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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Most of the ingredients

BATON ROUGE - New LSU basketball coach Trent Johnson, who was expected to be officially introduced at 3 p.m. today, really is a home run hire.

Say Alleluia, because LSU now has an offensive coach. Johnson is a veteran head coach and assistant in the Pacific-10 conference, which is very offensive minded for the most part and either the best or second best conference in the nation year in and year out.

Johnson's Stanford team usually pounded it inside this past season on its way to the NCAA Sweet 16, but that was because of the 7-foot Lopez twins. That's what they should have been doing. But when Johnson has the right talent, he will run. His Nevada team in the 2003-04 season ran its way to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history and helped get Johnson the Stanford job.

Johnson is a disciple of Mike Montgomery, who took Stanford to 10 straight NCAA Tournaments from 1995-2004 and to the Final Four in 1998. Johnson was Montgomery's assistant from 1996-99. Montgomery left Stanford for the NBA at Golden State. NBA teams usually do not hire defensive coaches.

USC's Tim Floyd or Washington State's Tony Bennett would have been great hires for LSU, too, but they tend to have the same philosophy toward offense as did former LSU coach John Brady. Johnson is clearly more on the offensive end of the spectrum. This could be much more fun, particularly if he starts signing and keeping point guards.

Johnson, 51, has been a college head coach for nine years, including four years at a super conference. He has taken five teams to the NCAA Tournament, including two to the Sweet 16. LSU has never hired a basketball coach with those kinds of credentials.

He has had to recruit to a superior academic school with much more stringent entry requirements than LSU or any Southeastern Conference school other than Vanderbilt. He has had to recruit against other mega programs in the Pac-10.

Johnson is an African-American. He is the first African-American coach of a men's sport at LSU. He was the best coach available if he was orange. The fact that he happens to be black could be a major fringe benefit. LSU has lost great black basketball players from the New Orleans area in recent years - Chris Duhon to Duke, D.J. Augustin to Texas and Greg Monroe to Georgetown (this year). Maybe Johnson could stop this and sign players of all races from Louisiana who have been getting away to other schools for years.

The only thing Johnson is not is an exciting, gregarious personality the likes of former coach Dale Brown. Johnson will not be a media darling coach like a Bruce Pearl at Tennessee or a rock star like Rick Pitino at Louisville. He will not dress up in purple and gold body paint for an LSU women's basketball game next season.

Johnson tends to be quieter, though he is extremely intense during a game.
You can't have everything. What LSU has is the most established basketball hire it has made in its history. As great as Brown was, LSU took a chance on him. He was just an assistant coach. John Brady was at smallish Samford, which he never took to the NCAA Tournament.

LSU was extremely fortunate to get Johnson, but it should be commended greatly. Had Stanford's athletic director been quicker to get Johnson a new deal, this might not have ever happened. The Lopez twins just deciding to enter the NBA Draft and Montgomery, who is a great friend of Johnson's, taking the job at Stanford-rival California also made Johnson look elsewhere. LSU was ready for that look.

Go South middle-aged man. You may just like it here.


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