BATON ROUGE – Four months removed from the program’s first NCAA Sweet 16 appearance since 2008, LSU head coach Nikki Caldwell put the new-look Lady Tiger basketball team through the first of eight up-tempo practices prior to an exhibition tour of Spain on Friday at the LSU Basketball Practice Facility.
Three freshmen, going through their first collegiate practice, met with members of the media as did senior leaders Theresa Plaisance and Jeanne Kenney. LSU is gearing up for a tour of Spain beginning August 11 where the Lady Tigers will play four exhibition games in cities from Barcelona to Valencia.
Under NCAA guidelines, teams are allowed to take a foreign trip once every four years and practice no more than 10 times prior to that trip. With momentum already established from last spring’s Sweet 16 appearance, the Spain trip gives LSU an advantage of getting experience on the court before the official start of practice in October.
“I think it’s imperative that you have cohesion, and we’re able to start earlier as far as practice while traveling (to Spain),” said Caldwell, who enters her third season with the team. “International competition, we can really look at that as a positive, being able to play teams that maybe run a different style, and also we’re going to be scouting these teams, so there may be certain things that we can take back as a coaching staff that we can apply to our team.”
The Lady Tigers went through a two-hour practice on Friday and will meet again through the weekend. LSU will dress nine players for the trip as junior forward Sheila Boykin recovers from Guillain-Barre syndrome she sustained last season. Boykin, however, will join the team at all practices and make the trip overseas.
Kenney has played a pivotal role as a mentor for the three freshmen this summer, going through intense workouts and even boxing programs that will make LSU one of the fittest teams in the country. The three new faces -- Raigyne Moncrief, Jasmine Rhodes and Rina Hill – are extremely quick on the perimeter and are swift learners.
“We have had our individual groups that we’ve been with and bonded with, and I’m so excited to get on the court,” Kenney said. “I’m excited to get out and start practicing with these girls because we really have something special this year.”
“I can tell that our team has worked extremely hard this offseason,” added Caldwell. “The veterans have helped guide our newcomers. We didn’t miss a beat as far as our tempo and intensity in the first practice. I am extremely excited about the future of our program because this is a very special team.”
Caldwell and Plaisance are no strangers to international basketball. Both experienced USA Basketball gold medal journeys last month and the two shared their stories with members of the media on Friday while also going through a photo shoot with the gold medals.
Caldwell was an assistant coach on the winning USA U19 team last Sunday at the FIBA World Championships in Lithuania. Plaisance was a starting forward on the World University Games team that won gold in Russia.
“I definitely felt as though this summer I had an opportunity to hone in on my scouting,” said Caldwell. “I have brought back some of the action that they ran. How sharp and crisp Japan is in warm-ups, their passing, their ball handling. Those are things that we’re going to implement and focus in on our team.”
“Being able to make the team was quite an honor,” said Plaisance. “Playing with those girls, it’s another level of play. You have to bring it every single day, every practice because they’re fighting for the same spot you’re fighting for. The experience was phenomenal.”