New-look LSU basketball program looks for respect

Trent Johnson has experienced two totally different seasons since taking over the LSU basketball program.

In his first year, the Tigers won 27 games and captured the Southeastern Conference championship before falling to eventual national champion North Carolina in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

In his second year, the Tigers won only 11 games and finished last in the SEC with only two conference wins. The Tigers' season ended with a first-round loss to Tennessee in the SEC tournament.

Now, Johnson gets ready for his third campaign as LSU coach and this year's team will be another new-look squad. The top two scorers from last season — Tasmin Mitchell and Bo Spencer — are no longer in the program. Mitchell used up his eligibility; Spencer was dismissed from the team.

The Tigers return three starters — forward Storm Warren and guards Chris Bass and Aaron Dotson. However, Johnson says newcomers such as Ole Miss transfer Malcolm White will definitely have a chance to shape this year's team.

"This will be a chance to build a program," Johnson at LSU's basketball media day on Wednesday. "The fan base will be able to get used to guys who will be here for the next two or three years."

Of the three returning starters, Warren has the best chance of being in the starting lineup when LSU opens the season on Nov. 12 against Northwestern State. Warren, who started every game a year ago, averaged 11.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.

The Tigers' best player may be one of the newcomers — White, who sat out last season. Two seasons ago, he started 27 games for the Rebels and averaged 7.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. White and Warren are projected to be the two starting post players.

"I couldn't tell you what our starting lineup will be," Johnson said. "The one guy I feel good about on the floor is Malcolm White. He's very physical and understands how to play in the low post. He has developed a medium-range jumper."

LSU has three other returning players besides Bass and Dotson who logged significant playing time. They are forwards Dennis Harris and Eddie Ludwig, and center Garrett Green. Those five returning players will be in competition with four incoming freshmen for playing time.

Johnson is very encouraged about his third recruiting class — guards Andre Stringer and Ralston Turner and forwards Matt Derenbecker and Jalen Courtney. It would not be surprising if two of those players earn starting jobs.

"They look like freshmen at times," Johnson said. "Some came from structured situations. Some came from unstructured situations. But, the skill level is there. They make mistakes, but they listen. They are like sponges."

With such a young squad, Johnson anticipates that his third team will make dramatic progress over the course of the season.

"The one thing we have accomplished during the individual drills is that the players know they have to compete at a high level of intensity," Johnson said. "We're not going to have that one guy who's going to hit you in the face with 30 points. We do have a lot of guys who'll give us 9, 10, 11, 12 points a game.

"We lost a level of respect and we lost a level of confidence last year. We feel good about fighting back to a level of respectability."