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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Conversations with Trent Johnson and Bob Cantu

Every now and then at the Hat Trick, I have to get my homer on. After LSU’s basketball team upset #10 Marquette and gave them a whoopin' they won’t soon forget last night, I thought today would be as good a time as any to inject some local flavor.

Some of you who know me personally know that I perform basketball play-by-play duties for a Baton Rouge area high school, Madison Prepatory Academy on its Internet radio station. On Tuesday, December 13, Class B Madison Prep played Class AAA power Glen Oaks. Both schools are ranked in their respective classes; Glen Oaks won by 13. In attendance were LSU Head Men’s Basketball Coach Trent Johnson and USC Associate Men’s Basketball Coach Bob Cantu. I thought some of you may be interested in what they had to say.

LSU Head Basketball Coach Trent Johnson

The Daily Hat Trick (TDHT): We have a very special guest in attendance tonight, LSU Head Basketball Coach Trent Johnson.  Coach, what did you think of what you saw tonight?

Trent Johnson: Well, it was a good high school basketball game. Obviously the kids played very hard. For me it’s always nice to be able to get out and get an opportunity to watch some of the young talent.

TDHT: You guys took on a Boise State team (beaten by LSU on December 10) that was averaging in the 80s (for points per game) and you kept them in the 40s on Saturday. You had to be pleased with the overall effort from your team. They looked really put together and consistent.

Coach Johnson: Well, considering the fact that we had our two best perimeter defenders not playing in Andre Stringer and John Isaac, I think our guys did a good job of stepping up.

TDHT: What is your outlook as SEC play approaches in the coming new year? What do you think some of the biggest challenges are and what do you think your team’s prospects are in the (SEC) West?

Coach Johnson: For us, it’s really too early. We’ve got a lot of basketball to be played in the remainder of December. We’ve got a home stand here where we’re playing Cal Irvine on Thursday. Then we play Marquette on Monday.  Then we go to North Texas to play and then we’ve got Virginia. So it’s really early. Our league, from top to bottom, is extremely talented. It’s guard heavy. Things that we need to work on are going to make a consistent statement, defending, rebounding, and taking care of the ball.

TDHT: That Marquette game is going to be a big one….

Coach Johnson: ….We play Irvine on Thursday.

THDT: Coach, I know you’ve got to run. Thank you for your time; I appreciate it.

Note how Coach Johnson went into “coach’s answer mode” when I asked him about the big game against Marquette how he gave the company line of, “We’re focused on the next opponent.”

Trent Johnson 1
USC Assistant Bob Cantu

I also caught up with Bob Cantu, in from California to check out the local talent.

TDHT: I am here with another special guest in attendance tonight; University of Southern California Associate Head Basketball Coach Bob Cantu came all the way from the West Coast to check out Glen Oaks and Madison Prep. Coach, what did you think of this environment here tonight?

Coach Cantu: It was great. Actually, to be honest with you I am familiar with the environment because we recruited a kid, (the late) Ryan Francis, who played here, back in ’05. He played for us for one year at USC. So I was very familiar with the environment (Francis was murdered while visiting Baton Rouge, following his freshman year at USC).

TDHT: Would you say that the level of basketball that you observed was at a very high level for high school basketball?

Coach Cantu: The intensity, the kids out this way play so much harder and more aggressive and I think the officials let them play through calls where maybe on the West Coast a lot more fouls are called. The games are a lot longer. The other difference I know is that there’s no shot clock (in Louisiana high school basketball). So you can hold on to the ball a lot longer, where the games in California are sped up because of the shot clock. There’s more possessions.

TDHT: Tell me a little bit about the Trojans this year, what your prospects are in the Pac-12 this year. How are things looking out west?

Coach Cantu: You know, this is a rebuilding year for us. We got caught in a year where our best player got drafted by the Sixers, 16th pick, Nikola Vucevic, and our best returning player, Jio Fontan, tore his ACL on our Brazil trip. So we only have one player on the team who played last year. So it’s a completely rebuilding year. We’re 4-6. We beat South Carolina; that was a good win. We play Georgia this weekend. We’ve got TCU and Kansas coming up. So we’ve got some big games.

I think our league is wide open. A lot of people lost a lot of players to the next level or seniors and I think it’s wide open and I think we’ll have a chance to compete. I probably think we’re about a year away from really being able to make a run, but the guys that we have are just so new to the system that it’s going to take them a little bit of time to adjust. But we’re definitely playing hard and our defense it phenomenal right now. We’re giving up 55 points per game, 37% from the field. We’re just having a tough time scoring, but we’ve been in every game.

TDHT: Who are the heavy swingers in the Pac-12? I remember, last year, Arizona was extremely good. UCLA was as solid as they always were. And Washington is always a competent team. Who are going to give you guys some of your biggest headaches this year?

Coach Cantu: I think Stanford and Cal, they’re probably the two better teams to this point, record wise. They both have veteran teams. In our league, or any league really, once you get juniors and seniors that play together, you obviously have an advantage. 

Aside from them, too, I’d say Arizona and Washington because they just have a lot of good, young talent. Oregon State actually has made a lot of improvement as well. And there’s always a surprise team like someone like maybe Oregon that might come out of nowhere and make a push. It think we were picked somewhere in the middle, I think 6th or 7th. So really, anything can happen. As you know, in basketball anybody can beat anybody at anytime. You’ve got to protect your home court and try to steal one on the road and see what happens.

TDHT: I’ve noticed that USC has some connections to the Louisiana and the South. (Former USC Coach) Tim Floyd was (Head Coach) at UNO (University of New Orleans), Head Coach of the Hornets, an assistant with the Hornets…there have definitely been some degrees of separation, very few, between USC and Louisiana. Is the South kind of a hotbed or an area of focus for you guys, Louisiana in particular?

Coach Cantu: We had Dwight Lewis for four years, who was a great player. We had Leonard Washington, we had Marcus Simmons, all from Louisiana, in addition to Ryan (Francis). So we had four players. I think sometimes kids that grow up out here want an option maybe to go west and USC is a great option because it is in a big city, a major media market. You’ve got great weather. And I think kids are obviously interested. 

The fact that Coach Floyd kind of opened that door, from being here in Louisiana, and people have seen our guys have success…there’s interest. And we’re fortunate enough to have had a national name, built through the years, where we can attract players from all over the country and all over the world. So if there’s a talented player our there we have got to be able to know who they are and try to get ‘em!

TDHT: Coach, thank you very much for your time.

Bob Cantu 2
There is an awful lot of athletic talent in Louisiana, including Baton Rouge. When people like Trent Johnson take the evening to watch the local action…when people like Bob Cantu come from across the country to see the action, it speaks volumes to the level of high school basketball talent in this state. I hope you enjoyed the local flavor today. Tomorrow, we’ll be back to the whole world of sports!

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