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July 2, 2014

Bringing experience


LSU's newcomers for 2014-15 basketball season. From left, Keith Hornsby, Brian Bridgewater, Elbert Robinson, Aaron Epps, Jalyn Patterson and Josh Gray.

Keith Hornsby has never participated in a game for LSU.

However, Hornsby is the most experienced college basketball player on the Tigers' current roster. Hornsby played two years at North Carolina-Asheville before transferring to LSU. No other Tigers player has more than one year of college experience.

After sitting out this past season, Hornsby is preparing to assume a huge role for next season's LSU team. Hornsby, who averaged 15 points and four rebounds per game in his sophomore year at UNC-Asheville, is expected to move into the starting lineup at the shooting guard spot.

"I really like to move without the ball coming off screens," Hornsby said. "What people will find out is that I can get to the basket. I have good jumping ability and I can rebound well. I am the type of player who can get some dunks and delight the crowd."

Hornsby will take the spot shared by seniors Andre Stringer and Shavon Coleman last season. Hornsby admitted that Louisiana has become a favorite place for him.

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"I am a Louisiana fan," Hornsby said. "I loved my first year in Louisiana. I did not know what to expect since I always lived on the East Coast. I took a few visits here and my first impression was great. Both the players and coaches had lofty goals. I felt a dedicated vibe from them."

Hornsby, who practiced with the team last season, watched the Tigers come up just short of gaining a NCAA tournament berth. Hornsby believes he has a pretty good feel for what LSU must do to be a part of March Madness.

"Last year, the players got down when they had to deal with adversity on the court," Hornsby said. "They got easily swayed into not doing what was best. Then, we have to get better on defense as a unit. We can't give up as many easy baskets by gambling on defense."

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The departure from the program of point guard Anthony Hickey opened up another position. Odessa Community College transfer Josh Gray will step into Hickey's shoes. Gray led junior college players in scoring last season at 34.7 points per game. He averaged 5.9 assists per contest.

"I am a point guard," said Gray, who averaged 9.3 points per game as a freshman at Texas Tech. "My junior college coach needed me to score, so that's what I did. I am an exciting player. I am always going to play hard. I intend to put on a show every night. If my shot is not falling, I'll play good defense."

A Lake Charles native, Gray has not been in the state of Louisiana since his sophomore season in high school. Coming home was a major reason for Gray's decision to select LSU.

"I knew the situation at LSU with the guards they had coming back," Gray said. "I liked the coaching staff and their style of play. But, nine out of ten reasons for me coming to LSU is going back home."

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Gray will be playing for his sixth school since 2010 - three high schools, one junior college and two four-year schools. Gray knows that there are questions about his long list of schools.

"At the end of the day, it is my life," Gray said. "I had to go to those schools. I am a kid. If a place is not right, I am going to get out of that situation. I will do whatever the team needs and whatever the coach wants."

Freshman Elbert Robinson has the huge task of replacing Johnny O'Bryant at center. Robinson contributed 12 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots per game at Lakeview Centennial High School in Garland (Tex.).

But, the Robinson going through summer workouts at LSU is not the same Robinson of a few months ago. Robinson said that he has lost 40 pounds since the beginning of his senior season in high school. He presently weighs 288 pounds.

"My junior year in high school, I played at about 290 and I was more explosive," Robinson said. "I got to 320 and I was not as explosive. My shot-blocking wasn't where it was as a junior. In high school, I would eat anything I wanted. Now, I am taking my eating seriously. Eating right is a big factor."

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Robinson stressed that he is not the offensive threat like O'Bryant. He loves to defend the basket - something LSU drastically missed last season.

"I am a true center," Robinson said. "There are some similarities with Johnny O'Bryant. But, I'm a defensive player. I want to block shots and play defense. I play like Brook Lopez, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. I am getting used to the pace of the game. I just have to work hard."

LSU has not appeared in the NCAA tournament since 2009. This stretch is the school's longest without a game in the Big Dance since it went six years from 1994-1999 with no NCAA tourney contest.

"This team has the potential," Hornsby said. "It will all depend upon how well we mix and how we will handle adversity. You can tell we all get along. There are no troublemakers on the team. I just hope it all unfolds in the right way."


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