There’s a game the Lady Tigers play sometimes.
They sit around sophomore center Yasmine Bidikuindila while she says common phrases in one of the five languages she speaks — her native French, Spanish, Haitian-Creole or Lingala, a common tongue from Bidikuindila’s parent’s home of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Plenty of her teammates are able to get some of the Spanish words, she said, while London native Shanice Norton can guess a few of the French words, having grown up a short train ride from the country.
No one comes close to guessing any Lingala.
The rest of the team may not know as many languages as Bidikuindila, but the Lady Tigers are closer to an international program than a local one.
With Bidikuindila — originally from Montreal — and Norton, when LSU takes the court at Texas Tech on Thursday at6:30 p.m. it'll have more foreign-born players on the roster than players from the state of Louisiana.
Not including New Orleans native Rakell Spencer who is ineligible to play this season due to NCAA transfer rules, LSU does not claim a single player from its home state on the roster. And if it weren’t for the addition of assistant coach Mickie Demoss last season — a native of Tallulah, Louisiana — there wouldn’t be any Pelican State natives on the coaching staff, either.
Coach Nikki Fargas, a native of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, has never put a massive priority on recruiting in-state talent, instead looking for the best players she can find regardless of location.
If that means there’s another Seimone Augustus sitting at Capitol High School in Baton Rouge, great. But if Fargas has to go to Texas or Florida or even over seas, that’s what she’ll do.
In her seven years as head coach at LSU, the Lady Tigers have never had more than four in-state players on the roster and two or fewer in their ranks four times during her tenure.
“I take a kid, not because their zip code,” Fargas said. “I take a kid based on their character, based on their love for the game. Are they going to be a great teammate? What’s their work ethic going to look like? Are they going to be great ambassadors to LSU?
“If it matches up and you’re from here, that’s great, too. But I don’t ever want to pit one over the other.”
By comparison, every other team in the Southeastern Conference this season claims at least one in-state player, with Missouri, Alabama and Tennessee also claiming a Louisiana native, as well.
But Fargas is also seeing a shift in the way most programs recruit, going from local to more national and international with the increased access to recruiting tools and resources like the AAU circuit.
“You used to play just for your state,” Fargas said. “Now kids can go to states and they’re getting exposure to other programs through there AAU circuit or getting exposure to other states.
“Do you have that kid that says, ‘I want to play for my state school’? I can go recruit you and sit on you and go to all your games and call you and text you, but if you’re like, ‘I love being on the East Coast because I played with this other AAU organization.’ You’re battling that.”
Fargas feels LSU hasn’t lost much of the elite talent from the state.
The only major miss she singled out the last few years was Baylor center Kalani Brown from the 2014 class.
Brown is currently third in the nation with 24.2 points per game.
Fargas also noted Louisiana native Jenna Deemer would be with the program had she not left due to illness last season.
“I see the level of talent in Louisiana on an uprise,” Fargas said. I think there’s some very talented young players that we are honing in on. There’s some players that have a strong interest in LSU from our state that we are hopefully going to add to our roster in the next year to two years.”
During Fargas’ tenure, she’s had players from Japan, Denmark, Australia and now Canada and England. LSU also had players from 12 different U.S. states.
Norton’s recruitment to LSU wasn’t anything special, playing at the Potter's House Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Florida, since she was 16 years old.
The difference was, until Fargas offered her a scholarship, Norton had little idea how scholarships and getting to play college ball worked. She only knew it’s what she wanted.
Bidikuindila came via her brother’s recruitment to LSU while she played in competitive amateur leagues in Canada.
Once on campus, Fargas likes the idea of creating a melting pot of cultures and backgrounds.
Bidikuindila and Norton potentially have more in common than players like Raven Farley and Tatum Neubert who couldn’t be from more opposing backgrounds, Farley from big city New Jersey and Neubert from small town Colorado.
It can be bumpy at first, but eventually everyone comes around.
“I find it to be a little easier because they have a common goal and they know they’re from far away and know there isn’t any other option but to gravitate to each other,” Fargas said.