When a team has one man lead its squad in scoring, rebounding, assists, blocks and steals, it generally isn’t know for its depth.
But in a year where LSU’s men’s basketball team has to replace Ben Simmons, a player who did just that, head coach Johnny Jones thinks depth might be one of the team’s greatest assets.
“I think we have an opportunity to because we have guys out there that are very capable,” Jones said at Wednesday’s SEC Media Day. “We have more size, strength. We’re a little bit older than we were. For the last couple of years, we been one of the one or two youngest teams in the league. This year we have a little more experience.”
Nowhere is this more evident than in how Jones has seen his team improve on defense.
Last season, opponents put up a .453 field goal percentage against LSU, the highest mark in the conference by 10 points. But Jones said his team’s focus this offseason has been turning those flaws into strengths.
“Guys understand that defense wins games,” Jones said. “Last year we were second in the league in terms of scoring. We were second or third in the league in terms of field goal percentage. But we were at the bottom in terms of defense. So I think we have a prime example that we can point to what makes the difference with this basketball team. We will be better defensively and guys will be more committed.”
Sophomore guard Antonio Blakeney agreed.
“As it’s a strength, it can be a weakness as well,” Blakeney said. “It’s something you’ve got to bring every single day no matter what.”
The media picked LSU to finish 12th out of 14 teams in the SEC this season. Blakeney was one of the five guards voted as a second-team All-SEC player.
1. Replacing Ben Simmons will be hard, but Jones would like to remind you that for as good as Simmons was, he wasn’t a Shaman, and injuries hurt this team more than anything else last season.
“Ben was blessed with a lot of things,” Jones joked, “but he wasn’t blessed with healing powers.”
2. Sticking with Simmons, Jones said he had the opportunity to speak with the youngster after an injury derailed his rookie season before it even started. Jones said it’s hard to watch, but he expects Simmons to overcome.
“I’m very disappointed,” Jones said. “You know the time and energy the guy has put in. He’s just there on the cusp of being able to start his preseason playing and the excitement that they’ll be able to have there in Philadelphia. After a chance of visiting with him a little bit, it’s just difficult for him. It was just a setback and he understands that there are bigger things out there.”
3. Between police and civil unrest and devastating floods, it’s been a hectic offseason in Baton Rouge. Blakeney said that he was happy to be able to help out where he can, but he was also happy to get some advice from Jones on how to behave.
“The flood stuff definitely helped,” Blakeney said. “We went around and helped people rebuild their house and brought them stuff and stuff like that. But with the shooting stuff, that really was away from our campus so we didn’t really get too much involved in that. Coach just told us if we ever got pulled over or anything just be as respectful as we can and stuff like that. Be cautious. Other than that, that was it.”