Lady Tigers Make Impact On, Off Court in Spain
MADRID – Somewhere in a country of 47 million people, shirts with L-S-U across the chest are being worn by Spanish natives. Twelve days ago, the athletes donning them proudly now probably never heard of a university in Baton Rouge, La., or knew that its mascot was a tiger.
That changed in 48 hours. Scoreboards and box scores aside, the impact the LSU women’s basketball team made during its 12-day journey through Spain has a global reach and will forever be a memory for those 10 student-athletes who wore the LSU uniform and those opponents who have a new team to cheer on in the United States.
The Catholic University of Murcia, situated on the Southeastern coast of Spain, was defeated by a combined score of 180-63 in two exhibition games. Never has a scoreboard been so irrelevant to a cause. A young group of Spanish women got to learn what LSU stands for both and off the court. On the court, it was discipline, physicality, coachability and unselfishness. Away from the court, even after both teams represented different countries, there was sportsmanship and friendship.
LSU left an indelible image for Murcia and its players gravitated to it. The style of play and discipline is where they aspire the Spanish game to be. It was something the head coach of Murcia preached to his players following the games.
When the final horn sounded, the two teams traded shirts in what was a Spanish tradition. LSU players took home Murcia uniforms, and Murcia players immediately put on their LSU basketball shirts on their home floor.
Their eyes lit up when they received the purple and gold shirts. Murcia players then took photos with their favorite Lady Tiger they were having to guard throughout the game. LSU players signed autographs. It was a scene usually only reserved for the USA Basketball teams that play in international competitions.
A little over an hour after the games ended, tweets and new followers started rolling into the official LSU women’s basketball Twitter handle (@LSUwbkb). They were from the Spanish natives in attendance and even the players and coaches themselves. One read (translated in English), “Nikki Caldwell, you and your team have shown a great example of education sports and human values.”
Another one read, “What a great LSU team, and No. 11 (Raigyne Moncrief) is fantastic.” Finally a tweet from the Murcia head coach was “thank you coach and LSU. You deserve all the best.”
Chema Gomez, a Murcia native, assists the Murcia’s coaching staff and has coached youth basketball in Spain for 20 years. He knew LSU well before the Lady Tigers stepped into the Murcia gym. From 2008-10, Gomez was part of a teacher exchange program in the United States. His residence during that time? North Louisiana. Gomez was at Logansport High School and even made it down to Baton Rouge for games against Southern Lab.
“Having been in Louisiana, you know about LSU basketball both men and women’s teams,” said Gomez. “We are so pleased and thankful to have them here. It’s like Real Madrid coming into our gym. Personally, it’s a gift to have them here. I have seen the campus and been in the Maravich Center. It’s an amazing place.”
Gomez said the Spanish team was impressed by LSU’s style of play and the discipline the Lady Tigers take the floor with.
“We lost the games, but it was a great experience for the team. It’s the next level – LSU – of how we want to play in Spain. It will take time. What surprises me most of LSU is the attitude, the work ethic and the great fundamentals. That’s what it takes to get to that level. With that attitude and work ethic it’s possible.”
For head coach Nikki Caldwell, foreign trips with her teams have been routine throughout her career as a player, assistant coach and head coach. There is a level of appreciation to experience a new culture and develop team chemistry before the season starts.
In Caldwell’s freshman season at Tennessee, the Lady Vols went on a foreign trip and then won the 1991 national championship seven months later. As an assistant at Tennessee in 2004, Caldwell and then UT player and current assistant coach Tasha Butts took a foreign trip and later reached the national championship game that spring.
“We got to visit a country that allowed our kids to become more educated about the culture of Spain,” said Caldwell. “From Barcelona to Madrid, each city had an impact on each one of our players. It was really neat to meet other people from the United States on this trip. To see how they reacted to LSU on our chest, that’s special. We are doing things the right way and exposing our team to greater things.”
Senior guard Jeanne Kenney is entering the final year of her LSU career. She’s been a vocal leader and helped mold the chemistry of a team that is poised to take the next step from a recent Sweet 16 appearance.
“It was so amazing to learn and see everything,” said Kenney. “We are so blessed to be able to have gone and I thank our coaching staff and administration for that. You won’t get a better experience than this. Our team was wonderful. We won three games, but more importantly we learned a lot about our team and a great culture. I am excited about the future of this program and the season ahead.”
Practice begins September 30.