With trip to Spain looming, Lady Tigers get back to work

Photo courtesy LSU athletics -- Coach Nikki Caldwell leads her team in practice Friday. Show caption
Photo courtesy LSU athletics -- Coach Nikki Caldwell leads her team in practice Friday.

Theresa Plaisance had never been out of the country before she went to Russia last month for the World University Games.

She came back with a gold medal that she helped Team USA win, but she won’t have long to admire it. Plaisance and the rest of the LSU women’s basketball team will be leaving Aug. 11 for an 11-day, four-game exhibition tour of Spain.

“Being able to go overseas and experience that culture is phenomenal,” she said Friday. “I’m looking forward to playing in Spain with this group and growing a lot closer.”

Coach Nikki Caldwell also was overseas last month, serving as an assistant on the gold medal-winning USA Basketball team at the women’s Under-19 world championships in Lithuania. It has been her goal to take a team to Europe since she became LSU’s coach three years ago.

The NCAA allows teams to make overseas exhibition trips every four years, with a maximum of 10 practices ahead of time. Those began Friday.

“I hope our team appreciates how privileged we are to have an administration that allows us to take this trip,” Caldwell said. “I also want to put our players in position to bond as a team. It’s important to have cohesion and to have a chance to start that at an earlier date.”

The Lady Tigers will practice seven more times before leaving Aug. 11 for Barcelona. The team will play four exhibition games during their 11-day tour — two against Spanish collegiate teams and two against the national team of the Netherlands.

LSU lost only one starter, senior guard Adrienne Webb, from last season’s team, which went 22-12 and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008.

Plaisance returns for her senior season as an All-America candidate after leading the Southeastern Conference in scoring last season at 17.0 points.

Other returning starters include senior guard Jeanne Kenney, senior center Shanece McKinney and sophomore guard Danielle Ballard, a freshman All-American.

The Lady Tigers will take 10 of their 13 players to Spain. That list includes junior forward Sheila Boykin, who missed the final third of last season after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome.

Caldwell said Boykin won’t be able to play and she still doesn’t know when she will be able to return to the court, but Caldwell sees it as a positive that she was allowed to travel. Doctors prohibited Boykin from traveling with the team last season after the diagnosis.

“She’s done a great job developing her stamina,” Caldwell said.

“We’re looking for her to be a coach on the sideline and stay involved that way.”

Two of LSU’s players not making the trip are transfers who must sit out this season: guard Akilah Bethel from West Virginia and forward Ann Jones from Memphis. Another transfer, junior college guard DaShawn Harden, is eligible to play this fall but hasn’t arrived on campus yet.

Kenney said the prospect of a deeper, stronger team has her excited to get her senior season started early — even just for practice.

“I’m looking forward to finally getting on the court together,” she said.

“We really have something special this year.”