You will get no empty boasts from LSU men’s basketball coach Johnny Jones or women’s coach Nikki Caldwell about their teams being ready to challenge Kentucky’s men and women for the Southeastern Conference regular season titles this season.
Even if they’re unlikely to be crowned champions — UK’s teams are favored in both sports — that doesn’t mean that Jones’ Tigers or Caldwell’s Lady Tigers can’t have an identity.
Asked Thursday during Southeastern Conference Media Day in Hoover, Ala., what he wanted fans to leave games saying about his first LSU team, Jones replied: “(that) they’re one of the hardest playing teams in college basketball.
“That’s one of the things we want to make sure we have an impact on. With that, you want to make sure they understand we’re going to try to execute to the highest level.”
Caldwell goes into her second season at LSU trying to forge toughness in her team with practices that will make games seem like play by comparison.
“Practice has been very competitive,” Caldwell said. “We established that day one to make sure our team understood the tempo and pace we need for them to be ready for Wichita State on Nov. 11.
“It will be a tough road ahead of us, but one that we all need to welcome.”
The road starts for the LSU men after their Nov. 9 opener against UC Santa Barbara.
The Tigers open with six straight home games, then face a strenuous three-game road trip in December to Boise State, UC Irvine and Marquette.
“Unfortunately some of the schedule was done prior to our arrival,” Jones said with a chuckle, “but it’s one that we embrace and look forward to the challenge against some really good basketball teams.
“The big thing is we have to get off to a great start. We have to find out more about our basketball team. When you have challenges on the road, like at Marquette and Boise, the big thing is you want to get your team ready for a strong conference. We have to make sure we grow up quick.”
An LSU men’s roster that includes only 11 players is naturally going to present unusual challenges.
One of them is having 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Johnny O’Bryant III play in the low post after losing center Josh Hamilton to the pros, robbing O’Bryant of some of his creativity around the basket.
“Johnny’s been really good,” Jones said. “The role that he’s been thrust into with Hamilton leaving, Johnny is that post guy we’re going to look too now. I think he’s welcomed that responsibility.”
The responsibility of generating more offense with the up tempo style Jones plans to employ will fall to the backcourt duo of junior Andre Stringer and sophomore Anthony Hickey. They are the Tigers’ top two returning scorers, Stringer having averaged 10.1 points per game last season and Hickey 8.9.
“The great thing about Anthony is he had the opportunity to be thrown into the fire last year and played a lot of minutes,” Jones said. “Anthony has had to step up and show some leadership qualities and he has really embraced that in a short time.
“Andre Stringer ... is a guy that we want to make sure we look at this year as well. So our backcourt in those two guys will be really important to us.”
Caldwell plans to run her team through senior shooting guard Adrienne Webb, the Lady Tigers’ top returning scorer with 8.9 points per game.
“She’s not only our best player but is our hardest-working player,” Caldwell said. “When you have that combination, you definitely have something special.”
After becoming a mother for the first time in March, Caldwell said she definitely goes into this season with a new outlook on her craft.
“Not that I didn’t realize this, but they (the players) are somebody’s child,” Caldwell said. “Now having my own, I’m going to make sure that I do everything in my power to make sure that my daughter (Justice) grows up to be a coach’s dream.
“After a long day of meetings, practices and trying to get your team to play at a certain level of intensity, and maybe practice isn’t as good as you want, but when you go home you leave all that and check it at the door. It definitely gives me an opportunity to put things in perspective.”
The LSU men are slated to scrimmage this weekend against an undisclosed opponent. The Lady Tigers will play the first of two home exhibition games at 7 p.m. next Thursday against Xavier of New Orleans.