The return of promising freshman forwards Jarrell Martin and Jordan Mickey appeared to give LSU a great chance to contend for its first NCAA tournament berth since 2009 next season.
Complicating that goal, however, is Tuesday's news that another key piece will not be back.
Anthony Hickey, a three-year starter at point guard for the Tigers, did not have his scholarship renewed and will not be welcomed back at LSU, his father confirmed to the Baton Rouge Advocate. LSU announced Tuesday that Hickey, reserve guard Malik Morgan and seldom-used forward Shane Hammink each intend to transfer.
The loss of Hickey ensures LSU will be relying almost exclusively on newcomers in the backcourt. Heavily recruited junior college transfer Josh Gray will probably be the heir apparent at point guard, while high-scoring UNC Asheville transfer Keith Hornsby and incoming freshman Jalyn Patterson will battle sophomore-to-be Tim Quarterman for playing time at wing.
That LSU would jettison Hickey is a bit of a surprise considering the contributions he has made during his three seasons with the Tigers.
Hickey, a 5-foot-11 junior, started 85 games the past three years and logged 31.1 minutes per game last season, averaging 8.4 points and 3.7 assists and leading the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio. Those numbers were a slight downgrade from Hickey's sophomore season when he averaged 11.2 points, 3.8 assists and 2.9 steals.
Hickey's outside shooting and free throw shooting were career-long weaknesses, but his leadership, defense and ability to finish at the rim or distribute off the dribble made him an asset regardless.
The Advocate speculated that the reason for Hickey's dismissal might stem from run-ins he'd had with coach Johnny Jones over missed classes and study hall periods. Perhaps those absences added up and Jones felt like he had to take action, but that seems like an insufficient reason to send a senior point guard packing entering a key season for the program.
With Morgan, Hammink and Hickey gone, LSU goes from one over the scholarship limit to two under it, meaning Jones is free to add a late recruit or a transfer if he wants.
Whoever Jones adds isn't likely to change the outlook for next season. The Tigers will have to hope that Gray is ready to make an instant impact at point guard and that a wing scorer or two emerges to complement what again should be an excellent frontcourt.
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