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April 1, 2014

LSU to move ahead without O'Bryant



Johnny O'Bryant tied LSU's basketball past with its future during a personal announcement Tuesday afternoon.

O'Bryant will give up his senior season and make himself eligible for the NBA draft. O'Bryant firmly said that he did not accomplish everything he wanted in his three-year Tigers career.

"I had a great time wearing the LSU jersey," said O'Bryant, who is just one of nine Tigers players who earned first-team All-Southeastern Conference honors in back-to-back seasons. "But, I didn't accomplish everything.

"Last year, I said I wanted to lead this team to the NCAA tournament. I failed to do that. I took the team as far as I could."

O'Bryant's junior season ended with a second-round NIT loss at SMU. In his three years at LSU, O'Bryant participated in two NIT tournaments. His freshman campaign ended with a first-round defeat at Oregon. None of the past three LSU teams posted a winning SEC record - going 7-9 and 9-9 twice.

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Johnny Jones, who coached O'Bryant the past two seasons, had mixed feelings about O'Bryant's announcement. Jones was happy for O'Bryant and his family, but disappointed that he will not be there when his team attempts to reach the NCAA tournament next season.

"I am excited for Johnny and his family for what will happen in his future," Jones said. "At the same time, I would love to have him back. I understand how important it would have been for us to have Johnny back with us."

O'Bryant feels that he is better player now than he was 12 months ago when he decided to return for his junior season. O'Bryant received an evaluation from NBA scouts before making his decision last April. He didn't wait this time.

"My mid-range jumper is better," said O'Bryant, who became the 14th LSU player to score 1,000 points and grab 700 rebounds in his career. "I pass out the double team better. I have no idea where I will be drafted. I have to get in better shape and work hard. That's it. I believe everything will work out."

Now, Jones must start forming his roster for next season. Three of the six players who averaged at least 20 minutes will not be back - O'Bryant, Shavon Coleman and Andre Stringer. However, it is not a given that the other three players - Anthony Hickey, Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin will be in a LSU uniform.

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Hickey has spent time in Jones' doghouse in both of the last two seasons. Jones didn't give Hickey an endorsement as being a leader on next season's team.

"I don't think Anthony Hickey is one of the guys who can take up that role from Shavon and Andre," Jones said. "He has been the starting point guard for the past three years, but he hasn't shown he can be a leader in that time."

Both Mickey and Martin have been involved in talk of leaving for the NBA. Mickey has indicated that he has not made a decision yet. Martin has said that he is returning for his sophomore year.

"I have not had a lot of discussion with Mickey and Martin," Jones said. "I know Mickey wants to go over everything with his family. At least, he hasn't said that he's taking off yet."

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LSU had 13 players on scholarship this season - including North Carolina-Asheville transfer Keith Hornsby and freshman Brian Bridgewater, who was considered a partial qualifier by the NCAA. With the three departures, that leaves ten returning scholarship players.

The Tigers signed four players last November - junior college transfer Josh Gray and high school seniors Aaron Epps, Jalyn Patterson and Elbert Robinson. If all four signees academically qualify and no current team member leaves, LSU would be one over the NCAA-mandated limit of 13 scholarship players.

"At the end of the semester, we will have a better idea as to what will transpire," Jones said. "We'll decide what's best for certain players. We are still actively recruiting players for 2014 because you never know what will happen. You have to be proactive."

Jones firmly stated that Gray and Hornsby will be key individuals on next season's team. On more than one occasion, Jones said that this past year's team lacked toughness and a sense of urgency. Jones acknowledged that those two individuals should help the Tigers be a better defensive team.

"In my history as a coach, my teams have been able to guard and defend," Jones said. "We have been at the top in field goal percentage defense and been good in 3-point defense. We certainly fell short of the mark last year in that area. We have to make it happen there.

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"What will help us is some of the guys on this year's team will have a happy birthday (before next season). Then, we have recruited some toughness. Both Keith Hornsby and Josh Gray have ability and that type of toughness."

Malik Morgan, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against Auburn, will not be ready to resume basketball activities until the start of next season. Jones may consider redshirting Morgan rather than having him ready to go for just the conference season. Jones said Bridgewater is doing well in school.

LSU has now gone five consecutive seasons without a NCAA tournament berth. Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the longest stretch the Tigers went without an appearance in The Big Dance was six years (1994-99).

"We set a great foundation this year," Jones said. "We need to be more focused on things next year. We want to be in the top tier of the conference year-in and year-out. I realize where the program was the three years before I took over. My goal is for us to be in one of those games this weekend (Final Four)."

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