“That’s what we truly feel is going to make the difference with our team this year, is how tight we are and how together we play.” Nikki Caldwell, LSU women’s basketball coach
LSU women’s basketball coach Nikki Caldwell held her daughter, Justice Simone Fargas, as she answered questions from reporters Tuesday after her team’s first practice of the season.
“Say hi,” Caldwell told Justice, days away from turning 7 months old.
The baby girl smiled and giggled.
Caldwell brings her first-born child around so much that Justice may soon become known as the unofficial mascot of Lady Tigers basketball. But the second-year LSU coach has reasons for that other than showing off.
In sharing a love for the program’s newest addition, Caldwell believes her players will also learn to share a greater love for each other.
“That’s what we truly feel is going to make the difference with our team this year, is how tight we are and how together we play,” Caldwell said. “We’ve obviously got to play like we have each other’s back. As family members, that’s what we do.”
The Lady Tigers are not a big family.
All-Southeastern Conference forward LaSondra Barrett and four other seniors are gone from a team that went 23-11 last season, advancing to the championship game of the Southeastern Conference tournament and the second round of the NCAA tournament.
So is former McDonald’s All-American forward Krystal Forthan, who left the program after averaging 5.7 points and 3.1 rebounds as a freshman.
Forthan orginially landed at West Virginia, but quickly announced she was giving up basketball to focus on a career in modeling. She is, however, currently listed on the Utah roster.
That leaves LSU with 10 players — five below the NCAA limit.
“I don’t feel as though 10 people will hurt us unless — knock on wood — we lose somebody to injuries,” Caldwell said. “Our training in the preseason is going to allow us to run up and down the floor.”
The Lady Tigers welcomed the official start of Caldwell’s second season Tuesday with a two-hour workout on the Pete Maravich Assembly Center’s main floor.
A year after entering 2011-12 with a new system to introduce and her first child on the way, Caldwell said it was smoother sailing this time around.
“I felt like the team took what we wanted to do, and we drilled and we executed, and we saw some good things from a lot of different people,” she said.
Caldwell expects to see many good things from senior Adrienne Webb and junior Jeanne Kenney, veteran starters who return to lead an experienced backcourt.
She also likes what she sees from her three freshman newcomers.
Caldwell said 6-foot-4 center Darreyal Younblood, whose nickname is “Tank,” will give LSU a presence on the inside it didn’t have last season. Danielle Ballard and Kuaneshia “Coco” Baker are skilled ball-handlers who will allow Kenney, a natural shooting guard, to play off the ball.
Webb and Bianca Lutley are the team’s lone seniors and will be counted on to provide leadership.
“We’re finding that people are really raising their game, whether it’s being a leader, being more vocal, being better on the defensive end, or being that offensive threat we need,” Caldwell said. “It is about the 10 people on this roster. We’re going to focus in on each other.”
LSU opens the season at home Nov. 11 against Wichita State.