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October 14, 2015

Johnny Jones

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

JOHNNY JONES: First of all, want to say thank you to you. Much appreciate you being here and your interest in this basketball program and this team. I think it's evident of the excitement because of the people in here today of the growth of the program and the excitement of this coming season.

Like to say happy birthday to Randy who turned 60 (laughter).

But we're anxiously looking forward to a very challenging season with the schedule, as well. We think that our trip over to Australia was very beneficial for us and for the guys that had an opportunity to go over there and play, the 10 days of practice prior to going over there and playing in the event, wind up going 3 2 against some professional teams. The games were very challenging for us, and getting back, we feel we're a little bit ahead of schedule in terms of practice because of the trip over there, and we think that that should be somewhat of an advantage to have that type of competition early on.

Practices have started for us. We had an open practice yesterday, today, which has been open to some of the NBA scouts, and we've had, out of the 30 teams, 28 have sent several executives along with scouts to watch, and I thought for our team to be represented that way, for the interest to be from the NBA to come in and watch our guys, again, it's a credit to their hard work, their efforts and stuff that they've put in.

So I thought yesterday the guys did a good job, especially playing under, I guess you could say, the lights and the type of pressure and the eyes on them because all these guys have great ambitions to hopefully one day be playing at that level and for possibly one of those 30 organizations.

So to be out there in front of them and trying to perform at a high level, it's a little bit different. And the same will be for them today, but I think it's an excellent challenge for them, and I thought they did a decent job on yesterday, and we're hopeful we'll be better today.

But practice is going well. I think we've had some guys step up and do some great things. Expected it in Ben; as good as advertised. He's done a tremendous job of trying to play in multiple positions. It's going to be good for us, but the other freshmen, Blakeney and Sampson, have done well. I think one of the bright spots after we returned has been Elbert Robinson after the last several days. He's shown to be a force inside, and if we can keep his improvement and keep him growing and continuing to get better, certainly he'll be a force, and we especially need it because of what we lost last year. We lost over 50 percent of our rebounding, over 45 percent of our scoring to two guys who were drafted last year in Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin, and that's what I think the challenge will be for this team, even with a top recruiting class, good guys returning from last year's team, that challenge will be how well we fill that void.

We had lost the nation's leading shot blocker (Mickey), but we have rim protectors in Elbert, Dorsey, Ben and Epps and hopefully Craig Victor will be hopefully able to fill that void in the paint area for the this coming year.

Excited about this Saturday, as well. Prior to the football game, we will have an event in here and we'll practice early and then get down on the floor probably about 3:45 to 4:15. They're going to give us 30 minutes out there on the floor prior to the band coming down the hill and coming into the PMAC where our guys will have an opportunity to be introduced to the Tiger Athletic Foundation, the crowd there, the Tip Off Club members, and a lot of other friends, family and fans in the PMAC on Saturday prior to the game, and it's going to be kind of an exciting time for our guys to get out there and for 30 minutes at least give our fans something to be excited about. We'll temper them at practice a little bit so they'll have an opportunity to get a close look early on prior to us getting started in the season of this year's basketball team.

With that, if Kent doesn't have anything else for me, I'd be more than happy to answer any questions.

Q. Johnny, you mentioned all the attention, the hype and everything. Is there a part of you or maybe part of the players that are looking forward to getting towards the season where you just get into the grind of the season and all this dissipates a little bit?
JOHNNY JONES: No, it's fun. It's exciting. You certainly want to be on the side where people are excited about the program and looking forward to it and anxiously await it and looking forward to the season. Certainly don't want to be on the other side where we're dreading the start of the season. I can tell you that the guys couldn't be more excited. They're chomping at the bit, and the coaches are, as well. It's something we look forward to.

We know we've got a long way to go. The players know that they've still got a big learning curve and they're anxious to get better, but I think they look forward to the challenges and really getting started, I guess it's November 13, versus McNeese.

Q. We talked a little bit last week about Elbert and his progression. What have you seen now in the last week? You talked about him again just now, about how good he's been.
JOHNNY JONES: Well, we've changed up a little bit of Elbert's strength with our strength and conditioning coach and some things that he's been doing prior to practice that we think that's helped him with his progress, as well. We've kind of shut him down toward the end of last season, took a little bit different approach. We wanted him to concentrate more on the weights and trying to get his body the strength and everything where it needed to be to carry the load for him, and we think that it's benefitted Elbert, but he's always had great hands. His feet have been good, and he's been really good at finishing around the rim, and those things are all starting to come together for him over these last few days last week, and the early part of this week, so he's given us some reason to be excited because of the plays that he's making right now and his ability to transition up and down the floor.

He obviously has a lot more room to improve, but to see that improvement over the last week or so, it gives us reason to be excited.

Q. I hope I've got my facts straight on this, because I'm not able to keep up with things the way I once did, but I believe the shot clock has been reduced by five seconds; is that correct?

Q. What is your take on that?
JOHNNY JONES: Well, we're excited about it. We've been one of the nation leaders in scoring, and at the same time in our conference been in like the top three. It's been great for us. We're a high scoring offense, high powered offense. The pace that we play at is exciting. We've scored over 70 something points a game, and I think it's beneficial for us. We play quick. We look forward to pushing the ball with pace and getting up the floor and creating quick scoring opportunities.

At the same time, opposing teams who don't like to play that way will certainly have to make some adjustments to their style of play, but it won't hinder anything generally that we do on the offensive end, but there may be some things we do defensively to try to shorten the clock for opponents when we play them that they don't have as much time to try to execute offensively on the offensive end, and a lot of times you do those things generally out of scoring opportunities and three quarter court press or making it a little bit tougher for them to get into their half court sets.

Q. Two years ago you had three or four returning core players and then the three freshmen. This year you've got a core returning and then the three freshmen again. Talk about what you learned from last year and how you go about blending the veteran players with the newcomers.
JOHNNY JONES: Oh, I'll tell you, I'm not sure how it is will, I guess, we played within the game. We wound up winning six of the nine games in conference play on the road last year, and we talked about having the third youngest team in the conference, I think it speaks to how those guys played. Unfortunately we had some setbacks here at home with that same young team, and it's being able to put that together to where you can win those road games, and I think with a veteran team that helps in being able to experience and then coming back home and being able to handle that success, as well.

Again, we'll be young. We've got some guys that are returning. We lost definitely some key guys from last year's team, but with the addition of a good recruiting class, with Ben obviously being able to play in the post where we lost some of that firepower with Jordan and Jarell, the difficulties of how we're going to rebound, how do we score high percentage shots inside, and those are questions that are certainly going to have to be answered. Is Craig Victor an answer when he becomes eligible in December, in mid December, or is Darcy Malone or Elbert Robinson an answer to that, and that is something we'll have to certainly work our way through, and the quicker we get those answers from those guys out there on the floor and the quicker that they can continue, if they continue to make great progress, some great things can happen for us.

Q. Coach, you talked about earlier the expectations and excitement surrounding this team. Is it something that you want your players to embrace or is it something that you try to get them to block out and just focus on playing basketball?
JOHNNY JONES: Oh, you want to embrace it. It's exciting. Again, you'd much rather be on the side of high expectations in people thinking that you're going to be very good, and there's reasons for that, and the season will play out at the end of the day how it'll certainly play out. But our job is to make sure that we can play an exciting style of basketball and make sure that our kids are comfortable or enjoying it. We've got to make sure they understand that it's a process. They've got to make sure they enjoy the moment, and we've got to understand that it's a journey, and if they can understand all those things and it's a long season, we'll be in great shape, and if they don't get caught up in the hype, and that's the only thing that you try to avoid, not getting caught up in it and understanding that there's a process and you've got to prepare and get ready for games each day. With this team we'll have our share of challenges and ups and downs. It's just how you weigh those things out during the season and embrace it.

Q. Piggy backing on that, how much does this year feel like the years with Dale Brown before a season, preseason high expectations, ticket sales, interest? Do you kind of look back to those times with him and kind of does it feel similar this year?
JOHNNY JONES: Well, I'll tell you, I was in a little bit different seat at the time, out recruiting and focusing attention on a lot of other things than being in the position I'm in now. You look at it a little bit different because you are involved with more of the I guess the ticket sales and the increase in the production of everything else that's going on around it and the excitement and the buildup of even over the summer what was transpiring with our guys.

I think if you look back at Shaquille and Mahmoud Abdul Rauf, former Chris Jackson, and Stanley and those guys, there were some exciting times building up, and I would have to say from last year with those guys getting drafted and the excitement of the team getting back in the NCAA Tournament since 2009, and the anticipation of where this team could possibly go. A lot of people talk about had those two guys stayed and with the addition of these other guys, the excitement around that. Well, those guys are not here, but the excitement still exists, and although we lost those guys, and as great as they were, we feel like we've got a chance to possibly go further if we can embrace the experiences that we had an opportunity to share in last year, and that's something that we look forward to.

Q. Regarding the open practice with the NBA scouts and executives, since obviously NBA executives can come in throughout the season, I was wondering when you decided to hold this practice, and what you hope to get out of it and what you hope the team gets out of it.
JOHNNY JONES: Well, the big thing we want to make sure that we feel in making sure that those NBA teams have an opportunity to come in and watch us. This date has been really good for us because we had an opportunity to get some practices in. They have an opportunity to watch our guys. It's great for our guys to have an opportunity to play and work out in front of a number of executives and NBA people that will have a chance to watch.

With that being said, less of a distraction as we continue to move forward, having a chance for our guys to work out for them now, close the doors, get in here, our guys have a chance to run, hopefully get our chemistry right, and then those opportunities for those execs to have an opportunity to come back in, but we wanted to make sure that we set a date for that. We had the teams to do it a year ago. They had some success doing it, and it lessens, I think, a little bit of the distractions that can occur sometimes day in on a daily basis for our guys, but to give us a chance to coach them so that they understand and be able to pick things up.

Q. You've got a number of guys capable of bringing the ball up the floor and handling it. Tim and Ben did a lot of that in Australia. Do you go into the season with a set mind frame of how you'd like to divvy that, and then in game how is that determined?
JOHNNY JONES: Well, one, primarily ball handlers generally are point guards. We have assigned lane runners, especially on fast break made baskets. If, in fact, because we have other guys that are very capable of handling, if they're able to get a rebound, long rebound, steal, we're going to allow those guys to go ahead and push it, and they're good decision makers on the other end. If we're able to do that, we're able to get up the floor a lot quicker, put the defense in a little bit of a disadvantage, and those decision makers have to know who they are. We have to make sure that it's clear who those ball handlers are and who we trust and they know who should get it one or two dribbles, get off of it, or other guys who are very capable of bringing it, and we're comfortable with that. But we've just got to make sure that we understand how important it is to share the ball, advancing it, getting it up the floor as quick as possible and putting the defensive disadvantage whenever we can do that, whenever possible.

Q. Tim went from struggles in his freshman year to now he's an NBA prospect. What has been the biggest difference from his freshman year to now, and is this about what you expected for him?
JOHNNY JONES: Well, it's always tough in judging kids. First of all, you take a guy like Tim, and we think that it was important for our individual skill work for him to continue to develop as a player, we wanted to make sure to give him credit for his hard work, the time and energy that coaches put in with him, especially during the off season, and during that season to get better, and he's continued to grow and has been very productive, and I guess going into his junior year, it's been really good for him.

But I think the challenge is where does he go from here, because he made those strides last year, had guys around him. How does he make other strides? Does that leadership continue to grow, and is the consistency there night in and night out, and those are the challenges that he'll be presented with.

Q. The last few losses last year, games that you guys had a chance to win and leads got away from you, I know it's a different team, but what can this team do differently to close those games out, those tight games, and get a different result?
JOHNNY JONES: Well, I can tell you, I was really excited for this basketball team, went to Arkansas, they were rated 14th in the country, and we played in that game without Jordan Mickey, who had sustained an injury, and we weren't sure when he would get back, and we were able to win on Arkansas's floor, last second shot by Hornsby, then we get into the conference tournament, try to get Mickey back, who had been a great force for us all year long, and unfortunately we came up short. That game I'm thinking there was foul trouble, a couple guys out, a couple calls went their way on some three point shots that they were able to get to the free throw line, and at the end of the day they throw that big shot and get the game into overtime and win. That was a tough setback for us.

And then getting into the NCAA, one, applauded those guys for a lot of the games they won, being able to win on the road at West Virginia and Arkansas at tough places in terms of Vanderbilt, the number of games that we were able to win and secure victories on the road to get ourselves to that point. And when you play a team like an NC State who is one of a few teams that beat the national champion last year in Duke, very tough out for us, and having a lead, we missed some free throws at the end, missed some rebounding opportunities, missed a couple of open shots, and for them, they made the necessary shots they needed to.

Hopefully the next opportunity we get, we'll understand how important getting those rebounds are, executing at the free throw line, and those things I think will happen for you.

But to get up 14 points on those guys was a big deal for us, I mean, because they are a good, solid, defensive basketball team and they're a high powered offensive basketball team. Unfortunately the game unfolded the way that it did, but I'm hopeful lesson learned for a young basketball team, and hopefully the experience that we've got going back in this year will be beneficial for us.

Q. Regarding Ben, could you give us maybe some impressions or examples of his personality, and particularly the extent to which it equips him to deal with probably what would be a whole new level of hype and scrutiny for him and a level that a premier player in American college basketball gets?
JOHNNY JONES: Well, I'll tell you, the good thing for Ben is he's been grounded. You have to certainly credit his mom and dad for the job that they've done bringing him up and rearing him, and along with his other siblings, as well. I think they've done an incredible job, as much so to allow him to leave his country and come without their guidance to high school over here, and that says a lot about his maturity level, which he's continued to do. He's had a lot of attention thrown his way, playing at the level that he did. He wasn't at a regular high school. They played a national schedule. He was always challenged, even during the summers with his AAU team, so a lot of attention has been thrown his way, and along with his dad playing professionally, I think he has had an opportunity to be around it, and he's been able to embrace it, and I think it's just really it's become a part of it, and he understands it. I think he's done a tremendous job of handling it.

Q. We got to watch you practice last week and I was surprised at how physical it was. Do you encourage that or do you wince when you see the guys going after balls to the wall, underneath the stanchion, the whole nine?
JOHNNY JONES: I get excited. We talk about playing hard every second, every play, making plays, and just how delicate or how important it is that guys make hustle plays, and that's diving on the floor. We don't have any designated divers. Everybody got to go get it, and I think when you have that amongst your team and guys share in that, you have a chance to win, and that's night in and night out.

So it's something that we welcome, we get excited about, and we feel like that will give us an edge. If we're able to have a talented team and guys willing to give up themselves for their team to try to get the ball for another play, and the more that I think you can do that, the more opportunities we have, and that's guys making hustle plays, the better chance we have as a team.

Q. You talked about the opportunity for the pro day and letting these guys get some exposure. Can you talk about the preparation for basketball, for pro basketball, whether it's during their career or after their career, financial management things, community service, things like that?
JOHNNY JONES: Well, I think that the great thing for our University, we have a tremendous asset right up the hill here, Cox Communication Building for Student Athletes. It's the academic center. They have an area in there called the Shaquille O'Neal Life Skills Program, and what they do is through a series of things, put our guys through it be in interviews and put them in certain situations with the community in terms of developing themselves and dealing with all aspects as well as just kind of a part of their growth. Our academic center have done a tremendous job in taking part in that, and we like to try to expose them to as much as we can, as well.

Q. Last year you said Keith Hornsby was the hardest working player you've ever coached. Can you speak to that, and how important is it to have a guy like that back on the team as a senior leader?
JOHNNY JONES: I'll tell you, Keith has been tremendous. He's been a tone setter. Nothing has changed with him. He hasn't taken a break. I thought Keith was what we like to call the guy that didn't get a great deal of attention because of two dominant guys that we had last year, but I can tell you he was as effective and as important as anybody that we had on the team because of the consistency that he played with. Didn't turn the ball over much, very limited scoring, shot a high percentage, and you knew what you were going to get from him night in and night out, and with the amount of minutes we played him, we didn't have a deep bench, didn't have a deep rotation, only played about six or seven guys last year in maximum minutes and he was one of those guys that you could count on could go the course of the game because of the condition that he was in. We look for more of that this year, and he's continued to improve, so we're excited about Keith and what he'll bring to our team.

Q. Is there anything negative at all about the increased amount of attention this year that you're concerned about in any way?
JOHNNY JONES: Not at all. We're excited about it. We welcome it. It's something that we look forward to. I think it's just for our guys, understanding that it's our job to help them understand the struggles of something that we may have to go through because it's a long season and it's a process of getting through it, but the excitement that you have around it. It's important because you want those seats filled. You want people coming out. You want them anxiously awaiting an opportunity for us to tip it off, and they can come out and support really what we're doing, and I welcome really being on this side of it than the other side where there's no excitement around the program or it's going the other way. We're very fortunate that from year one to year two to year three to year four that it's changed each year, and it's all been for the positive, and we're excited about that.

Q. This year you apparently have a bench that you didn't have a last year. How do you how will minutes I mean, last year you had four or five guys that were 34, 35 minutes. What are you kind of looking at this year in terms of minutes? You have an actual rotation this year.
JOHNNY JONES: Yeah, if we have our druthers, hopefully we can get those guys between 28 and 30 something odd minutes would be good, would be a perfect scenario for us. Extending the defense will allow that. We weren't able to press as much because our numbers were limited, again, last year, then we went through some injuries that made it difficult with the RPI and how important things are. It was very difficult for us last year to put ourselves in position to use a bench when you play a tough schedule and it's demanding and games are close. You don't rotate your bench as much because each possession is so important.

This year we're hopeful with the experience with those guys returning from last year, one, that we can manage those minutes, and those guys are very capable of playing because they played in some important games last year, and with this freshman group that's coming in, that they're talented enough to be put in a little bit difficult situations early on, although we have a tough schedule, that we can continue to develop those guys early. The earlier we can develop our bench, which we didn't have a chance to do last year, will be helpful to us, and if we can get those guys to some manageable minutes, anywhere from 27 to I guess 28 to 32 minutes or whatever, that would be ideal for us.

Q. Some big name coaches have come to the SEC over the last couple of years. Just talk about the Southeastern Conference growing since you came in in 2012.
JOHNNY JONES: I'll tell you, I thought we lost some really good coaches for whatever reason in the league, and I thought those guys had really done a tremendous job. Our goal when we got here, we knew who we had to chase. We knew who the top tier schools were, and who you think of is Florida, Kentucky, year in and year out, being those top tier schools, and we're very fortunate that we've tried to make our way up that ladder, and with the coaching changes that have been out there at several schools, coaches have, I think, had some success in the era of the programs, coming from the Big 12 or by way of the NBA, you name it. The PAC 12, as well.

Our league has changed. For us, the difficulty is the system and style of play will be different. You get used to how a team is playing or an opponent is playing and you know what is expected. This will be a little bit different for us, a little bit of a learning curve because of the newness of their style of play and then how they will continue to develop the teams that they're on right now. But it's going to be a great challenge, something you welcome, you look forward to, because all the people that have come into the league play a certain style, different, but a good brand of basketball that we welcome and we look forward to competing against.

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