Pulitzer Prize winner Jeffrey Marx, author of five books including Season of Life, is working on a collection of LSU sports stories. You can follow him on Twitter (@JeffreyMarx25).
With the opening tip-off of his sophomore season fast approaching - LSU will host UC Santa Barbara in game one this Friday (7 p.m. at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center) - basketball star Johnny O'Bryant III is understandably excited about the prospects of a fresh start. He has a new coach, Johnny Jones, who offers a steady stream of encouragement. He has a stronger, fitter body, courtesy of extra workouts during the summer. And he even has a new hairstyle. Gone are his signature shoulder-length dreadlocks. O'Bryant calmly allows that, yes, the young ladies on campus have responded favorably to his streamlined look: a clean, mini-afro punctuating the top of his 6-foot-9 frame.
"Whole new year," O'Bryant says. "Everything is ready to go."
But that is not entirely true. Something is still missing. The former McDonald's and Parade All-American, the most decorated LSU basketball player in recent years, has never been publicly tagged with the nickname that should be his: JOBIII. As in: "Jay Oh Bee Three" - a rhythmic and rhyming combination of his initials and the Roman numerals representing the generational repetition of his name.
The Washington Redskins have RGIII (the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback formerly known as Robert Griffin III). And the LSU Tigers should have JOBIII. This is not to suggest that the two are athletic equals. It is simply to invite a fun moniker into the recently not-so-scintillating world of LSU basketball.
"Sounds good to me," says Coach Jones, who inherited a program that won only twelve SEC games in the last three seasons combined. "Anything that brings some positive energy, I'm good with it."
I can already hear public address announcer Dan Borne after O'Bryant throws down a thunderous dunk or buries a game-winning jumper. "JOBIII!" Borne emphatically unloads into his courtside microphone. And the PMAC crowd goes wild.
"I'd love that," O'Bryant says. And his big, sparkling smile - all eyes and teeth and youthful exuberance - makes it perfectly clear that he really would.
I want to be clear about something, too. O'Bryant never asked for this. He did not seek out a writer to promote himself by introducing the idea of an attention-getting nickname. I was the one who brought it up. We were recently together at a post-practice dinner - a casual event for a few dozen guests of the basketball program - and I asked him something I had first wondered about early last season.
"Why isn't everyone calling you JOBIII?"
"Can't really say," O'Bryant responded.
"I mean, I have to believe it's at least been discussed at some point. Do you just not like it?"
"No, I'm all for it," he said. "But something like that, it's not really up to me."
As a youngster, O'Bryant did not even use the III at the back of his name. He just went by Johnny O'Bryant.
When he was 16 - already playing on a USA Basketball national age-group team and practicing at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado - teammates and coaches started calling him "J.O.B." as a tribute to how hard he worked on the court.
"Do you take your nickname J.O.B. to heart?" a writer asked him one day after practice.
"Yeah, a little bit," O'Bryant said. "Because I'm trying to make basketball into a job."
The nickname did not stick once he returned home to Cleveland, Mississippi. But the thought of making basketball into a job grew more persistent.
He played serious AAU ball - for the high-powered Jackson Tigers - with current LSU teammates Andre Stringer and Jalen Courtney. As a senior at East Side High School, O'Bryant averaged 21 points, 16 rebounds, and five blocks per game. There was even talk that he might be a "one-and-done" guy: one year of college ball and then straight to the NBA as a power forward.
Things did not work out that way.
In his first three collegiate games, O'Bryant scored a total of 42 points, including 21 against Northwestern, and he continued to display flashes of brilliance throughout his freshman season. But he never gained consistency. He too often got in foul trouble. And his conditioning needed work. For the season, he averaged 8.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.
They were not one-and-done numbers. But this much was clear: O'Bryant and fellow freshman Anthony Hickey - a quick, little guard who had been Mr. Basketball in his home state of Kentucky - had established themselves as vital building-blocks for the future of the LSU program.
Their first-year coach is certainly happy to have them.
"Both of them have shown tremendous leadership," Jones says. "Both of them have the extreme desire to win."
Although O'Bryant is much more concerned about hard work and results than he is about whatever name people choose to call him, he definitely enjoys the sound and feel of JOBIII.
"I like the way it fits together, the way it rhymes," he says. "It's just so catchy."
Plus, there is substance. The way O'Bryant sees things, JOBIII is a perfect tag for him because he'll enter the new season with a three-part j-o-b.
One: "Be a great leader."
Two: "Be a great person."
Three: "Help the people around me become better."
Of course, mere discussion of a nickname in a space such as this would never be enough to launch it into regular usage. Two things would have to happen for "JOBIII" to become part of the LSU sports lexicon. Key media members - radio, TV, print, and Internet folks - would have to put it into play. And fans would have to embrace it.
I'm hoping this will happen. Sports should always be fun before anything else - and I think this would be fun for the media and fans alike - so I'm hoping that JOBIII will soon be a name we all know and enjoy.