Tiny Tigers have big dreams

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Anthony Hickey has a new look this season.

Gone are the thick dreadlocks that became his signature look during a freshman season in which he averaged 8.9 points and 3.8 assists. He now sports a close-cut look that makes him look more streamlined, perhaps a bit shorter and altogether different from last year.

Kind of like his LSU team.

"I'm getting ready for this new beginning we're fixing to have," Hickey said of his new hairdo.

Indeed, the Tigers will sport quite a new look in Johnny Jones' first season as head coach.

Gone is coach Trent Johnson (to TCU) and a team that was built around big men that went 18-15 and advanced to the NIT. In are five new players in a short-on-numbers 11-man roster. None of the newcomers are big men. The Tigers are low on depth, short on size, but high on quickness and optimism.

"Unfortunately, we aren't as big as we'd like to be," Jones said Wednesday at LSU's basketball media day, "but it's not something we have an opportunity to cry about."

Cry about it, the Tigers don't.

Instead, there is a sense of optimism among the Tigers players. Too small? Johnny O'Bryant, a natural power forward who's now the only proven big man on the team, said he'll just take any true center who guards him off the bounce. Junior college transfer wing Shavon Coleman said he's not afraid to use his quickness to mix it up with the SEC's 6-foot-9 and 6-10 forwards.

Forget waiting for Justin Hamilton, the 7-footer who left after his junior year to become a second-round NBA draft pick by the Miami Heat, to plod down the court for a halfcourt set, this guard-heavy team will run under Jones. That seems perfect to some Tigers, especially Hickey, whose coast-to-coast style of play was often reined in last season by Johnson, who understandably wanted to slow the game down to take advantage of big men like Hamilton, departed seniors Storm Warren and Malcolm White, and O'Bryant.

"Up-tempo, that really opened my eyes," Hickey said. "I get to play my game. I don't have to slow it down. I'm going to be in control of how the game's going to be tempo-wise."

Hickey and Jones are on the same page in that regard. Jones, a former Dale Brown LSU player and assistant, coached an up-tempo style during a 175-130 run in 11 years as North Texas' head coach prior to returning to LSU in the spring. Only Jones would prefer to do it in a slightly different way than he's going to have to try to do it this season.

"If I had my preference, I'd like to have some big guys who can run fast and jump high be a part of that, or we can really mix in with those guards as well," Jones said.

He tried to get that size.

John Odoh, a 6-10 shot blocker, got out of his letter of intent with North Texas to follow Jones to LSU, but could not graduate from his junior college on time and is now back there, hoping to graduate and join the Tigers (as a redshirt) in the spring semester. Another big man, Calvin Godfrey, signed with the Tigers, but failed to qualify.

Jones has two commitments from big men in the ESPN 100 for the 2013 signing class, but they're of no help this season.

So the Tigers are left with O'Bryant, a former McDonald's All-American who averaged 8.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game as a freshman, to anchor the middle along with role-playing returners Eddie Ludwig, Jalen Courtney and Andrew del Piero, the 7-foot-2 walk-on who came to LSU to be in the band.

Ludwig, one of three seniors -- along with del Piero and Memphis transfer Charles Carmouche -- has logged over 1,000 minutes in his Tigers career. Courtney is noticeably bigger and stronger and talked of "dreaming" of the opportunity he'll have.

But Tiger players generally talk of this team as one that will spend a lot of time in four-guard sets, using last year's Missouri team that went 30-5 with a four-guard lineup as a blueprint.

LSU has some big guards -- particularly 6-7 freshman Shane Hammink and Coleman -- who might be able to pull off playing at the four spot. But the Tigers are already small enough in the backcourt where Hickey is 5-foot-11 at the point and Andre Stringer, the team's leading returning scorer at 10.1 ppg, is a mere 5-10 at shooting guard.

Small ball? Indeed.

It's not without its advantages. Hickey is a handful to keep out of the lane for opponents and, similarly, Coleman would be difficult for any power forward to keep out of the lane. Playing fast, opponents could struggle to keep up.

"We're going to put up more points," Hickey said. "And we're going to get back and we're going to defend."

With the lack of size, will that be enough?