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April 16, 2012
Everyone knows the unimpressive numbers.
In the 21 seasons since the Southeastern Conference expanded, LSU has posted just six winning league records in basketball. Outside of three years in which the Tigers won the SEC championship, they have been for the most part a non-factor in basketball.
But, Johnny Jones remembers the glory days of LSU basketball. The Tigers appeared in the NCAA tournament 12 times in a span of 14 seasons. Jones was either a player or basketball staff member on 10 of those 12 teams.
The LSU basketball head coaching job means a lot to Jones, who has been away from the program since coach Dale Brown retired following the 1997 season. On Monday, Jones was officially introduced as the replacement for Trent Johnson, who moved on to be the head coach at TCU.
"This is an exciting time for me," said Jones at his introductory press conference Monday afternoon. "Many a night, I went to sleep with this job on my mind. This is a dream come true. I am blessed to have this opportunity.
"There is no place like home. I am going to try and bring back the passion and excitement that LSU basketball had. I am home."
Jones was interviewed by LSU Director of Athletics Joe Alleva four years ago when Johnson was hired. Jones had a good impression of Alleva from his interview at the 2008 Final Four in San Antonio.
"At that time, I thought I had the job," Jones said. "The questions I was getting showed me that Mr. Alleva wasn't going through the motions. In the last few years, I watched how he supported coaches when they had setbacks. I wanted to coach for him one day. I'm glad I have that chance."
Jones was interviewed by Alleva last Tuesday. Late Friday afternoon, Alleva informed Jones that he was going to be LSU's 21st head basketball coach.
"I took the call in the closet," Jones said. "I was so excited. When I came out and told my wife, I was like Muhammad Ali with my arms up in the air."
Jones understands that besides the many losing seasons in the past 20 years, there has been no enthusiasm surrounding the basketball program. It is obvious that Jones wants to rectify that situation first and foremost.
"I am going to put the type of product that fans can buy into so that they will pull for this basketball team," Jones said. "I will reach out to the fans. You have to go to Rotary clubs and Kiwanis groups. You have to see, feel and touch. I'm a huge sports fan, so you'll see me at football and baseball games."
Jones saw the lack of atmosphere in the PMAC two seasons ago when his North Texas team defeated the Tigers 75-55.
"That was the first time I had come back here," Jones said. "I was looking around at the crowd and I was amazed. This year, they played Marquette, a top 25 team. When I was here, there were people all around when we played a top 25 team. That bothered me. Those are the things I want to change."
It was well-known that Johnson didn't have a close relationship with high school and AAU coaches in the state of Louisiana. Jones realizes the importance of these people in the state.
"We are going to do a great job in the state recruiting high school players," Jones said. "We are going to get the best players in the state like (LSU football) coach (Les) Miles has done.
"I am going to get along with the AAU coaches. I want a hands-on deal. I want a partnership with everybody. When you feel like you have ownership in something, it's easy to buy into."
Neither John Brady nor Johnson employed an up-tempo style of play. That plan will change under Jones, whose teams have finished in the top 35 in the country in scoring six times in 11 seasons.
"We will play a fast brand of basketball," Jones said. "We're going to push it. But, it will be organized and not chaos. We'll be under control. Then, we will defend the rim.
"We'll force the other team to take low percentage shots. If the other team misses shots, we'll be off to the races. If the ball goes through the basket, we'll be off to the races. We'll get after it. The fans will embrace our style."
At this time, LSU has eight scholarship players on next season's roster - seven returnees and Malik Morgan, who signed last fall. So, Jones has five available scholarships. First, he must recruit the seven current members of the team.
"I hope they all return," Jones said. "We had a productive meeting Sunday. I told them that there is no transition period. I am not waiting until I have my guys. Right now you are my guys. I need to make sure they are all in. All of us have to be on the same page.
"We may not get to five (signees) because we have to have some balance (in the recruiting classes). Plus, I am not sure there are five out there. We may look to a junior college or a transfer. We have to do it really smart using the five scholarships."
Jones was non-committal about the makeup of his coaching staff. It appears that he may bring a couple of people from North Texas, but in different roles. Jones will probably wait for North Texas to make a coaching hire before he makes some decisions.
"I will probably bring a couple of guys with me from previous staffs," Jones said. "But, I am not sure what their roles will be. I want to move pretty quick in establishing a staff. I want guys who have been in the trenches and understand what needs to be done. I hope I have a couple of guys in a couple of days."
As would be expected, Brown was in the audience at the press conference Monday. Much of Jones' coaching philosophy comes from his mentor.
"Coach Brown always talked about the HIT philosophy," Jones said. "That's Hard, Intelligent, Together. That's what we'll be.
"The big thing from being around coach Brown is I knew what he went through in building a program. He always said the most important thing is for the players to know how much you care for them."
Jones admitted that he had the chance to leave North Texas, but the job he always wanted was in Baton Rouge.
"I turned down a lot of opportunities because I knew where I fit," Jones said. "I'm not one to take a job for money or lack thereof. There were very few jobs, and just one in particular, I would have left North Texas for.
"People talk about the North Carolina job. Mine is LSU. I want to put LSU in that position. I want to come back here and make this right. We have some unfinished business here."
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