NCAA BK

New players infuse LSU with optimism for 2010-11

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP)

With a 7-foot transfer from Iowa State and three freshmen who are expected to play right away, LSU head coach Trent Johnson is confident that the Tigers will be better this season than last.

Then again, they couldn't get much worse.

LSU was 11-21 in 2010-11 and only 3-13 in the Southeastern Conference, finishing last in the league for a second-straight season.

Now in his fourth season at LSU, Johnson seems comfortable that he finally has a foundation in place to be competitive in the SEC for the first time since 2008-09, when he took a team full of predecessor John Brady's players and finished atop the league.

''Are we further ahead than since I have been at LSU? I would say yes,'' Johnson said. ''That is what you would expect with a nucleus of two-year and three-year guys returning.''

That nucleus includes senior forward's Malcolm White and Storm Warren, along with sophomore guards Andre Stringer and Ralston Turner, who were last season's top two scorers, and senior point guard Chris Bass.

But it is the new players who give LSU the potential to do better than the ninth-place finish predicted for them in an SEC administered preseason poll of media who cover the 12-team league.

Transfer Justin Hamilton, who'll be a junior in terms of eligibility, gives the Tigers the true center they lacked last season. His performances in practice and exhibitions have impressed teammates, who are eager to see him finally suit up for the Tigers in a game that counts.

''He has a great skill set, he has a high IQ of the game, and his ability to play is phenomenal,'' Warren said. ''He's going to play a great part in this team, and he's going to create some options.''

Freshmen point guard Anthony Hickey, named Mr. Basketball in Kentucky after averaging 18.5 points and 8.3 assists as a high school senior, could start right away, while freshman guard John Isaac and 6-9 freshman forward Johnny O'Bryant III have shown promise as well.

Hickey has impressed Johnson with his ball-handling and passing skills in three scrimmages, compiling 17 assists to only three turnovers.

''He is looking good,'' Johnson said. ''I know it's early but it's hard not to get excited about him, let alone the other two freshmen - along with the addition of Justin Hamilton. I think we have the capabilities of being a very solid basketball team and Anthony is going to enable us to play faster.''

Isaac is expected to compete for playing time with Stringer, who Johnson has moved from point guard to the wing, while O'Bryant looks to become a regular in the front court rotation with White and Warren.

In an SEC administered poll of media covering the league, LSU was picked to finish ninth out of 12 teams.

In addition to what appears to be improved depth and talent, Johnson is pleased with the fact that his team has come through most of its preseason in good health.

''What helps out is that right now we remain injury free,'' Johnson said. ''We have competed at a high level. The intensity has been extremely good. At times it's ugly, in terms of what we are getting done, but in all honesty I like the way we are getting after each other and I like the way we are taking care of the ball.''

Tagged: LSU, Justin Hamilton, Storm Warren

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