for his ouster this season.  Jarnell Stokes jumped to the NBA, while staples in Jordan McCrae, Jeronne Maymon and Antonio Barton ran out of eligibility. So, here you go Donnie Tyndall, who came from Southern Miss this week with a rep for rebuilding. Yet all four members of the Volunteers signing class were granted releases from the letters of intent to weigh options moving ahead. If those defections stand up, Tyndall has a three-week window to plug the gap. On the bright side, the back court might feature a nice trio. Five-star recruit Robert Hubbs, who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, is back. Junior Josh Richardson averaged 10.3 points per game last season and could fill the void to a degree left by McCray. Rising sophomore Darius Thompson will have to prove a capable third leg of the tripod. Front-court depth, however, is a looming concern. We’ll get a good gauge early of just how quickly Tyndall can work any magic.

12. Auburn: Hiring Bruce Pearl has certainly generated buzz, and there’s no doubt Athletic Director Jay Jacobs made a step up over Tony Barbee. The roster, though, won’t let Pearl imitate the one-year turnaround orchestrated by football counterpart Gus Malzahn. The Tigers get back guard KT Harrell, who ranked sixth in the SEC at 18.3 points per game and sank 36.1 percent of his 3-pointers. Leading scorer Chris Denson is gone, and their only reliable players inside with Asauhn Dixon-Tatum and Allen Payne. Granted, Cinmeon Bowers, who is 6-7, 261, will show up as the nation’s No. 1 JUCO power forward. Meanwhile, Pearl is waiting word whether Marshall transfer Kareem Canty (16.3 ppg) will commit and be eligible immediately under the graduate-transfer exemption.

13. Missouri: There’s a reason Frank Haith skipped town for the security of a seven-year deal at Tulsa. The Tigers are in triage. Guards Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson defected to the NBA draft, while Earnest Ross exhausted eligibility. In total, 70.5 percent of Missouri’s scoring won’t be back. Even with that collection of talent, MU still finished ninth in the conference.  And the replacements? Well, highly-touted freshman Jonathan Williams III did average 5.8 points. In reality, Mizzou’s front court never provided help last season. Williams wasn’t ready for heavy minutes. Ryan Rosburg nobly tried as a glorified reserve. Meanwhile, Louisiville transfer Zach Price, who was supposed to help fix the problem, got booted after getting arrested twice by Columbia police in the same day this month. Freshman point guard Wes Clark foundered, too. Now Mike Alden is on his fourth coaching search in 15 years, while a pair of four-star recruits in shooting guard Namon Wright and power forward Jakeenan Gant wait to see who he hires. All total, the situation doesn’t look promising for the man Alden picks.

14. MississippiState: Rick Ray is trying. The Bulldogs coach has guard Craig Sword and a serviceable forward in Gavin Ware. Guard Trivante Bloodman and reserve big man Roquez Johnson try to fill in, but the collection of talent in Starkville hasn’t improved dramatically. A quartet of three-star players will arrive to join the ranks, but it’s hard to see Year 3 of the Ray era unfolding much differently than the first, considering State may just now be addressing depth issues that have left the coach little trouble but to play everybody.

 

 

 

Mickey’s NBA decision may come ‘later this week,’ father says

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD -- LSU's Jordan Mickey shoots over Arkansas' Moses Kingsley during the game between LSU and Arkansas this season at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge.

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD — LSU’s Jordan Mickey dunks over Arkansas’ Moses Kingsley during the game between LSU and Arkansas this season at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge.

Six days are left until the NBA’s deadline to declare for the draft, and Jordan Mickey will probably use as many of them as he can.

Or at least that’s the plan laid out by the LSU forward’s father.

“We’ll probably make a decision by the end of the week,” James Wright told The Advocate early Monday evening in a phone interview.

As I wrote last week, Mickey’s decision is pretty simple: If he elects to put his name into the pool of underclassmen declaring for the draft, there’s no turning back. The NCAA’s deadline to “withdraw” from the draft came and went on April 15, meaning any declarations made afterward cut off the path of returning to school.

Wright and his son have tried to keep a tight lid on speculation surrounding his decision. On April 9, Wright was in town to watch his older son and Mickey’s step-brother in James Wright Jr., who is a former LSU wide receiver, audition before NFL scouts at the Tigers’ Pro Day. Yet, there was no sit-down with LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones, either. Mickey has already had his planned postseason session with Jones, and then took a trip for spring break, Wright said.

Any communications between Wright and Jones have been handled over the phone.

“I’ve spoke with him several times,” Wright said. “I just told Coach Jones that we’re trying to get the best information and take the best approach for our family.”

Yet Wright also said he plans to take a trip to Baton Rouge “around the middle, to later this week” for a face-to-face chat Jones. After that meeting, a decision about Mickey’s future in Baton Rouge may be handed down.

Mickey’s choice is a linchpin in some ways.

With Johnny O’Bryant III off to the professional ranks, Mickey’s 12.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game — numbers that landed him on the SEC’s All-Freshmen team — represent the most consistent wellspring of production inside. Even if Mickey wasn’t the chief threat — it’s been repeated that no designed plays were run for him — he is still the logical choice to take up the mantle.  Put another way, LSU’s depth in the lane would swing back to the other end of the pendulum.  Fellow freshman Jarell Martin has said he’ll return, and all indications are there are no surprises in store. Yet, Martin’s size, standing 6-9, 241 pounds, is coupled with athleticism that lets him play on the wing. If Mickey departs, Martin may have to move inside, and incoming freshman Elbert Robinson, will face pressure to acclimate quickly.

Also, if Mickey stays, it will leave LSU one over the NCAA-mandated allotment of 13 scholarships, meaning the Tigers would potentially having to shave shed one member  from their ranks. If he goes, then the Tigers roster, in theory, would not have to undergone further alterations. Or, at the very least, any changes may not solely come down to a decision by Jones.

Mickey slid out of ESPN analyst Chad Ford’s ranking of the top 100 prospects after sitting at No. 80. DraftExpress.com, however, has the 6-8, 220-pound Mickey slotted at No. 55 in its ratings, and only seven spots behind O’Bryant. He’s also moved up three spots to No. 14 in the site’s ranking of freshmen. Neither site has him projected to be selected in the draft’s two rounds.

So to repeat: The wait will continue a couple more days.

“We really have tried to downplay all of this,” Wright said. “It’s not like we’re trying to do this to generate extra attention. Right now, it’s just one of those things where we want to make sure we do everything in the best interest of our family.”

Mickey lets NCAA deadline pass without declaring for NBA draft

AP Photo -- LSU forward Jordan Mickey did not announce Tuesday whether he would be declaring for the NBA draft, letting the NCAA deadline to withdraw pass. If the TIgers' big man declares before the NBA's own April 27 deadline, then he can't turn back and return to Baton Rouge.

AP Photo — LSU forward Jordan Mickey did not announce Tuesday whether he would be declaring for the NBA draft, letting the NCAA deadline to withdraw pass. If the Tigers’ big man declares before the NBA’s own April 27 deadline, then he can’t turn back and return to Baton Rouge.

No e-mails arrived announcing Jordan Mickey’s departure.

Nor were there any press conferences called.

Nope, Tuesday passed without LSU’s freshman forward, who earned SEC All-Freshman and All-Defense team honors this season, declaring whether he would be back in Baton Rouge or put his name into the mixer for the NBA draft.

Granted, April 15 is an artificial deadline.

The NCAA set that date as the “withdrawal” deadline for underclassmen to pull their name out of the pool for the draft. That day happens to come one day before the spring period for signing recruits to letters of intent opens up. In essence, the NCAA protects coaches by ensuring that they have an idea of whether there is an open scholarship they can fill during the window that runs until May 21.

The official deadline set by the NBA is April 27, and the ramifications now are binary: If Mickey submits paperwork, he’s gone. There’s no turning back. Getting a read on the forward’s intentions has been hard. Repeatedly, he’s answered questions by saying he’ll sit down and consult with his family and try to seek opinions about his stock. Presumably, that means getting a formal evaluation from the league’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee, a 20-person panel of NBA front office and scouting personnel that submits its opinion to players mulling whether to enter the draft.

There are not many leaks or hints coming our way right now. What we do know is that if Mickey sought an evaluation from the NBA, it needed to be returned to him by Monday. In theory, that would leave him 24 hours to make a decision — if he was adhering to the NCAA’s self-serving timeline. Stripping away the April 15 deadline, however, would leave Mickey until just before midnight on April 27 — almost two weeks — to make up his mind. Mickey’s parents were in town last week, though, for LSU’s Pro Day on April 9, where his older brother James Wright worked out for scouts. On the day Johnny O’Bryant III declared for the draft, Mickey said his family would probably meet with LSU coach Johnny Jones. If that meeting took place, then it would seem Mickey has the following in hand:

  • A conservative valuation of his professional stock.
  • An in-person meeting with his coach about his options and place in the program.
  • Two weeks to decide where he might be slotted among the 27 underclassmen that have already declared.

Meanwhile, Mickey’s rated as the No. 80 prospect in this year’s crop by ESPN analyst Chad Ford. DraftExpress.com has the 6-8, 220-pound Mickey slotted at No. 60 in its ratings, and the site has him as the No. 17 freshman in this year’s class between Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison and his twin brother Andrew. Neither site has him going off the board in the draft’s two rounds either. As a reference, is projected as a pick in the middle of the second round. The question about Mickey may be whether he can play multiple positions, and, if not, whether he’s got the frame and offensive skill set to be a player that can thrive solely in the low block.

Mickey’s athleticism as a help side defender and on the glass is clear, but the offense at LSU rarely routed possessions directly to him. More specifically, a possession ended with him 19.8 percent of the time — roughly in line with Jarell Martin and Andre Stringer — and he only attempted a shot on 19.4 percent of the Tigers shots when on the floor. Now, Mickey did shoot 76.8 percent at the rim (96 of 125) this season, according to data from hoop-math.com, and corralled 37 stickbacks. But that was with O’Bryant drawing plenty of double teams and guards digging at the ball after sagging off the wing. If Mickey came back to Baton Rouge and existed as the main conduit inside as a sophomore, building on 12.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, his stock might appreciate more this time a year from now.

Instead of going undrafted, Draft Express has Mickey as the No. 36 pick — or the sixth player taken in the second round — in the 2015 NBA draft.

But for now, the wait continues.

Emptying the Notebook: Changes afoot around the PMAC?

Taking a cue from forward Johnny O’Bryant III’s (not-so) big reveal Tuesday, LSU coach Johnny Jones’ season wrap-up presser raised as many questions as it was designed to answer?

Right now, the Tigers would be one over the scholarship limit? Who goes?

Will there be any changes to the coaching staff?

Is Anthony Hickey, the lone true senior on the roster, really the leader the Tigers need?

Just where does Jordan Mickey stand on coming back to Baton Rouge?

No, today doesn’t exactly send the program into Jones’ third season at the helm on quiet terms. The next six weeks have the potential to bring more rumblings after a 20-14 season that raised question about whether LSU — picked fourth in the Southeastern Conference during the preseason — underachieved or made an incremental step forward with a NIT trip.

“We won nine games in conference last year, we won nine this year,” Jones said. “Was it a different nine that we won because of the challenge we had in front of us and the caliber teams that we were playing?”

Next came the usual bullet points:

  • “I want to be in the top tier in this conference.”
  • “My goal is to hopefully be in one of those (NCAA Final Four) games this coming weekend.”

Yet Jones framed the Tigers’ campaign, one that ended with an 80-67 blitzing at the hands of SMU last week, as part of a rebuild. No, Jones doesn’t throw that term around. But he implied it Tuesday.

“I realize where this program was three years prior to me having an opportunity for me to take over,” Jones said. “Sometimes, anything short of those things, you feel like there is always more out there for you. But when you understand what you have, exactly where you are and what you are trying to build to, you have to understand when you are making progress. You have to understand that, trust in that and know where you are going.”

True.

But who will be the hands rowing the boat for LSU? Or the people helping Jones steer it toward the direction the fan base wants?

Now, on to the notes.

  • It sounds like freshman Brian Bridgewater will be a part of the mix next season. The Scotlandville product sat out this season after getting snared in the NCAA Clearinghouse after a credit recovery course — one approved by the big house in Indianapolis — actually turned out not to be up to snuff. In meeting halfway, the 6-foot-6, 230-pound prospect was allowed to be on scholarship but could not practice or play. Logically, you could make a case shedding Bridgewater is an easy way to get back down to the maximum 13 scholarships. Not happening, per Jones. “Brian is one of those guys – our expectations of him from a year ago to possibly give us some leeway or depth in terms of being able to play the four [power forward] and three spot [small forward] because of his size, strength and athleticism,” Jones said.
  • Or LSU might wind up at the other end of the spectrum in terms of outcomes: Losing Mickey, who is a SEC All-Freshman team member, to the NBA draft. Not that Mickey is revealing his intentions. The line has been the same at the SEC tournament, NIT and Tuesday. He’s waiting for feedback from the NBA and consulting with his parents. Presumably, the Mickey clan will meet with Jones next week after his evaluation from the NBA Undergraduate committee arrives.  ”We want to make sure that he has an opportunity to process everything and make the right decision that’s going to be best for him and his family at the end of the day,” Jones said. “I’m for certain that he will be able to do that at the proper time.” Stay tuned.
  • OK, so if Bridgewater and Mickey both stay, then the Tigers need to prune a man from the roster. Is it sophomore Shane Hammink, who has averaged just 1.6 points and 1.4 rebounds in 8.6 minutes per game during his career? Even after Malik Morgan went down with a torn patellar tendon, Hammink didn’t see his minutes jump. Maybe freshman Tim Quarterman? Four-star pedigree aside, the point guard only started the season’s first three games, shot just 26.4 percent and led the Tigers with a 25.5 turnover percentage. Were those growing pains? Or were they signs of a recruiting miss? It’s interesting to note that Jones didn’t drop Quarterman’s name when talking about key pieces of the Tigers’ back court next season. Jones wasn’t tipping his hand, but said decisions may have to be made “near the end of the semester,” which arrives May 16.  ”We’ll have a closer idea of what should transpire there in terms of meeting and what’s best for maybe some of the other guys in the program and their future what they need to do,” Jones said. “But there hasn’t been any decisions made as of yet.”
  •  Asked whether the Tigers are still shopping for members of the Class of 2014, Jones said it never stops. “Yeah, we are still active because you never know,” he said. “I think it’s real important that you be proactive in terms of recruiting and then put yourself in a position that something should happen, that you’re prepared and you’re ready.”
  • At points this season, there have been grumblings about how Jones and his staff have handled in-game adjustments, particularly given the Tigers struggles at times on the defensive end of the floor. David Patrick works with the Tigers’ guards and has deep recruiting connections in-state (he’s a Louisiana-Lafayette alum and former NichollsState assistant) and to his native Australia. The chief benefit of the latter was securing the commitment of Ben Simmons, a small forward from Florida’s MontverdeAcademy and the No. 5 overall prospect in the 2015 recruiting class. Korey McCray is just wrapping down his first season in Baton Rouge. The former head of the elite grassroots hoops program in the Atlanta Celtics, McCray is short on experience at the college level, but brings a wealth of recruiting connections. Then there is Charlie Leonard, who joined Jones’ staff at Memphis when he was appointed the interim after Tic Price’s in-season firing in 1999. Again, Jones didn’t get into specifics, but his response to a question about potential staff changes should pique interest. ”It’s about like those players,” Jones said. “You just never know. Things are always up for change. So, that’s something may play itself out as well. It’s one of those situations that you just never know from year in and year out. We feel that we have a capable staff assembled.”
  • By now, the cycle is clear: Point guard Anthony Hickey winds up in Johnny Jones’ dog house. He pays penance. This season it was not starting the first three games of the season. The transgressions are nothing major. But the pause that lasted six seconds when Jones was asked whether Hickey would inherit the chief leadership role next season spoke volumes. And the normally measured Jones then laid out about a blunt a statement as he could muster. “Not sure,” he said. “We’ll have to see. You know, that’s possible, hopefully. Maybe another year. He’s a senior, and it may be something that could possibly happen. But it’s been for him for three for him to assume that role. So it’s tough to assume it will happen that way.” Ouch. Again, Jones normally skews toward the positive in his publicly expressed sentiments. This time, he didn’t hold back. What the implications are, though, remain to be seen.