Johnny O’Bryant addresses initial NBA Draft speculation

lSU’s Johnny O’Bryant III, center, drives for the basket as South Carolina forward Michael Carrera, left, and guard Bruce Ellington, right, tries to block during the second half of the Tigers 64-46 victory on Feb. 14 in Columbia, S.C. O’Bryant III scored a career-high 30 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.

Over the past five weeks, LSU sophomore forward Johnny O’Bryant III has rounded into the best offensive threat for the somewhat resurgent Tigers.

O’Bryant, a 6-8, 256-pound product of Cleveland, Miss., is averaging 17.3 points and 10.4 rebounds during LSU’s past 10 games, including eight of his SEC-leading double-doubles.

It’s prompted some speculation about whether O’Bryant, a five-star recruit and former McDonald’s All-American, would be interested in testing the NBA Draft waters.

Right now, he’s ranked as the No. 150 prospect by ESPN’s draftnik Chad Ford, and the No. 16 prospect in the SEC. O’Bryant possesses the necessary size, strength and ability on the glass to potentially be attractive to teams needing help on the front line. Granted, there are also questions about whether his low-post game is refined enough for the NBA, and if his motor runs sufficiently to be worth a pick.

Granted, any projection right now would place O’Bryant squarely in the second round, where contracts aren’t guaranteed. There’s an inherent risk in leaving without some notion (or assurance) of landing in the first round.

Case in point, former LSU center Justin Hamilton, who left after his junior season and was drafted in the second round (No. 45 overall) by Philadelphia, then swapped to Miami for fellow SEC alum in Mississippi State’s Arnett Moultrie. Yet Hamilton was cut loose, and then signed in August 2012 with Croatian-based KK Cibona. In January, though, he reached an agreement with VEF Riga.

So, in spite of his vast potential, O’Bryant potentially faces a dilemma this offseason. On Thursday, I chatted with him about what will likely happen. Granted, it was a media session where time is limited, and, in the midst of the season, O’Bryant remained coy.

Here’s the transcript, folks.

Obviously, your play the past couple weeks and past statements about wanting to reach the next level quickly have people speculating about what you might do after the season. How would you respond to that?

“Mostly, I’m just thinking about finishing the season. Just finishing the season strong and trying to get into some postseason play. Right now, that’s where my mind is at.”

Do you really even pay attention to speculation that you might leave? You came here and said the goal was to leave and make the jump as quickly as possible. How much thought, if any, do you have about that right now?

“I’m still developing as a player. Before I leave, I want to be the best possible player I can be before I make any decisions. I’m definitely still growing, still developing. My thought process is just on finishing the season.”

What did you do after last season in terms of evaluating whether returning was what you wanted to do?

“I definitely knew I was (coming back) after last season. I didn’t have the freshman year that I wanted to. I got hurt, and things didn’t really seem to go my way. I just calmed down and worked as heard as I possibly could and evaluate some things. This season, I’ll sit down with coach, sit down with my circle and we’ll talk.”

What’s going to go into those talks? And are you going to look at asking the NBA for an evaluation about your stock?

“Definitely. If I do make that decision, I need to see where I stand — if I can come back or can go higher (in the draft) — then it’s something I’ll focus on when I reach that point.”

What’s it going to take for you feel comfortable making the decision to stay or go?

“Just hearing the right news, pretty much.”

When do you anticipate you’ll sit down with coach Jones after this season is done?

“I don’t really know yet. The season is still going on, but until then I can’t really say.”

Obviously, there’s a lot of guys that were in your McDonald’s All-American group that are going to have to face the same decision. Do you pay attention or keep tabs on their prospects?

“A little bit. Some guys I was really good friends with, just through playing USA basketball with (them). Some guys I know through the AAU circuit, and we’re still good friends. I watch their games, see how their doing.”

Who are some of the guys you keep tabs on?

(Duke forward) Quinn Cook. Obviously, (former Florida guard) Brad Beal; he’s in the NBA (with the Washington Wizards); Adonis Thomas. Guys like that.

How much does your injury history impact your thinking? And how much does seeing a guy like (Kentucky forward) Nerlens Noel suffer a severe injury affect your thought process? Or is that part of the grind?

“It’s just part of the sport, and you’ve got to bounce back and work harder. I’m sorry that had to happen to Nerlens Noel.”

How much does it matter to have a good outing against a player like (Tennessee forward) Jarnell Stokes, a guy that might be in the same spot as you? What’s that do for you?

“I’ve known I can play with guys like that all along. There’s a reason why I’m where I’m at. Those guys are great players, and I can’t wait to face them again in the future.”