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July 13, 2013It didn't take incoming freshman guard Tim Quarterman of Savannah, Ga. very long to pick up on the vibe emanating throughout the LSU basketball locker room and practice court.
With the Tigers returning three starters and six letter winners from a team that went 19-12 overall and 9-9 in Southeastern Conference play, the sight of Quarterman and a heralded Top 10 recruiting class have only heightened expectations for the upcoming 2013-14 campaign.
"It's a good atmosphere because everybody wants to work, wants to be in the gym all the time," Quarterman said. "Some of the returning players were already saying it's better than last year from the starting point in the season. I guess everybody's got a great attitude going into this year."
Quarterman was among a group of four newcomers that met with members of the local media earlier this week for the first time, joining five-star recruit Jarell Martin of Madison Prep, 7-foot center Darcy Malone and center John Odo of Hill (Texas) Junior College.
The NCAA declared fellow freshman forward Jordan Mickey of Arlington, Texas-Prime Prep ineligible on Thursday while Scotlandville's Brian Bridgewater is taking summer school courses at Port Allen High and remains hopeful of enrolling at LSU by the start of the fall semester.
Mickey is expected to appeal the NCAA's ruling.
Odo has been on campus the longest of the aforementioned quartet, arriving in January and sitting out but was allowed to practice with the team.
Among the freshmen newcomers Quarterman and Malone were able to enroll for the first summer session in June and work out with entire team. Martin finished up summer school requirements at Port Allen and improved his core grade point average enough to gain his eligibility.
"I thought I wasn't going to be eligible," said Martin, who said he was 6-foot-10 and 241 pounds. "I was trying to make sure everything was good and clear. I was cleared about three weeks ago."
Forward Shavon Coleman and guard Andre Stringer represent a two-man senior class for LSU while All-SEC forward Johnny O'Bryant and point guard Anthony Hickey are juniors along with the addition of Odo.
They represent the core of the group that returns from last year's foundation-building 19-12 mark under Johnny Jones in his first season. The Tigers were also able to overcome a disastrous 0-4 start in league play to finish at .500 and win a game in the SEC postseason tournament before being eliminated by Florida, 80-58.
Sophomores Malik Morgan and Shane Hammink are also returning letterman, both of whom experienced varying degrees of success in their first season, and are expected to continue to bolster LSU's depth which predicts to be dramatically better in Jones' second year.
"They've been real good leaders," Martin said. "They've been what they're supposed to be in the upper class, teach and show the freshmen around and make sure we get used to everything. Just work with us and be great leaders.
"Being a freshman and coming in, the older guys may not want you to come out and do better than they are but the guys here are friendly, like family," Martin said. "They work me and I work with them. All the guys play tough. We're all just help each other by battling each other and playing the best we can."
Quarterman noticed the level of cooperation with his new teammates almost immediately.
"It's a great experience for a young man coming out of high school to have great teammates, great upperclassmen and great people to look up to as I go along this journey," Quarterman said. "Everybody's really getting close as a family even with other returning players. Everybody's really coming together, trying to build a chemistry."
Never has that been more evident than during pick-up games which take place five nights a week.
Once players conclude their summer classes and daily weight-lifting and conditioning requirements it's been commonplace to find Martin getting his collegiate baptism going against O'Bryant in the post or the rookie showing his talents and getting around Odo on a nifty inside move.
The smaller, quicker Hickey and Stringer have posed their own challenges to Quarterman, who stands 6-foot-6 and has had to try and fend off the pesky defenders.
Malone, who is 7-foot and 230 pounds, has had arguably the biggest transition from playing in his native Canberra, Australia which leans more to the European style of play versus the more rugged, physical post play in America.
"I felt I'm going to adjust pretty well," Malone said. "It's different. Before I got here I was playing against men so I was sort of used to it. I've tried to get in the way and beat them (teammates) up as well and make sure everything was going the same way as well.
"We don't get to play against athletes like we do over here every day," Malone said. "Just going in the gym against Jarell is unbelievable with how strong and fast people are. That's a big change."