Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
LSU coach Jones rapidly adapting
LSU head coach Johnny Jones and his bench players react near the end of a loss to Auburn in an NCAA college basketball game at Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala., Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. Auburn beat LSU 68-63. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
FAYETTEVILLE There are 14 SEC basketball coaches, but Johnny Jones is the only one leading his alma mater’s program.
Jones, a guard on LSU’s 1981 Final Four team and assistant coach on its 1986 Final Four team, is in his first season as the Tigers’ coach after being away from Baton Rouge for 15 years.
“That’s his dream job being back at his alma mater,” said Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson, whose Razorbacks face LSU on Wednesday night in the Maravich Assembly Center. “He had a chance to go out to North Texas and did a good job there. Now he gets a chance to come back to a place that he’s very familiar with. He’s got people excited about basketball.”
Jones, who had a 190-146 record with two NCAA Tournament appearances in 11 seasons at North Texas, was hired by LSU after Trent Johnson resigned after four seasons to take the TCU job.
Johnson led LSU to a 27-8 record and the SEC championship in his first season with a roster full of predecessor John Brady’s players, but the Tigers were a combined 40-56 - including 12-36 in SEC play - the previous three seasons and attendance fell off as fans felt a disconnect with the program.
Jones, a high school star at DeRidder, La., provides a link to LSU’s greatest era, when the Tigers made 13 NCAA Tournament appearances between 1979 and 1993. He spent 17 seasons as an LSU player and assistant coach.
“Johnny Jones knows the state and the coaches, he understands the AAU system, and he knows the coach has to be heavily involved in promoting,” Joe Dean, a former LSU player and athletic director, told the Times-Picayune in New Orleans when Jones was hired. “It’s a cultural thing, and Johnny understands that, having worked under Dale Brown. I think Trent didn’t understand the culture.”
Jones said at SEC media day he initially was interested in the TCU job, was surprised when Johnson left LSU to take it and felt blessed to have the opportunity to coach the Tigers.
“It all worked out better than I ever could have hoped,” Jones said. “I’m back home.”
The Tigers (16-9, 7-7 SEC) started 0-4 in conference play, but are 7-3 in their past 10 games. They lost at home to South Carolina, 82-73 in overtime, in the third SEC game,then beat the Gamecocks 64-46 on the road in the 11th game.
“Any time you have a coaching change, the team is not going to be nearly as good at the beginning of the year as it is at the end of the year,” South Carolina Coach Frank Martin said. “Johnny is a proven winner. He’s got a better feel for his team right now, and he’s got those guys playing the way he’s always gotten his teams to play.”
Tigers 6-9 sophomore forward Johnny O’Bryant is averaging team highs of 14.0 points and 8.7 rebounds. He had 18 points and 11 rebounds in 22 minutes in the Tigers’ 70-54victory over the Razorbacks in the SEC Tournament last season.
“To be as big as he is, he has a crazy motor,” Arkansas forward Marshawn Powell said.
O’Bryant has 10 or more points and rebounds in the same game 11 times, including 24 points and 10 rebounds in the Tigers’ 97-94 triple-overtime victory over Alabama on Saturday. He had 22 points and 11 rebounds in the first Alabama-LSU game this season when the Crimson Tide won 60-57.
“He’s almost a walking double-double in terms of the way he impacts the game,” Crimson Tide Coach Anthony Grant said. “Then they’ve got very good pieces around him with their perimeter play and their ability to shoot the ball from a variety of different positions.”
Sophomore guard Anthony Hickey is averaging 11.9 points;junior forward Shavon Coleman, a junior-college transfer, is averaging 10.9 points and 6.6 rebounds; junior guard Andre Stringer is averaging 10.6 points; senior guard Charles Carmouche, a transfer from Memphis, is averaging 9.4 points, and freshman guard Malik Morgan is averaging 6.4 points.
“Obviously, we’ve had some setbacks, but I love how our kids have fought through that,” Jones said. “The good thing is our guys really stayed the course, accepted the challenges that we put out there and I think we just continued to get better as a team on both ends of the floor.”
Up next ARKANSAS AT LSU
WHEN 7 p.m. Central on Wednesday WHERE Maravich Assembly Center, Baton Rouge RECORDS Arkansas 17-10, 8-6; LSU 16-9, 7-7 TV SEC Network telecast on KATV, Channel 7, in Little Rock; KHOG/KHBS, Channel 40/29, in Fayetteville/Fort Smith; and KAIT, Channel 8, in Jonesboro RADIO Razorback Sports Network
Sports, Pages 17 on 02/26/2013