For all you football and recruiting fans, it’s time to “Hoop It Up”
by Lee Feinswog
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
If you do a Google search for “Rueben Randle,” you get 83,800 hits. Spell it “Reuben Randall” and you get 28,200 more.
If you visited a fan’s website devoted to LSU athletics shortly before signing day, he was referred to as “Randall Rueben.”
No matter how you spell it, and it is Rueben Randle, his entire signing-day drama could only conjure up memories of Animal House when the mayor says to the dean, “Mention extortion again and I will have your legs broken.”
Ah, recruiting season. It’s a lot like Animal House. You make your own comparisons.
Now that it’s finally behind us and LSU has a basketball team knocking on the national-ranking door, is it finally time for the football-o-philes to hoop it up?
Here we go, with or without you.
LSU is good: 8-1 in the Southeastern Conference with four of those victories on the road. The Tigers just pounded out a hard-fought, double-overtime victory at Mississippi State, a place that has been most unkind to LSU the past quarter-century in basketball. There have been some key victories in Starkville, but some agonizing defeats.
But that’s life on the road in the SEC, where the Tigers have won at Ole Miss, Tennessee and Georgia and came pretty close at Alabama, their only league loss.
Back to football for a second: You know how fans love to say that a coach is winning with his predecessor’s players? It came up a lot two years ago when Les Miles’ Tigers won the national championship. He was playing with Nick Saban’s players. At Alabama last year, when the Crimson Tide was ranked No. 1, some said Saban was winning with Mike Shula’s players.
Well how about this? Trent Johnson is winning at LSU exclusively with John Brady’s players.
And you know what? He’s doing one hell of a job with them.
This particular group is playing together in a way they never did for Brady. They’re playing defense in a way they never did for Brady. And they’re winning in a big way, something that just stopped happening for Brady the past two seasons.
Johnson moved Garrett Temple from point guard to small forward. Big success.
He got Marcus Thornton to play smarter offensively and try to cover people on defense.
Johnson understands the other Johnson, Chris, and has helped him mature.
Sophomore point guard Bo Spencer may be the most improved player in the country.
And, of course, he has Tasmin Mitchell, who is not only back from an injury that caused him to miss all last season, Johnson anchored Mitchell at power forward where his strong defense and offensive mobility have been maximized.
When you get to the NCAA Tournament you need two things, a team that can score in the halfcourt and more stars than the other team.
LSU scores well in transition and exceptionally well when Thornton gets open. Mitchell, last week’s SEC player of the week, has had some brilliant offensive games and Spencer also has been a 3-point shooting demon. Johnson is up and down, Terry Martin brings some spark off the bench, but Temple and Johnson will have to be more assertive and effective when needed.
Thornton is an NBA player. You can debate his defensive skills, or lack thereof, but anyone who can shoot like that will find a place in the league. Temple has a shot, because anyone who can lock up on defense like he can, with his mobility, long arms and sense of the game, is a valuable commodity.
And Johnson (with apologies to author Tom Robbins), skinny legs and all, has NBA skills. Great hands, good touch, and height. He’s a little too inconsistent on20offense, but he’s improved each season and the NBA will find a place for him.
Bottom line: If you have three guys who can play at the next level, you’re capable of going more than one round in the NCAA Tournament.
Who can figure?
The SEC appears to be shell of its old self. It might only get three teams in the NCAA Tournament, which is almost hard to believe.
The good news for LSU fans is, barring injuries or something unforeseen, LSU will be one of those three with a chance to make Trent Johnson’s first season even more memorable than it has been so far.
Baton Rouge sportswriter Lee Feinswog is the host of the weekly television show Sports Monday. He’s covered LSU athletics since 1984. He’ll gladly sell you an autographed copy of his books “HoopDaddy” or “Tales From the LSU Sidelines” if you contact him at email@example.com or (225) 926-3256.