Nikki Caldwell is, she demonstrated Thursday, is intense.
That was the outlook at LSU's basketball media day Thursday. Johnson, the men's coach coming off back-to-back last-place SEC finishes, seemed genuinely optimistic. Caldwell, the first-year women's coach, gave anecdotes of her toughness with her players.
For Johnson, the optimism came from having "a situation where we have enough talent to compete," he said.
That's a departure from the last two seasons, both 20-loss campaigns where the Tigers either were too young, or lacked the numbers to compete over a long haul.
This year, LSU has experience within the program with nine players back who were in the program last year, including three who have been in the program at least two seasons. That experience, plus a recruiting class anchored by forward Johnnny O'Bryant, perhaps the most highly-anticipated recruit of the Johnson era, has the fourth-year coach feeling better about his team's chances.
"I feel good about where we're at," said Johnson, who is 49-49 entering his fourth season at LSU, including a first season where he won the SLC championship.
The signing of O'Bryant was one reason for optimism, as was the late signing of point guard Anthony Hickey, a highly-touted Kentucky Mr. Basketball. Also, there was a 6-0 early summer trip to Italy where Johnson said his team "learned how to win." And it doesn't hurt that, unlike the last two years, LSU finally enters a season where it has a fair number of players who have been around the program.
But not all was perfect in the LSU off-season. Wings Aaron Dotson and Matt Derenbecker left the program, leaving LSU thin at the position. Johnson said he'll try to compensate for the losses by moving Andre Stringer, last year's starting point guard, to shooting guard, despite standing just 5-foot-9. Also, 6-9 junior Eddie Ludwig moved from power forward to small forward during the Italy trip, another move to give LSU depth on the wing (Ludwig, Johnson said, can also play inside).
They'll compete for minutes with sophomore returning starter Ralston Turner and 6-3 true freshman John Isaac. Ronald Martin, a freshman defensive back on LSU's football team, will join the fray, but not before football season is over.
"As long as we stay healthy, we should have enough there," Johnson said.
Johnson seemed unconcerned about the lack of backcourt size LSU will have if Stringer starts next to point guards Hickey, who's 5-11, or 6-foot senior Chris Bass.
"(Stringer) has been small all his life," Johnson said. "He's small, but he can cause problems."
The small backcourt is offset by an increasingly large frontcourt. Iowa State transfer Justin Hamilton, a 7-footer, will make LSU bigger inside because he allows both 6-9 senior Malcolm White and 6-7 senior Storm Warren to move to power forward, the natural position for both, Johnson said.
LSU also has legitimate size in O'Bryant, who at 6-9, 262 pounds was a Parade and McDonald's all-American during his senior high school season.
Potentially, LSU can have a lineup with three front court players 6-9 or taller (with Ludwig at the three and White at the four) and the 6-6 Turner at the shooting guard.
Conversely, LSU can start a small lineup that includes Stringer at shooting guard, Warren at power forward and Turner or Isaac at small forward.
"The key," Johnson said. "is versatility."
For Caldwell's Lady Tigers, toughness seems to be the name of the game.
The former UCLA coach, whose team has been practicing since last week, said "we're trying to get them to practice with an intensity they're not used to."
LSU went 19-13 last year, 8-8 in the SEC ion the final year under now-retired coach Van Chancellor. Caldwell inherits 10 letter winners, including three starters, from that team.
Caldwell, who guided UCLA to a 72-26 record in her three years in Westwood, obviously wants to improve on that through a more aggressive approach.
She talked about challenging senior LaSondra Barrett to step up her game, telling her "I've coached a Wade Trophy winner (Candace Parker, while Caldwell was an assistant at Tennessee in 2008) and you're not it," Caldwell told the media. It wasn't a slam on Barrett, Caldwell said, but a effort to get the senior to raise the level of her game.
She talked about practicing in intense, four-minute spurts. And she talked about finding pleasure in not having to kick players out of practice -- not until earlier Thursday that is.
So the story goes, Caldwell was unhappy with the intensity at practice and had her players do jumping jacks to get them used to the notion of having "active hands," on defense.
One player did not do jumping jacks -- "I had warned them," Caldwell said -- and Caldwell showed her the door for the rest of the day.
Evidently, having to kick out just one player so far is a good sign to Caldwell, who implied she's not afraid to send a player to an early shower for a lack of effort.
She said she won't praise players for "doing what they are supposed to do," and said it would take six weeks before she started singling out stronger performers because she needed a long stretch of consistent performance to judge somebody by.
"I'm not as worried about the size of a player as I am by the size of her heart," she said.
She hopes the consistent intensity will lead to a style of play that includes an up-tempo, pressing style. "Organized chaos," is what she called it.
And with the end of media day, LSU's basketball teams returned to practice and likely out of the spotlight for a while as the school's top-ranked football team continues to toil toward its goal. But baksetball won't stay out of the spotlight for long.
The women will host an NCAA regional first-and-second round this year. The men have an opportunity to play in New Orleans for both the SEC tournament and, in what at this point seems nothing more than a wild dream scenario, the Final Four.
Asked about the spring showcase for basketball coming for Louisiana, Caldwell said something that spoke for both coaches.
"We have to take care of our business now to play in March," she said.