UK Men's Basketball

Mr. Basketball Hickey returns to Rupp as nation's steals leader for LSU

LSU's Anthony Hickey is averaging 3.9 steals per game, the most in the nation. He attended Christian County High School.
LSU's Anthony Hickey is averaging 3.9 steals per game, the most in the nation. He attended Christian County High School. ASSOCIATED PRESS

In Wednesday night's victory over Texas A&M, LSU point guard Anthony Hickey made eight steals. That equaled the fourth most in a game ever by a Southeastern Conference player.

Or close enough to business as usual for the 2011 Kentucky Mr. Basketball. Going into Saturday's game at Kentucky, he leads the nation in steals (3.9 per game, on average).

When asked Thursday what it meant to him to lead the nation in steals (UK's Nerlens Noel is tied for 10th), Hickey said, "I love that I'm doing that, right now. But, there's a lot more I'm looking forward to doing."

LSU, 10-6 overall and 1-4 in the SEC, is in rebuilding mode under first-year coach Johnny Jones. So Hickey might have to wait until a future season for winning on a grand scale.

Meanwhile, Hickey continues to show that big things can come from small (5-foot-11) packages.

Jones noted that a steal, in and of itself, does not necessarily reflect good play. More steals do not necessarily translate into better defense.

For example, the LSU coach light-heartedly recalled former Tigers player Clarence Caesar, who holds the SEC career record of 310 steals.

"He just happened to be at the right place at the wrong time," Jones said of Caesar's zeal for the steal. "His man had 40 (points), but he had five steals."

It was a friendly jab. As an assistant coach, Jones recruited Caesar, who now coaches a high school basketball team in Louisiana.

"Anthony has been a really good on-ball defender," Jones said of Hickey. "He's got good strong hands, and he's extremely quick with them. He can pop the ball out a lot of times."

Hickey also benefits from the faster-paced style that Jones brought to LSU. The Tigers effectively press and trap, although a lack of depth reduces the amount of time the Tigers can use those tactics. LSU has waited as late as the eight-minute mark or so of the second half before defending full court, Jones said.

The pressure defense can help compensate for inconsistent shooting. The Tigers went into this week tied for last among SEC teams in shooting accuracy in league games: 36.6 percent.

LSU gets mileage out of pressing and trapping "because of our quickness and length," Jones said. "And we have guys who anticipate well. We're not getting steals all the time, but it's allowing (opponents) to play a little bit faster than they would like."

Hickey, who calls Hopkinsville home, credited his teammates at the front of the press for creating opportunities for steals.

Jones noted Hickey's savvy play and sense of anticipation.

"He's got something of a defensive back mentality," the LSU coach said, "in terms of reading eyes and shoulders and that type of thing."

In SEC play, Hickey has made only 27 of 73 shots (12 of 39 from three-point range), but he gives LSU almost turnover-proof point guard play. He had no turnovers in 37 minutes against Texas A&M. Through five SEC games totaling 175 minutes, he's committed eight turnovers.

That kind of consistency allowed Jones to shrug off the five turnovers Hickey had against South Carolina last week. "I wasn't too alarmed," the LSU coach said.

Hickey, who spent time growing up in Clarksville, Tenn., considers himself good friends with UK freshman Alex Poythress. They were teammates on the AAU Nashville Celtics. "It's exciting to get to play against Alex Poythress," he said.

Of course, the game at Kentucky serves as something of a homecoming for Hickey. He expects many members of his family and friends to be in Rupp Arena.

Hickey holds no hard feelings about UK not showing much recruiting interest.

"I felt kind of disappointed I didn't get recruited," he said before adding, "but things like that happen. You can't control the recruiting phase. But I'm here now."

The casual fans might not recognize Hickey on Saturday. He no longer wears his hair in what his mother said was the family's trademark style: dreadlocks decorated with colored beads. His hair is close-cropped.

"Totally different hairstyle," Hickey said. "Just a new look. New beginning. New coach. New system. So I tried something new."


LSU at Kentucky

When: Saturday, 4 p.m. (WKYT-27)

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