LSU Basketball Practice Report


By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor

“Practice today like you’re preparing for a national championship.”

That was the message from Johnny Jones to his team, as LSU basketball opened the 2016-17 season with its first practice.

The first part of the session was open to the media. Here’s what I observed:

1. Defense First

Nothing new here, but the first part of practice, after some warming up and individual drills, was focused on defense, both at an individual and team level. Lots of competition from the start, with one-on-ones and then into four-on-four shells.

Some of the matchups we saw:

  • Antonio Blakeney vs. Brandon Sampson
  • Duop Reath vs. Craig Victor
  • Skylar Mays vs. Kieran Hayward
  • Aaron Epps vs. Wayde Sims
  • Marshall Graves vs. Reed Vial

Jalyn Patterson and Elbert Robinson practiced but were limited with what looked like knee issues, and Brian Bridgewater wasn’t seen but was apparently working in the training room. Branden Jenkins was present, wearing a knee brace, and constantly chattering to his teammates. Jones said Tuesday Jenkins brings something to the team that it lacked last year. I think he meant, as much as anything, a vocal leadership. LSU will need him to get healthy quickly, but it was good to see him actively involved in practice despite his injury.

2. Impressive Newcomers

Two guys stood out to me as newcomers: Mays and Reath. I’ve seen Skylar play quite a bit since he was a sophomore in high school. His shot has come a long way. It looks really smooth. I don’t know that he’ll be a 35+ percent three point shooter, but he can make enough to keep a defense honest.

What stands out with Skylar is his strength and his handle. He put a crossover move on Hayward that was just nasty. He’s got plenty of that to his game.

Skylar plays quicker than he looks, and he constantly gets by defenders with his craft and handle. He’s also a fantastic passer. I think fans will really like him.

Reath, meanwhile, is huge: a legit 6-foot-10. And he moves so well for his size. During full court ball handling drills, he flew up and down the floor like a guard, minus an occasional mishandle.

His shot looks nice. He’s a better shooter than Ben Simmons already, and he’s going to be a better defender. Will that be enough to offset Simmons’ playmaking and all-around impact on the game? Not sure, but it’s a start.

Hayward and Sims also had moments. Hayward is physically ahead of where I expected. He’s bulked up and looks bigger than even Sampson. He had a superb step back move and looks to have a high ceiling as a scorer.

Sims is just a bucket-getter. He played mostly as a 4 (and 5) in high school, but he started practice with the wings. His stroke is excellent from 15 feet, and his range looks to extend out to the 3-point line. But he does his best work inside. He uses his body well, can finish with both hands, and has every move in the book. Whenever he’s physically ready to play in SEC games, he’s going to score.

3. Returners

Antonio Blakeney looks to have improved in the offseason, particularly in his midrange game. He’s added a few moves off the bounce, and he’ll need them — LSU will count on him to create a lot of offense.

Aaron Epps looks a little bigger. Jones told me Tuesday he’ll play strictly at the 4 this year. He may not be a starter, but that kind of scoring off the bench will be key. He just needs to defend and rebound at an improved level, and he can be a big part of this team.

Craig Victor is Craig Victor. You know what you’re going to get out of him. If Blakeney is the team’s leader, Victor is right next to him in that regard.

Couldn’t tell much from Jalyn Patterson and Elbert Robinson. Both were limited. Jalyn will battle for minutes at the 1 and 2, with the chance to start at either spot. Robinson’s probably a rotation big, at best, for the time being.

 

 

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