Like most college seniors, Sheila Boykin has big plans.
When her final season with the LSU women’s basketball team is over, Boykin aspires to play pro ball. Some might dread the idea of playing overseas, but Boykin welcomes it.
“I want to see new places,” she said.
It’s that adventurous spirit that brought her from Los Angeles to Baton Rouge — from L.A. to LA — in the first place.
Then she would like to go into broadcasting and eventually into coaching, “Some day.”
There’s one more thing on her agenda.
“I look forward to being healthy,” she said.
Just over two years ago, in the middle of her sophomore season, Boykin was struck down by Guillain-Barré syndrome shortly before LSU played at Missouri on Feb. 22 and missed the rest of the season.
The frightening disease causes the body’s immune system to attack its nervous system.
For Boykin, the disease manifested itself as a form of paralysis. Even as she began to recover, she could walk only with an unsteady, shuffling gait hardly befitting a college athlete.
She recovered enough to be one of just five players to compete in all 34 of LSU’s games during the 2013-14 season.
This year, same thing: Boykin is one of just five players to enter all 28 of LSU’s games, an “iron woman” statistic that belies the still less than perfect picture of her health.
“To this day she’s not 100 percent and may never be 100 percent,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said of the first four-year player she’s had at LSU. “But she gives me 100 percent of what she does have. I will forever be a fan of Sheila Boykin.
“Sheila has always had a level of maturity I’ve been fond of, and a toughness with her. She’s a joy to coach.”
Just how many more games Caldwell gets to coach Boykin at LSU will begin to be answered with their next one.
Thanks to Sunday’s 80-63 regular season-ending win over Texas A&M, Boykin and the Lady Tigers earned a double-bye into Friday’s Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinals in North Little Rock, Arkansas, as the No. 4 seed.
LSU (16-12 overall, 10-6 SEC) will play about 2:30 p.m. Friday against the winner of Thursday’s game between No. 5-seeded Texas A&M and No. 13 Auburn, which beat Florida 71-49 Wednesday. That game will also tip off about 2:30 p.m.
Both contests will be televised on the SEC Network.
“Coming into this tournament, the team needs to understand it’s one-and-done from here on out,” Boykin said.
“I’m glad that we’ve turned that corner and are starting to shape ourselves into that team we know we can be.”
Though one of the taller players on this year’s Lady Tigers squad at 6-foot-2, Boykin still doesn’t cut a commanding presence on the court.
Averaging a symbiotic 6.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, ranking fourth and third on the team, respectively, there isn’t a wow factor to Boykin’s game like that of physical All-SEC guard Danielle Ballard or slashing guard Raigyne Moncrief.
But what Boykin gives her team in many ways can’t be measured on a stat sheet, Moncrief said.
“She sets screens, takes charges and helps on defense,” Moncrief said. “She has a basketball IQ that’s out the roof. She’s undersized (for a forward), but she can outsmart you.”
Part of being smart for Boykin is about not overdoing her court time.
She spends a significant part of her off-court time rehabbing with team trainer Micki Collins. Some of her time lately has been spent in a walking boot to protect a heel injury that isn’t related to her illness.
Every time she takes the court, Boykin said she’s reminded how fortunate she is to be playing basketball again, running, not shuffling, pursuing her athletic passions.
“Once in a while, I’ll think back on it and think how I’ve made so much progress since my GBS,” she said, referring to her illness by its shorthand moniker.
Boykin is a practical miracle in motion. And she isn’t close to stopping yet.
“Sometimes I’ll talk to Micki and say, ‘Why are my legs so skinny?’” Boykin said. “And she’ll say, ‘You do realize you had paralysis.’
“It’s taking some adjusting, but in another year or so, I’ll be great. I’ll keep pushing it.”
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.