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September 11, 2008

Notebook: A little home-cooking for LSU

If you're a new coach looking for a recipe for instant success, try this out:

A schedule that includes a school-record 21 home games.

A lineup that features the leading returning scorer in your league and an athletic, 6-foot-11 center who nearly averaged a double-double over the final 10 games.

The return of a potential all-league player who redshirted after being injured in the third game last season.

A division in which the top two teams suffered key personnel losses.

Yes, things still can go wrong when there is a change at the top, but you have to like Trent Johnson's chances of having a bang-up first season in Baton Rouge. LSU is loaded, from high-scoring guard Marcus Thornton to center Chris Johnson to forward Tasmin Mitchell to a schedule that includes 12 of the first 13 games in the cozy confines of the Maravich Assembly Center.

"Part of the schedule I inherited and part I didn't," Johnson told Rivals.com. "Basically it means our team has some guys who couldn't be away from campus long as far as their academics are concerned. And we have two or three guys who have been banged up physically. It's just common sense to try to keep them around here."

One of those guys who was banged up last season was Chris Johnson, who was sidelined for seven games after suffering a broken right hand Jan. 2 against Tulane. The Tigers lost that game and all seven that he missed, but they went 6-6 after he returned.

Chris Johnson became a rebounding and shot-blocking machine in the final 12 games last season. He had five double-digit rebounding games and averaged 8.5 rebounds. He also averaged 3.3 blocks. In a home rout of Ole Miss he had 12 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks.

"I don't know what got into me," Chris Johnson said. "Coach Treloar (then-assistant John Treloar) just challenged me to rebound more. I got like 15 against Ole Miss and saw that I helped the team, and got double-digits for a bunch of games in a row.

"I hope I can do it for 30 (games) next season."

Chris Johnson already has caught the eye of his new coach.

"He really moves well and is very athletic," Trent Johnson said.

Chris Johnson understands he's being tutored by the guy who helped mold the Lopez twins into NBA draft picks at Stanford. He says things are going fine with the new coach.

"He's way calmer about things," Chris Johnson said. "We're learning what he's trying to teach. He's taking it slow, been really patient.

"We struggled last year with our GPA. He's not all about basketball. He's teaching guys how to be better off the court. He cares about certain stuff. He cares about his players and how they will progress after college, how they'll be able to carry themselves."

So the big man has bought into what Trent Johnson is selling. And Chris Johnson is confident others will follow.

"There are a lot of positives this year," Chris Johnson said. "We have a lot of talent. We only lost Anthony (Randolph, who was a first-round pick after a freshman season in which he averaged 15.6 points and 8.5 rebounds), and we have a lot of seniors, a lot of leadership. The freshman class is mature, and they can play. There are a lot of good things this year."

The good things only get better if Mitchell comes back healthy. He had surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left ankle in November. He was a preseason all-conference pick after averaging 14.5 points and 5.9 rebounds as a sophomore in 2006-07.

Trent Johnson hopes to bring Mitchell along slowly.

"Tasmin is fine and he's out there, has been out there every day," the coach said. "Those type of injuries, though those kids have been hurt. For them to get through a year without being hurt is the goal. Tasmin has been working hard, but he also hasn't played in a year and a half. The only thing he needs to do is work and not look too far ahead."

Chris Johnson says Mitchell looks ready to go.

"It means a lot (to get Mitchell back)," Chris Johnson said. "He's a big presence. He can score and rebound. From watching, yeah, he's 100 percent."

Is LSU ready to take back the mantel of best in the SEC West?

"We have an advantage in that we have more guys coming back, so we'll see," Chris Johnson said. "I have a lot of confidence in this team."

  • Where did Trent Johnson play his college ball?

  • 7-7 Center may miss season
  • The Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times has reported that UNC-Asheville center Kenny George may miss the upcoming season after a second offseason surgery on his right foot.

    George, the reigning Big South Conference Defensive Player of the Year, participated at the Pete Newell Big Man Camp in Las Vegas on Aug. 4-8, but already was experiencing pain in the foot. The school announced Aug. 22 that he had had surgery at home in Chicago after an infection was discovered in the foot.

    Merv Lopes, coordinator of the Newell camp, said George, who is 7 feet 7 and averaged 12.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game last season, was impressive in his limited playing time in Vegas.

    "He did well when he was able to go," Lopes said. "He worked out maybe 2 of the five days. When he was out there, he's a big force. He has good body control, and he's strong. He's overwhelming. He's absolutely the biggest guy we've seen come through here. He's not fat. He's well-proportioned.

    "If he can fix his foot problems, get some proper footwear one of the guys working with him said he had size-25 shoes and that he wears a 27."

    Actually, he wears a 28, but you don't exactly get those off the rack.

    "His foot is the problem," Lopes said. "He's absolutely an NBA player if he's healthy. He's a nice person, very humble, sticks to himself. He was very coachable."

  • Southern Illinois guard Joshua Bone has announced that he'll transfer after the first semester. Bone averaged 8.1 points last season and would have been the Salukis' second-leading returning scorer. He told the SIU student newspaper, though, that he soured on his future in Carbondale after the team's Labor Day trip to Canada. "I came into this year thinking it could be a breakout year for me, and Canada really opened my eyes a bit about my role on this team," Bone said. He played only 13.3 minutes per game north of the border, while freshmen Kevin Dillard and Ryan Hare saw significantly more playing time. Dillard (17.5 ppg) led the team in scoring on the trip, and Hare (10.7 ppg) was the third-leading scorer. Bone shot just 1-for-13 in Canada and averaged 1.3 points. He said he has a list of five Division I schools at which he's looking to transfer, but he didn't divulge any.

    Former Syracuse guard Adrian Autry has been named the director of basketball operations at Virginia Tech. He was a four-year starter for Jim Boeheim from 1990-94, and he averaged 12.7 points and 5.2 assists for his career. Since his professional career overseas ended, Autry has been busy coaching in the high school and AAU ranks. "We are very excited to have Adrian join our staff," Hokies coach Seth Greenberg said. "Adrian's depth and experience in collegiate and professional basketball is second to none. He has tremendous people skills and is an outstanding communicator."

  • Trent Johnson played at Boise State from 1974-78. He still ranks among the school's top 10 rebounders. He was a second-team All-Big Sky pick in '78.

    Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

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