LSU coaches Trent Johnson and Nikki Caldwell stopped by Thursday at Southeastern Conference Media Day in Hoover, Ala., to talk about their respective basketball teams and to preview the season ahead.
Johnson was joined by sophomore guard Ralston Turner, the player representative for the LSU men. Caldwell brought along senior forward Courtney Jones, one of five seniors on the LSU women’s team.
Every coach and one player from the SEC’s 12 schools made an appearance at the day-long event.
“Just being here talking to you guys is unbelievable,” Jones said. “You guys come with the hard questions, and I try to come back with the best answer possible. I enjoy talking to you guys and just expressing my love for my team and how we compete every day.”
Jones, a Birmingham native, helps lead an LSU team that returns 10 letter-winners and includes McDonald’s All-American Krystal Forthan among three newcomers. The Lady Tigers barely missed the NCAA tournament last season, snapping a 12-year streak of Big Dance appearances.
Enter Caldwell, who is back in the SEC after spending three seasons building UCLA into a national contender.
Caldwell enjoyed a standout career at Tennessee in the early 1990s and later spent six seasons as an assistant at her alma mater. She took over at LSU in April and has been busy trying to get the Lady Tigers accustomed to her up-tempo style.
“Obviously, there is a great respect for all the teams in this conference,” Caldwell said, “but at the same token, I want our team to understand that no matter who you play, at their place or at our place, there is a way we play this game. If they can understand that, then to me, that fuels that competitive greatness that lies in all of us.”
In the preseason media poll, the Lady Tigers were picked fourth behind Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky.
They officially begin the Caldwell era when they travel to play Wichita State on Nov. 14, but LSU fans can get an early look at the Lady Tigers when they face Xavier-New Orleans in a Nov. 2 exhibition game at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
The LSU men look to turn the corner in Johnson’s fourth season at the helm.
Coming off back-to-back 20-loss seasons, the Tigers include Turner, senior forward Storm Warren and sophomore guard Andre Stringer among a long list of experienced returnees.
Johnson said the addition of Iowa State transfer Justin Hamilton, as well as freshmen Johnny O’Bryant, John Isaac and Anthony Hickey, will provide LSU the kind of versatility his team has lacked in recent seasons.
“Practice has been good,” Johnson said. “The intensity level has been very good. There are times where we’re getting something done and times where we’re not, but this is a basketball team that shows glimpses of having a chance to play fast, having a chance to play slow, being very, very balanced and being a team. I think we’ve got the ingredients and the makeup to be a solid basketball team this year.”
LSU was picked ninth by the media in the SEC’s new single-division format.
No. 2 Kentucky, No. 7 Vanderbilt, No. 10 Florida and No. 17 Alabama are ranked in the ESPN/USA Today preseason coaches poll. Mississippi State is receiving votes.
“On paper, we’re really deep,” Johnson said of the league. “When you look at where Florida, Kentucky and Vanderbilt are ranked and then you look at Alabama and Mississippi State, I think there’s no question this league is talented and there’s some great coaches. From top to bottom, it’s probably as talented as it’s been since I’ve been here.”