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October 26, 2015

Johnny Jones

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

An Interview With:


JOHNNY JONES: First off, I'd like to say congratulations to Coach Les Miles and his team. Fourth-ranked team in the country, toughest conference in the country, football, and to continue to win week in, week out, watching his team, the excitement that they've been able to bring and just the job that he's done year in and year out, and to have his team playing this way after the number of guys that he lost to the draft last year certainly says a lot about the power and the strength of his program.

We're excited about moving forward. Only a few weeks away from having an opportunity to play against some other teams, and again, as late as a couple weeks back, having 28 of the 30 teams representatives from the NBA to come in and watch our guys work out, participate for two days, I think, one, again the growth of our team, the excitement that's built around it, I think our guys have done a tremendous job and really competed well since.

SEC Media Day was a great success. We were represented by Keith and Ben Simmons. I thought both of those guys did an incredible job, and the people raved about how they went about their business and conducted themselves during those sessions.

Being picked fourth in the league, I think one, same place we were picked a year ago, and we had two guys that were considered NBA picks in Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin. And again, unfortunately, those two guys are gone as sophomores, and we're still picked in that position with the returning guys, and I guess with the solid recruiting class says something about the power of the league with the addition of the guys that I think returning from other programs, strong recruiting classes, being picked fourth in that area I think is a very challenging spot for us, and we're hopeful, like last year, to improve -- not land there, but hopefully somewhere above there. But we know that the league is going to be exciting and really good again.

Picked 19th overall in the country by the coaches' poll. These guys that have an opportunity to evaluate and see a lot of other programs and do their homework, for us to be at 19th, especially, again, after losing those guys from last year's team, I think just like our fanbase, the anticipation and excitement that's around this team is really good. We're fortunate enough that Ben and Tim both were selected on the preseason all-conference team. I think Tim being picked second team, and we Ben picked preseason player of the year. I think it says a lot about how Ben displays his talents as a senior in high school and the impact that he made at the high school ranks and the excitement of him coming in and for him to be picked preseason, I think it says a lot. I think it's the second time that that has happened in recent years, and now that I think Julius Randle from Kentucky. So I think that's a great opportunity for Ben and his hard work seemingly paying off.

We're looking for this year's Tim Quarterman. The impact that Tim made from year one as a freshman to year two as a sophomore, becoming a starter, impacting our team to be picked preseason as a sophomore -- a junior on the all-conference team, who would that person be, and I guess our candidates early on would be Elbert Robinson or Aaron Epps, both of those guys being sophomores that will they be able to move from year one, year two, be it injuries or whatever in terms of their development.

I didn't mention Jalyn Patterson. He'll be a sophomore as well, but I thought he impacted our team last year; baskets, big-game plays, became a part of our regular rotation, strong defensive player. So that sophomore won't count. We're depending on him. We think that he will have built-in minutes for us and make an impact for our team, but we're hopeful that Elbert or Aaron will be that guy that can step up and really make some big plays for us this year.

Thought Keith and Josh Gray both being seniors, both of those guys will have an opportunity to make an impact for us. I thought Keith was a solid player for us last year, the impact that he made on our team night in and night out I thought was one of the reasons that we had so much success last year. I know a lot of other guys got the credit, but I thought what Keith brought night in and night out that you could go on the board and put down the points, assists, less the turnovers, high field goal percentage, high free throw percentage shooters, he was able to do that. Josh Gray has done a tremendous job continuing to improve from year one through practices, and we're hopeful that he's able to transition his practices into games here in the near future.

Our practices have really been spirited over the last few weeks, and I know these guys are looking forward to challenges against another opponent here in the near future, November 6th with the exhibition game prior to November 13th, our opening date against McNeese. I know that they're looking forward to it. We're only two weeks away.

Season ticket sales are going great, but there are still some available. I hope our fans will certainly take advantage of that, to come out and watch our guys play, and we look forward to seeing all of you out hopefully at the tip-off luncheon November 3rd. We'll get started out at L'Auberge, and I think it's always a great time for our fans and everyone to come out and enjoy the festivities that go on out there. And with that, open for any questions that you may have.

Q. Johnny, you kind of touched on this. Not the fact that you were picked fourth, but the fact that Vanderbilt and Texas A & M who were a little off the radar at the start of last season were picked second and third, what's that say about the depth of the SEC?
JOHNNY JONES: I think when you look at the finish of those teams, when you look at I guess Vanderbilt, they won maybe eight out of the last nine games after starting, were just 1 and 7, whatever their start was. It was very difficult, but they finished extremely strong. They did a tremendous job of getting in post-season play in NIT, and at the same time I thought they were one of the teams -- there were three teams in the league last year that were considered the youngest teams in the league. It was Kentucky, Vanderbilt and LSU. Vanderbilt will have all of their players back from last year with a strong finish. So rightfully so they will be picked high and having an All American, Damian Jones, back in the middle and tremendous shooters around him. I think the same can be said for Texas A & M, a team that I think was right there on the steps of maybe getting an Niese birth. Unfortunately, one of the best players was hurt. And he will be returning this year along with a lot of the other guys, including a very strong, top recruiting class. So both of those teams will, rightfully so, were able to receive a lot of votes, and the conference will be tough because of those returning players on those teams and the great recruiting classes they both have had.

Q. You touched on it a little bit, the NBA scouts that came in and watched, what feedback did they give you or your staff after those two practices and is that something you plan on doing year after year?
JOHNNY JONES: Well, it was needed this year. We would have to make an assessment in judgment. In years coming up, we thought for this year with the inexperience that we have with some of our teams, the excitement that's around it, obviously the number of teams that possibly wanted to come in and see the early talent, Ben being projected possibly an early draft pick. Wanted to make sure that we lessen any distractions that we may have over the period of time. And to be able to bring those guys in early, to be able to close the doors, to get our guys focused to attention to detail, to be able to coach them in the private of our own practices to try to get them better, then after our season starts on a regular basis, practice will be open as it has always been. But we've got some positive feedback. They liked the setup that we have. They liked how competitive our guys were, and it was certainly a success for us for those guys to be here for two days and now for us to have an opportunity to lock in on practices. It's been great for us.

Q. Coach, you spoke earlier about Josh Gray. Obviously he's been through a lot in his college career, a lot of different coaches. He talked about rededicating himself this off season. What have you seen from him so far in practice?
JOHNNY JONES: I tell you, he's been locked in. Unfortunately he wasn't able to take the trip to Australia with us because of decisions made prior to our trip, but I can tell you since that trip, since he's been back and been a part of our practices, he's been really locked in and engaged. And the part we're excited about that he chose not to transfer. He didn't probably play the amount of minutes that he expected or would have liked to last year, but for him to come in and be a part of this team without any promises made or projected in terms of playing time or opportunity to start, I think is growth for him and for his buy-in. So I think Josh is going to play a very important role with this team this year. We look forward to it. When you take an experienced guy like that with a senior, it's going to help us.

Q. What is Brendan Suhr brought to you and specifically in practice?
JOHNNY JONES: Brendan Suhr has been a great addition to our team. Again, he's a tremendous communicator, very knowledgeable on both sides of the basketball, be it offensively, defensively, and I think on the defensive end of the floor he's been excellent, and I think that's an area where he was obviously challenged from coaching at the places that he had and over the 30-year period or so in the NBA, I don't think it's many plays or situations he hadn't seen. And so he's been able to help and in sharing a lot of those things with us and we've been able to make some adjustments as well, and I think it's an ongoing thing, but it's great having him here, and he's certainly been a huge positive for us.

Q. Do you see the kids reacting well to him?
JOHNNY JONES: I think anytime you have anybody in with that type of knowledge, I think our kids are always looking for an opportunity to get better, and his way of projecting teaching has been really good for them. And then I think they understand that they have a great learning opportunity as well. So I think they've certainly done a tremendous job of accepting and welcoming the new coach to our staff.

Q. Hey, Johnny, will you address Antonio Blakeney, the Outside the Lines report, what you saw, when you knew it, that kind of stuff?
JOHNNY JONES: Probably as much as you've seen on Outside the Lines and whatever features or portion that you know, that's pretty much what I know. I think it's an ongoing investigation, to the best of my knowledge, and I don't have any updated information in regards to Antonio outside of the investigation is at another institution, and to the best of my knowledge, Antonio Blakeney's eligibility or anything hadn't been affected here, and that's all that we know.

Q. Did that catch you off guard? Did that catch you by surprise?
JOHNNY JONES: What's that?

Q. The story, the report.
JOHNNY JONES: Yeah. I mean I think it caught everybody by surprise, and it's unfortunate that it's an ongoing thing that been having to deal with, but yeah, I think everybody was surprised.

Q. Did you have a conversation with the team as far as conducting yourselves on recruiting visits as you host recruits and that kind of thing? Did that need to be readdressed?
JOHNNY JONES: No. That's something that we do on a regular -- already. It's an everyday or ongoing occurrence for us, and I think our compliance people have done a tremendous job of making sure our guys are aware of the do's and don'ts, and our guys have to sign off on forms as well that they are presented. And so we're comfortable with where we are.

Q. Johnny, last year you guys were last in the SEC in terms of bench minutes, didn't use the bench a whole lot. And you've talked before about how tough the preseason schedule or pre-conference schedule made it difficult to balance depth. How do you balance that this year with another difficult preconference schedule?
JOHNNY JONES: Well, we're just hopeful that we're healthy, and early on last year, went through a series of injuries early, be it from one player to another. So it made our rotations tough, one, and then we had a young team that made it real difficult to try to integrate some playing time for other guys, that we're hopeful for, but with the challenge of our schedule, knowing how difficult it is in terms of the r P.I., making sure you don't have setbacks and that you have wins, that you put yourself in situations, especially early in games and early part of the second half and trying to finish games with guys out there, and they log a lot of minutes, and it made it very difficult for us. Hopeful this year with the experience of those guys, the valuable minutes that some of them had an opportunity to maybe play over in Australia, the practices that they have under their belt from last year to this season, we're hopeful that early on we're able to take some looks at those guys, be it in the exhibition games, scrimmages that we maybe have prior to against other opponents and some of our early games to find out exactly where we are. So we're hopeful that we'll be able to address those issues. I thought it hurt us last year, although we were successful winning 22 games, you just wonder if you were able to rest some of those guys and keep them fresh and healthy down the stretch if we would have had the ability to pull out some of maybe the other close games that we had setbacks in.

Q. Coach, you being at SEC media days last week, just curious your thoughts of Avery Johnson getting into college basketball and being a coach at Alabama, obviously a guy with very strong local ties.
JOHNNY JONES: Excited for Avery and the opportunities that he has. I've gotten to know him over several years and watched him closely and spent a lot of time with him when he was with the Mavericks. And when he was out of it, I knew that he had maybe an itch maybe to get into college coaching if the right situation, right place for him and a place like Alabama I think Avery will have a chance to go in, build a program, put his stamp, his mark on a program that's obviously had some success before, be it recruiting, in this league as well, and he's got an opportunity to go and make his own mark there because they're going to obviously give him the resources and everything that are around him to give him a chance to be successful, and I think he'll do that. He's been a winner everywhere he's been from college to NBA to now we see him back at college. But he coached a team to the NBA championship, coach of the year in the NBA. So I think Avery will have a chance to be very successful there at Alabama.

Q. Is there anything in particular that you remember about your high school career at DeRidder^ ? I covered a game, a playoff game against (indiscernible) one night, and you won that game practically by yourself. Tommy Walls saying that he had guys like Butch Pierre, Spider Perkins and Hot Rod Williams. I don't remember if any of them were on that team that you played.
JOHNNY JONES: Yes, sir. They -- high school career very vividly. I remember some exciting times we had be it district or winning district or state championship or getting the state championships the freshman year. I guess we were undefeated and had a setback in the championship game that year, and I happened to be a freshman on that team. But yeah, the (indiscernible) team they had a bunch of Division I basketball players on that team, and for me my senior year, I guess I was maybe one of the only couple of seniors that was on that team, but my high school career I remember it because we had some really good players from Mike Sanders, who went on to play at UCLA as a sophomore on that team, and then Dave Simmons, who is the coach at McNeese, was the point guard my freshman year, taking that team through an undefeated season that year until we got to the championship game, and unfortunately he was hurt the day before the championship game in practice and wasn't able to play. But I remember you from those times as well and the great job your son was able to do there at Barb high school as well.

Q. You guys pretty healthy now? Everyone all right to practice?
JOHNNY JONES: Yeah. We're about as healthy as we can be. I tell our guys all the time if you're not a little banged up and having some nagging injuries, you're not playing hard enough. So all of them get an opportunity to go see the trainer periodically, and we're expected. But in terms of being able to go full speed, we are at that level now, and all of our guys have, again, had some setbacks or maybe a couple of them have missed some practices. But if we had to play today, we would have our full roster of guys who will be ready to play.

Bridgewater is back. He's had practice with us I guess Friday and Saturday. And he's been released to go full-scale practices now. He came back initially and was able to only do non contact with us for a couple of days, but Friday and Saturday he was full go and thought he did a good job.

Q. Coach, two questions. Offensive sets wise with Ben Simmons, are we going to see some different things because of Ben being on this team, and question two, talk a little bit about Craig Victor.
JOHNNY JONES: Yeah. Good thing for Ben. You'll see some things different. Offensively you'll see some things we did last year, but you'll just see someone in a different spot who's capable of playing all over the floor, and you may see us utilize him in different positions to take advantage of his abilities out there on the floor. We'll have an opportunity to play fast because of his ability to get it off the glass and push it and make decisions when he gets down the floor and good, sound passes, and that's something that we're continuing to get better at and execute at a high level, because they do trust each other, and it's just a matter of guys understanding the space and where to get on the floor. But offensively, we feel like we can do some things that will allow our offense to actively operate as a high-powered offense and great fast break, up-tempo opportunities for us. But I think the same can be said defensively as well, because of Ben being on the floor, his ability to guard out on the perimeter as well. We'll be able to do some things defensively where we were not able to do a year ago and we made some steady improvement last year from field goal percentages, defensive field goal percentages being good for us and defending the three-point line is really good for us. So there are a lot of improvements made and we feel like we can have a chance to get better, and that's saying that without the shot block that Mickey allowed us to appreciate with him being on the back line last year.

Q. Being picked fourth in the conference, would you rather be picked first? Would you rather be picked to win the conference?
JOHNNY JONES: Well, again, I'm not sure how much preseason rankings really mean. I think it's exciting for your fanbase. I think it's great for your team. I think it's great for people to write about, but you still have to go out and play the game. It's an opportunity for us to move up as well. I think if you look at it with the number of guys that we lost to the other teams, what they had from last year returning, I guess that would be about par where they picked us. But it's up to us. I think we'd love to finish higher. Every team in the league wants to win the conference championship, and we happen to be one of those teams as well, and that will be the mission that we'll be on from day one, and especially when conference time rolls around.

Q. And you mentioned the added depth on your team. Do you feel like you're two deep at every position?
JOHNNY JONES: Yes. I think we have the ability to be two deep in each spot. And again, when you got the wild card, in terms of Ben that can play multiple positions and Tim Quarterman as well, that gives us the ability to play some guys all over the floor, and if Aaron Epps can continue to improve, last year played well on the perimeter for us. Now his concentration is more inside. If we can get him to continue to improve at the rate that he is, we're excited about the future for him and us.

Q. You guys playing in any closed-door scrimmages with other teams, bringing in some other colleges to kind of scrimmage against?
JOHNNY JONES: We will be in a closed-door scrimmage this Saturday morning. I think not at liberty to say until after the scrimmage takes place and it's over, but we will be participating in one this Saturday.

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