By C.J. Rucker
The LSU basketball team lost two frontcourt stars to the NBA draft last year, but its fraternal twin towers are ready to shoulder the load this season.
Even though sophomore center Elbert Robinson, III, and junior center Darcy Malone both stand upwards of seven feet, the two are more fraternal twin towers than identical ones.
Robinson went to high school in Garland, Texas, while Malone spent his prep career 8,700 miles away in Canberra, Australia. The purple and gold giants also bring contrasting playing styles to the court.
Robinson is a 290-pound, left-handed bruiser equipped with enough post moves to play with his back to the basket and finish at the rim. Malone, who checks in at 240 pounds, can finesse his way to the basket and stretch the defense with a respectable jump shot.
The two centers’ different skill sets will be utilized by a LSU team tasked with replacing star forwards Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey, who were the 25th and 33rd overall picks in the 2015 NBA Draft. Martin and Mickey led the team in minutes played, blocks, rebounds, and points per game last season.
LSU coach Johnny Jones decided to expedite Robinson’s development toward the end of last year’s season by revising his workout plan. The LSU training staff focused on Robinson’s physical growth rather than his skillset to prepare him for next season.
Robinson’s added 15 pounds of muscle, paired with his smooth footwork, has started to pay dividends as he prepares for the season.
“[Malone and Robinson] have shown a new type of fire that I haven’t seen in them yet since I’ve been here.”
– Keith Hornsby, LSU senior guard
– Keith Hornsby, LSU senior guard
“We kind of shut him down toward the end of last season, took a little bit different approach,” Jones said. “We wanted him to concentrate more on the weights and trying to get his body, strength, and everything where it needed to be to carry the load for him, and we think that it’s benefitted Elbert.”
One of the things that held Robinson back last season was his conditioning level. Robinson worked during the offseason on improving his motor to make him a threat on both ends of the floor. Robinson said he already sees the difference in his game because of his improved stamina.
Jones thinks Robinson has the ability to make the same improvements sophomore guard Tim Quarterman did between his freshman and sophomore year.
Although Robinson’s added muscle has made him an imposing force, Malone doesn’t shy away from contact with him during practice. Malone got a break from Robinson’s physicality when the team played five games in Australia this summer. The Tigers played against professional Australian teams in the National Basketball League whose athletic big men tested LSU’s 7-footers.
Malone said going from playing against American centers who typically prefer to stay in the post to Australian big men who prefer to play on the perimeter was tough defensively.
“It was good to variate from what we normally play against,” Malone said. “These guys aren’t your typical American style basketball players. It was a great experience because we got to learn and really make the most out of the trip.”
During the trip, Malone got a chance to spend time with his Australian family when he had free time. He and fellow Australian native freshman Ben Simmons gave their teammates the inside scoop on where to eat while they enjoyed a few home-cooked meals of their own.
Many of Malone’s family and friends had yet to get a glimpse of college basketball in the states before the Tigers’ five-game stint down under.
“I got to show off what college basketball is like to some people who haven’t seen it back home and let people know that the stage I’m playing on is pretty intense,” Malone said.
Off the court, Malone is quite the goofball, just ask his roommates, senior guard Keith Hornsby and Simmons, who said you might catch Malone listening to everything from heavy metal to musicals.
“Darcy is the weirdest one,” Simmons said. “He has a Nintendo Wii, so he’ll play Wii tennis, golf and bowling — he does all that.”
It’s no secret that the Southeastern Conference is one of the more physical conferences in the NCAA. The physicality that the fraternal twin towers bring to practice is not only preparing them for the start of conference play but also their teammates.
Hornsby said the improved intensity of Robinson and Malone is exactly what LSU needs to be successful this season.
“[Malone and Robinson] have shown a new type of fire that I haven’t seen in them yet since I’ve been here,” Hornsby said. “It’s almost like they’ve heard that they are really needed right now in their roles and have taken to that. I feel like they are playing with a new edge and strength and just a different type of confidence. If they can continue to do that once games start throughout the rest of the practices, then that’s huge for us.”