Nikki Caldwell has appeared on billboards, made the rounds for various speaking engagements and, in general, spent the past six months as the face of LSU women’s basketball.
Thursday afternoon, the new Lady Tigers coach had her first practice.
The team worked out for two hours at the LSU practice facility, mixing the usual shooting, running and sweating with plenty of smiling and laughing.
The Lady Tigers, as they enter a new era in their proud program’s history, are clearly ready to let the good times roll.
“It’s a new season, a fresh start,” sophomore guard Jeanne Kenney said.
Caldwell, who has been a blur of busy activity since leaving UCLA in April to take the LSU job, plans on having the Lady Tigers play the full-court, up-tempo style she brought with her from the West Coast. That means more running and more conditioning.
But Caldwell seems to be equally bent on cultivating team chemistry. On making sure her players have fun.
Back in the spring, Caldwell led the Lady Tigers on a bike ride from LSU to the State Capitol.
Tuesday, she introduced them to the “Tiger Olympics,” a field day of sorts that pitted 13 scholarship basketball players in schoolyard-like competitions. If the Lady Tigers weren’t racing piggyback or flipping tires, they were pulling blocking sleds or hustling through egg-in-spoon races.
“We’ve done a lot of things outside of basketball I know will help us on the basketball court,” Caldwell said.
Thursday’s practice offered its share of interesting twists as well.
Caldwell had the Lady Tigers dribble up and down the court wearing goggles, a ploy that blocked the players’ view of the ball in case they were tempted to look down. She had them step into the lane, one by one, and practice taking charges from LSU assistant coaches and members of the all-male scout team.
At one point, Caldwell unveiled a mirror.
She approached each player with the mirror. She asked that player to grade her effort by signaling thumbs up or thumbs down.
“Girls love to look at themselves,” Caldwell joked. “Anytime we’re late, as all you men know, it’s usually because we’re in the mirror.”
In reality, she said, it’s all about self - reflection.
“The mirror is a direct reflection of who you are,” she said. “Only you know if you’re trying to do your best.”
Caldwell officially begins her first season Nov. 14 when LSU, with five seniors among 10 returning letter-winners, opens at Wichita State.
She has about five weeks to get her team ready.
“I think she wants to bring the fun atmosphere,” senior forward LaSondra Barrett said. “But also, kicking butt at the same time.”