NEW ORLEANS - Like most freshmen, Johnny O'Bryant has had his share of ups and downs throughout his first season of college basketball. Unlike many of the other prospects from the Class of 2011, he isn't likely to have a crisis of confidence when faced with the prospect of going toe to toe with Kentucky's heralded newcomers.
LSU's Johnny O'Bryant has 18 points and 11 rebounds against Arkansas (Photo courtesy of Hobie Hiler, SECsports.com)
The LSU forward went to work in the Tigers' Southeastern Conference Tournament opening round victory over Arkansas, scoring 18 points and grabbing 11 rebounds for his second double-double of the season. He got to the free throw line 17 times and throughly dominated the smaller Razorbacks, garnering the attention of Kentucky coach John Calipari, whose Wildcats face LSU in Friday's quarterfinals.
“I saw Johnny O'Bryant some today and he was a beast,” Calipari said. “He was as good as any big guy I watched all day, going after balls and scoring around the basket and playing with a smile on his face. He was really good today.”
Calipari and the Cats should expect more of the same when they get a second up close look at O'Bryant this season. The 6-foot-9, 262-pounder scored 12 points and had nine rebounds in the Tigers' 74-50 loss to Kentucky on Jan. 28, a quality performance made even more impressive by the fact it was just his second game back after missing five because of injury.
More to the point, O'Bryant wasn't intimidated by UK's star-studded lineup. The No. 40 prospect in the Class of 2011 by PrepStars.com/247Sports said his history with the Cats' freshmen and sophomores made it easier for him to get over the 'wow' factor and just play basketball. The Mississippi native made many of the same AAU stops, was part of the USA Basketball program and played in the Jordan Brand Classic Game with the Cats' young stars.
“I've played with a lot of those guys a lot: (Marquis) Teague, (Michael Kidd-)Gilchrist on the USA Team,” O'Bryant said. “I've played with Terrence (Jones) a lot on the (AAU) circuit and Anthony Davis a lot of times so they are the same guys to me (as they were in high school). They're no robots, they're just a great team coached by a great coach. We'll tip the ball up and get at them.”
While O'Bryant won't be fazed by UK's roster fellow freshman Anthony Hickey will look to have a much better outing against his home state school. Before the first meeting much was made of the Hopkinsville, Ky. native not getting a long look from Calipari coming out of Christian County High School, and Hickey struggled for much of the contest.
Hickey said UK's decision to put 6-foot-7 forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on him defensively caused him to get out of rhythm but he would be more prepared for the rematch. O'Bryant concurred.
“I think Coach Cal did a great job putting a lengthy guy on him and that was probably the first time Anthony had been guarded by a long defender,” O'Bryant said. “This time I think he'll be ready for it. I don't want to put pressure on him or anything but I think Anthony will have a great game tomorrow.
“I don't think Anthony is caught up in trying to get revenge on anybody or anything like that. He'll just come out and play and try to help our team win.”
A focused and effective Hickey and O'Bryant would go a long way toward giving LSU a chance at a major upset in the Big Easy.