The much anticipated debut of the LSU men's basketball team under new head coach Johnny Jones is set for Friday night at 7 p.m. in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Anthony Hickey is one of LSU's returning starters from a year ago
Jones is new in name, only to the head coaching position at LSU, having played four years at LSU (1980-84) and then coached under Dale Brown for another 13 until 1997.
In 1981, Jones was a freshman on a team that won the Southeastern Conference and advanced to the NCAA Final Four. In 1986 he was on the bench as an assistant coach when the 11th-seeded Tigers made an improbable run back to the NCAA Final Four.
Jones has been a head coach for 12 years - one year at Memphis as interim head coach (1999-2000) and the last 11 seasons at North Texas. But, Friday night will be different as he walks down the tunnel to coach his first official game at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
"I'll probably go through the same routine that I always go through as a head coach in terms of how I spend that day, when I'll shut everything off and really start focusing just on that game," said Jones about his plans for opening night. "Once we get to pregame practice, I'll probably go through that same ritual and routine.
“I know when we get on that court just like a couple of years ago on December 22 (2010) when I walked out here on LSU's court, the emotions I felt, it should be that way coming out the tunnel. It will be the first actual game with family, friends and all those folks that were here on that occasion. I'll just realize exactly where we are at that given time."
UC Santa Barbara won 20 games a year ago to go to post-season play in the Collegeinsider.com Tournament. LSU was 18-15 in Trent Johnson's final season and advanced to the first round of the NIT.
LSU returns three of the primary starters from a year ago in guards Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer, and sophomore forward Johnny O'Bryant III. Senior Eddie Ludwig, junior Jalen Courtney and senior center Andrew Del Piero make up the returnees on the Tiger squad. But Jones and his coaching staff were able to come up with some solid recruits, many of whom should see significant minutes in the opener.
"I think the one scrimmage and the exhibition (game) served its purpose for us,” said Jones. “I was happy to see several players on Monday night get quality minutes. We saw a lot of bright spots in some of those kids in the way that they played whose first time it were under those types of lights.
“At the same time, we had the opportunity to see areas where we have to continue to work on, really focus to give us an opportunity to get better and to have an opportunity to challenge in such a very talented league."
Jones did indicate that because Corban Collins did a good job filling in for Hickey, he was not sure who would start at the point guard slot on Friday night.
"I haven't really decided who our starting lineup will be," Jones said at Wednesday's media session. "I thought Corban Collins did an excellent job the other night in Anthony Hickey's absence. There is a chance, if we continue to work him extremely hard that he could possibly be in our starting lineup.
“Both guys will have an opportunity to play, but I'm not sure who exactly will start on Friday. Corban is not out of the question. When you have somebody to take advantage of your situation like Corban did and did well, you don't want to penalize him for something that he hadn't done. We'll make sure we make those necessary adjustments, but it won't be anything because of discipline. That is behind us, that all was taken care of on Monday. "
This is the first of six home games for LSU to open the season and Jones and the Tigers are ready for the challenge.
"We are obviously looking forward to Friday's game,” said the headman. “We certainly feel it will be a good challenge for us against a very good basketball team. (UC Santa Barbara) is a talented team. They are an NCAA Tournament team (in 2010, 2011) that had several good players with them last year. We think it's a great opportunity for our basketball team to find out exactly where we are."
The homestand continues on Tuesday night at the Tigers host McNeese State at 7 p.m.