When it comes to laying down the law or coaching basketball, LSU first-year assistant coach Cherie Cordoba is highly qualified on both counts.
A native Australian and former police officer in Adelaide, South Australia, Cordoba has injected energy and enthusiasm into the program that is off to a 14-4 start and 4-2 in SEC play coming off Sunday’s 65-59 victory against No. 11 Kentucky.
It’s a vast improvement from last year’s disappointing 16-13 overall and 7-9 conference finish. It hasn’t all been about Cordoba’s “good cop” role, but the experienced Tigers team has welcomed her enthusiasm, as well as her Aussie accent.
“I’ve never had a coach like her before,” said senior guard Jaelyn Richard-Harris, with a broad smile. “She’s very passionate, always positive. She makes the game fun for the guards. She believes in us more than we believe in ourselves.
“It’s always, ‘OK, mate...’ she ends everything with mate. ‘You’ll hit the next one mate. You have to believe it mate.’ I am so glad she’s a part of the program. Much credit to her for the success of the guard play.”
Cordoba replaced Tasha Butts, who spent eight years on the LSU staff before leaving for Georgia Tech.
“Coach Cherie has a funny way of coaching us, different from Tasha Butt who we were used to. Bringing a different style. She’s funny, really encouraging. We’re still learning about her but have developed a bond that’s really close.”
That’s what coach Nikki Fargas was looking for the former UNLV star who spent five years as an assistant at Buffalo and helped coach the Australia entry in the World University Games last summer.
“She’s someone I enjoy going into the office with; our entire team does,” Fargas said. “Having that type of positive energy has been very good for our team.
“She’s a different voice and she brings a wealth of knowledge to our team. She’s showcasing work ethic in scouting and the work on the court.”
Cordoba said she couldn’t be happier.
“I’m living a dream, living in America and feeling fortunate to be at LSU,” she said. “For Nikki to call me and to land a job here, I really am happy and want to do whatever needed to win. When I was contacted and asked if I wanted to talk to her I was like, ‘Hell, yeah.’ ”
Cordoba came to America to play guard at UNLV, where she still holds the season records for steals (129) and 3-point shooting percentage (45.6) and the single-game record for steals (11). She’s one of four players in school history to have at least 100 steals and 11 assists in a season.
She moved on to a pro career in Australia and Europe before returning home, where her thrill-seeking nature led her to enter the police academy and serve as a constable from 1997-2000, where she dealt with every sort of crime, including murders.
“Where I was stationed was the extremes of the city,” she said. “You have to fulfill your ‘book’. You can’t progress in your career unless you do three of every crime. I got through a lot of it before many from my academy class.
“I saw enough that it did change me; it made me grow. I was fortunate. I wasn’t in long enough to get tainted. I saw the good and bad. It helped me in building who I am.”
Cordoba jumped back into overseas pro ball until an offer as an assistant coach from her alma mater came along. Initially, she turned it down but after suffering a knee injury a week later, she called back and accepted.
“At first I thought, ‘I’m never coaching,’ but after the injury I’m like, ‘Hey, hey, hey, how about that job?’” Cordoba said. “I loved UNLV; it was pretty cool to coach there. It got me back to the states and I’ve been here since then.”
Cordoba, who spent two years at UNLV, Hofstra and Indiana before Buffalo, works primarily with guards and brings a particular affection for the 3-point shot, something that hasn’t been an LSU strength. The Tigers are last in the conference in 3-point percentage at 24.4.
“It’s part of our game that is sadly missed,” Cordoba said. “Can we develop it? Of course. I’m a big advocate of getting in the gym. I believe you can be a naturally good shooter but you still have to work at it. If we can knock down a few a game, it will open it up for the bigs.”