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Friday, April 13, 2012
New LSU coach to face recruiting challenge

By Gary Laney

Andre Stringer
LSU guard Andre Stringer (10) will be on the 2012-13 roster and will add experience.

By now, it's clear what challenges the new LSU men's basketball coach will face when he gets the job.

On the plus side, he will likely be paid well, with the potential for more if he's successful, thanks to LSU's ample athletic budget. He will have a new, state-of-the-art practice facility, which is a huge plus these days in recruiting.

On the down side, the program has had extreme peaks and valleys unlike any of its SEC rivals. In recent years, LSU has had moments of being SEC-champion good, and even Final-Four good. But it has had more moments of last-place bad. And, as a result of the many valleys vs. few peaks, fan interest has deteriorated.

That's the long-term challenge, and it's clearly defined.

But what about the short term?

The new coach will inherit eight returning players, seven of the scholarship variety, from Trent Johnson's last LSU team, an 18-15 NIT team. Johnson accepted the TCU job Monday.

Four of the returning players were starters for much of last season. There is also one in-state signee from the early signing period who has publicly maintained his commitment to LSU.

That means the new coach will have five available scholarships with which to recruit. The question is, what can he get if he arrives in Baton Rouge in the middle of the late signing period, which started Wednesday and continues through May 16?

To get an idea, one must first break down what's returning:

Forward - Johnny O'Bryant (starter) 6-foot-9 So.; Eddie Ludwig 6-9 Sr.; Jalen Courtney 6-8 Jr.; Andrew Del Piero 7-2 Sr. (walk-on).

Guards - Anthony Hickey (starter) 5-11 So.; Andre Stringer (starter) 5-9 Jr.; Ralston Turner (starter) 6-6 Jr.; John Isaac 6-3 So.

Signed - Malik Morgan, 6-3 Fr. (River Ridge, La.).

The only starter lost was LSU's leading scorer and rebounder, Justin Hamilton.

So LSU has holes, especially with big men. And there's still the chance one of them will decide to leave LSU. Most notably, there's been a lot of talk about whether Hickey, a former Kentucky Mr. Basketball, might decide to transfer closer to home.

Otherwise, there are obvious needs for depth and size, especially on the perimeter.

But who could LSU get at this late stage of the recruiting game?

A new coach will obviously be influeced by where he came from. For example, when Johnson arrived at LSU from Stanford, it wasn't long before he received a commitment from Aaron Dotson, a guard from Johnson's childhood home of Seattle.

But if a coach wanted to piece together a signing class of regional talents, there's enough out there that it might be possible.

The most obvious candidate is Howard College forward Shavon Coleman, the 6-foot-6 junior-to-be who was a target of LSU before Trent Johnson's departure. Johnson's staff was also working on 6-foot-6 Dutch wing Shane Hammink, the son of former LSU center Geert Hammink.

Coleman, a native of Thibodaux, La., also has visited Oklahoma and Texas Tech, but opted to wait to see how LSU's search panned out. Hammink has received other major college offers, including from SEC rival Florida. More recently, St. John's coach Steve Lavin has gone to Europe to see his school play.

So the two most notable recruits from the Johnson staff are still available. But there might be more.

Perhaps this would be considered wishful thinking on LSU's part, but Ricardo Gathers' decision to delay his signing with Baylor until Monday conveniently allows Louisiana's top senior player to monitor how the LSU coaching search plays out. It appears the 6-foot-7 forward is headed to Waco, but if a new LSU coach is hired over the weekend, one might expect a sales pitch to go Gathers' way.

Another intriguing prospect could be 6-foot-1 point guard Josh Gray of Houston Wheatley. Gray, who attended high school in Lake Charles, La., before moving to Houston, signed early with Mississippi State, but received a release from his letter of intent after head coach Rick Stansbury retired.

Also out there are a couple of Louisiana natives looking for new homes as transfers. Pat Swilling Jr., a New Orleans native and the son of former New Orleans Saints linebacker Pat Swilling, has Ole Miss among the schools interested in him. A solidly-built, 6-foot-3 wing, Swilling could bring physical strength to an SEC team.

One transfer candidate who would have to sit out a year is Chip Armelin, who left Minnesota to look for a school closer to his Sulphur, La., home. If LSU struggles to find needed down-the-road depth on the wing in recruiting, Armelin could be an option.

It's notable that, aside from Gathers, none of the other prospects above address LSU's need for big men. But it does show that the Tigers might not have to settle for a depleted roster next year, regardless of who the coach might be.