BATON ROUGE, La. – In a sport that has become so dependent on a quicker- moving revolving door, LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones has proven he can recruit at a high level the last several years.
While most of that focus is on the players the Tigers have landed during Jones’ four-year tenure – three who have been NBA Draft picks and at least one more headed in that direction in the next year or two – his ability to lure talent extends to his coaching staff as well.
After a promising 2015-’16 season unraveled — the Tigers failed to make the NCAA Tournament despite the presence of No. 1 draft pick Ben Simmons — two assistants flew the coop.
That forced Jones into offseason scramble mode. His search first yielded SEC veteran Robert Kirby, and then — in late July — arguably the most noteworthy hire of his LSU tenure: Randy Livingston.
Outside of Louisiana and except for the small circle of SEC basketball die-hards, that news might not cause much of a ripple. Inside the state’s borders, it is a huge step for Jones and the Tigers.
Livingston is regarded as one of the top prep players in Louisiana history after he twice shared National Player of the Year honors during a stellar career at Newman High in the New Orleans area (1992 and ’93). For those unfamiliar, Newman is also the alma mater of Peyton and Eli Manning, and Livingston managed to steal some thunder from those two.
His prep career coincided with the end of the Shaquille O’Neal era at LSU, and when the Tigers landed Livingston, along with highly touted Ronnie Henderson from Mississippi, the bridge to more success seemed to be in place.
Instead, Livingston was rarely healthy at the college level and struggled to stay on the court. A major knee injury before he got to campus cost Livingston his first season. He suffered a dislocated knee cap the next year and played only until February of his third year in college, when both knees limited his effectiveness.
Despite his injury-checkered career, Livingston was taken by Houston in the 1996 NBA Draft and persevered through 11 seasons in the NBA, with several detours to the CBA and NBDL. Still effective at the end of his playing career, Livingston was the NBDL Most Valuable Player in 2006-’07 before embarking on a coaching career at that level.
The last several years, Livingston has operated a scouting service in Australia for men’s and women’s basketball players.
Now, though, he is back home in Louisiana at his alma mater, working for a coach he knows as well as anybody in the country. Jones was the lead recruiter for Livingston and Henderson, so the relationship is 20-plus years old.
That’s a big deal for Livingston, who has never hid his desire to join the LSU staff. It looms even bigger for Jones, especially in a season when many pundits think he may be coaching for his job.
As noted at the beginning, Jones is one of the best recruiting head coaches in the country. Kirby brings back a very strong presence on the national level, especially in the Southeast region.
Livingston, however, gives the LSU staff a very strong and familiar connection to Louisiana in a three-year recruiting cycle when some of the country’s best talent is in the Tigers’ backyard.
In the Class of 2017, four of the country’s Top 200 recruits (via 247sports.com) are from Louisiana. Three from 2018 fit that description, including point guard Javonte Smart from Baton Rouge, who is rated the No. 11 overall player.
As much recruiting verve as Jones possesses, with players at that level, the more bang for the buck the Tigers can get is huge. Most of the coaches and parents of high-level recruits now know who Livingston is and what he meant to the state. That connection cannot be overvalued.
If the Tigers have a bounce-back season this winter and Jones solidifies his footing, the next several recruiting classes will be huge for LSU. Bringing on a legend like Livingston to bolster in-state recruiting is a major coup for Jones and LSU.
Besides the potential recruiting boost, Livingston is also well-versed in what it takes to be effective at the pro level. He has been around coaching giants throughout his pro days as a player and learned how to manage games as a head coach in the NBDL.
With the addition of Kirby and Livingston to longtime NBA assistant Brendan Suhr, Jones has a staff in place to X and O with the best of them. Recruiting that staff may be as important as anything Jones has done in his LSU tenure.