The most popular player on the court Wednesday night doesn’t have any records or national accolades. She won’t even be a starter for either team.
She’ll just have the entourage of a player who does.
LSU junior Tatum Neubert will have her own personal cheering section when she returns home to Colorado this week as LSU (1-1) takes on the University of Northern Colorado at 8 p.m. just 90 miles north of Neubert’s home town of Elizabeth, Colorado.
Her parents are driving up, her grandparents are flying in, even her former high school team is loading up the bus to cheer on the Lady Tigers — or at least a Lady Tiger.
“It’s really rare I get to go home and play, being in the (Southeastern Conference),” Neubert said. “But I’m really excited. it's going to be a fun game.”
But those are just the outside factors to why Neubert is excited for this game.
The real reason the 6-foot-2 forward can’t wait for tipoff is because, not only does she get to play in front of all her family and friends, but she gets to do so at full strength, something she hasn’t been able to claim for the past two years.
When she first arrived to Baton Rouge, Neubert had to sit out the first year due to NCAA transfer rules.
She knew that would be the case, though, when she originally decided to leave Oregon after her freshman season and could mentally prepare herself.
What she couldn’t prepare for was the news she’d have to sit out once again, this time for a torn ACL.
That’s the one that really hurt.
“I had redshirted the previous year, so when I tore my ACL getting ready for the season I was going to play, it was kind of a heart break,” Neubert said. “But I was really, really motivated to play. I think that’s what made my rehab so much easier for me. It was a really difficult process, but I was really driven to do it.”
Fortunately the injury happened before the season when she could receive surgery and rehab her knee in time to return for part of the season, which she did about 10 games into the year.
But no matter how long it had healed, she never felt completely healthy last season.
Despite LSU desperately needing her height — only three NCAA tournament teams had fewer players over 6-foot — Neubert only averaged just 10.1 minutes through 21 games. Only two players averaged less time on the court.
She just wasn’t ready.
“There’s times when that knee talks to her a little bit,” said coach Nikki Fargas. “So that injury part is always going to be something we keep a close eye on. There’s times when we’ve had to pull her and make sure we’re not doing anything that’s a set back.”
Neubert still has the surgical scars on her right knee, but assured she feels “more like herself” than she did even before her surgery.
Neubert started the Lady Tigers’ season opener at South Florida — her first collegiate start, either at LSU or Oregon — but only played 12 minutes. She played the same amount against Southeastern Louisiana on Sunday.
She has two points, two blocks, two assists, two rebounds this season.
“I like the fact she’s everyday getting those reps and getting practice, just getting those minutes are going to help because she only played half a season last year,” Fargas said. “She’s really young in the basketball world as far as experience on the court.”