e_SDLqIt’s almost intoxicating at times. It just overwhelms you in a great way to know you helped bring this little life into this world, that she is somebody, and she’s going to be amazing.” nikki caldwell, LSU cooach
It’s the offseason for women’s basketball, but for Team Justice, life is still rocketing along full throttle.
LSU coach Nikki Caldwell is spending her first Mother’s Day with her soon-to-be 10-week-old daughter, Justice Simone Fargas. It’s a landmark date spent on the move.
Caldwell, Justice and Nikki’s mother, Jean, were in Los Angeles late last week, where Nikki’s longtime boyfriend, Justin Fargas, was receiving his degree from Southern California. Fargas played for the Trojans before embarking on a seven-year NFL career that ended in 2009.
“She did great on the flight,” Caldwell said of her baby girl. “I’m very proud of her. But as I’ve said, she’s been flying for a long time anyway.”
This week there is another flight: It’s off to Colorado Springs, Colo., to begin work as an assistant coach for this year’s USA Basketball under-18 team, which competes this August in Puerto Rico in the FIBA Americas U-18 championship.
And, oh, yes, Caldwell is doing all this on crutches. She underwent surgery May 1 for a ruptured Achilles’ tendon she suffered last month in a pickup basketball game. That means at least a couple more months off the beloved high heels Caldwell had to give up late in her pregnancy after nearly taking a tumble during a Super Bowl Sunday home game against Kentucky.
Despite those complications in her life, Caldwell could hardly sound happier.
Yes, her injury has forced her to lean on Fargas and her mother more in terms of caring for the baby. And she’s quick to note that her staff has yet to step in and volunteer to change any diapers.
But the fulfillment of a long-term desire to be more than just a surrogate mother to the young women she coaches but a mother in her own right dulls the hectic rush and pain she is currently experiencing to an acceptable background hum.
“It has been everything I thought it would be times 100,” Caldwell said. “You can’t plan for it. I’ve got nieces and nephews and I’ve been around babies, but when you have your own, it’s a totally different ballgame.
“It’s almost intoxicating at times. It just overwhelms you in a great way to know you helped bring this little life into this world, that she is somebody, and she’s going to be amazing. You have this joy in your heart, because she’s mommy’s little angel.”
When she returns to Baton Rouge in August to begin preparing for her second season at LSU, Caldwell knows her perspective will have changed because of the little person now in her life who insists on outgrowing all the purple-and-gold outfits family and friends and Lady Tiger fans have showered on them.
“She puts everything into perspective for me, Justice does,” Caldwell said. “Just in realizing and knowing our student-athletes are somebody’s daughters, too. I’m sure I’m going to be more patient. I’m learning a different kind of patience caring for an infant.”
LSU assistant coach Tasha Butts, who has been with Caldwell since she, too, was a player at Tennessee, told ESPN.com recently that being a mother has brought out a softer side in Caldwell that she rarely lets people see.
But if anyone thinks Caldwell is going to lose her edge, that motherhood will melt that steel rod of determination she acquired competing in sports with boys growing up in Oak Ridge, Tenn., or playing under the icy glare of now former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, Justice’s mom has news for everyone.
“My competitive spirit is always on full,” Caldwell said. “I definitely feel like my competitive spirit will probably go up even more, because I want to be the best I can for her. I want to provide the best opportunities that will be out there.”
Caldwell said she has been gratified by the response from LSU supporters in the wake of her first child — she doesn’t rule out the possibility that she and Fargas will have another.
“People have sent cards and gifts and well wishes and congratulations,” Caldwell said. “It’s been very loving, and people have been very generous with their time and asking about her. Every day, if I see someone, it’s, ‘How is Justice doing, and oh yeah, mom, how are you?’
“It’s been great. When I do take time away from her and go to the office, someone has something. The community here and fans have been very, very special.”
Those times away from Justice are as infrequent as possible — Caldwell said she was having baby withdrawals during her Achilles’ tendon surgery. There may be times that USA basketball will keep them apart this summer, but only to an extent. She already knows the strength of their mother-child bond.
“She’s making me a better person every day,” Caldwell said. “Through motherhood, I carry that with me. I know, as a coach, she’s making me better, too.”