LSU basketball players Ralston Turner and Courtney Jones will celebrate a short-lived homecoming Thursday when they, along with their respective coaches, stop by Southeastern Conference Media Day in Hoover, Ala., to preview the season ahead.
Turner, a sophomore guard on the LSU men’s team, hails from Muscle Shoals, Ala. Jones, a senior forward for the LSU women, was born in Birmingham and played her high-school ball in suburban Midfield.
Media Day, which features every coach and one player from the league’s 12 men’s and women’s programs, runs from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday at the Wynfrey Hotel. The event serves as the SEC’s unofficial tip-off to basketball season each year.
LSU will have the stage during the second of four interview sessions, beginning at 10:20 a.m.
“It’s an honor being asked to go and represent LSU at SEC Media Day,” Turner said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity and will try to represent LSU to the best of my abilities.”
Turner leads a long list of returning LSU letter-winners after averaging a team-best 12.3 points last year and earning a spot on the SEC’s All-Freshman team. He accompanies fourth-year coach Trent Johnson, who looks to help the Tigers rebound from back-to-back 20-loss seasons.
In the preseason SEC poll released last week, the media picked LSU to finish ninth in the league’s new single-division format.
“It’s not really where you start - it’s where you finish,” Turner said. “Right now, we’re working hard and just trying to work at making a run at having a good season.”
Johnson said despite having a breakout freshman year, Turner recognizes he still has room for improvement.
“He has a great understanding on what he needs to work on and what he needs to do,” Johnson said. “He is going to have a great opportunity for us to go to him often offensively.”
Other key returnees include senior forward Storm Warren and sophomore guard Andre Stringer, who has moved to the outside after starting 30 games last year at the point. Iowa State transfer Justin Hamilton, a 7-foot center, and McDonald’s All-American Johnny O’Bryant join the fold.
Johnson believes he has his most talented team since 2008-09, when he led the Tigers to the SEC title in his first year as coach.
“It is a journey, a struggle about survival, and you need a break here and there,” he said. “The teams that maximize their talents and play to the elite level are the ones that take care of the basketball, they defend and they rebound. When there is a struggle through the course of the year, they stay together as a group. Our league is tough and it is talented. It should be a fun year.”
Nikki Caldwell makes her first trip to Media Day nearly seven months after becoming LSU’s seventh women’s coach. The former Tennessee assistant spent the past three seasons helping build UCLA into a national contender.
When she arrived in Baton Rouge, Caldwell was welcomed by a five-player senior class with tons of big-game experience.
She said she picked Jones to join her in Hoover because the former Alabama Miss Basketball has been one of the team’s hardest workers in preseason drills.
Jones has appeared in 93 games the past three years with 24 starts. She averaged 5.8 points and 3.5 rebounds as a junior, coming off the bench in all 32 games.
“Courtney is someone who represents this program in every facet, someone who I’m looking at as a leader,” Caldwell said.
Other key returnees for LSU include senior forward LaSondra Barrett, a preseason All-SEC selection, and junior guard Adrienne Webb. McDonald’s All-American Krystal Forthan, a versatile 6-4 freshman, is set to make her college debut.
In the preseason SEC poll, the media picked the Lady Tigers fourth behind Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky.
“Starting out fourth in the conference, we haven’t talked about it as a team,” Caldwell said. “It’s just really been about us growing as a unit, and that’s what our focus is going to be the entire year. Because nobody really remembers where you start - they remember where you finish. Obviously, our goal is to finish in that No. 1 spot.”
Caldwell also will make a special appearance and address the crowd at “Live After Five” on Friday in downtown Baton Rouge. Caldwell will take the stage about 6:20 p.m.
Posters featuring the 2011-12 Lady Tigers and Caldwell will be available, as well as Lady Tiger Elite pamphlets for fans interested in joining the women’s basketball program’s official booster club. For more information, visit http://www.liveafterfiveonline.com/.