By RYNE BERTHELOT, Journal Sports
BATON ROUGE – Kim Mulkey wasted no time in building a struggling LSU women’s basketball program back into a powerhouse.
A 26-win season with a second-place Southeastern Conference finish, cheered by crowds routinely over 10,000 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, and national coach of the year honors are testament to the remarkable turnaround in Mulkey’s Year 1 with the Tigers.
The arrow remains pointing up.
For instance, she inked the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class for 2023, complete with Parkway’s Mikaylah Williams, regarded as the top high school player in the nation by ESPN Hoop Gurlz, among others. The Bossier City superstar will be at LSU next season.
The Lady Tigers are ranked in the Associated Press preseason poll for the first time in nine years, coming in at 16th.
Those external expectations are loftier than they were last year, but Mulkey’s kept her head level and clear. Her program’s still very much in a rebuild, so much so that she’s adopted a mantra for the season.
“Our theme for the year is Piece-It-2gether, and the 2 is obviously signifying my second year or our second year at LSU,” Mulkey said recently, pointing at a wristband with the slogan. “We have a lot of talent on the floor, but we’ve got to piece it together. We’ve got kids coming from other programs, high school kids stepping on this college campus for the first time, we’ve got returning players who will have to play different roles, so we’ve got to piece it together, and that takes time.”
Like other collegiate coaches who have been tasked with a rebuild, Mulkey took advantage of the transfer portal. Seven of the 10 non-freshmen on LSU’s roster have played at another program, including Kateri Poole, who was named to the Big 10 All-Freshman team in 2020-2021 at Ohio State. She’s also had experience playing in the PMAC when she logged 10 minutes against LSU during the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season.
There’s Jasmine Carson, a transfer from West Virginia by way of Georgia Tech, who notched 17 points in LSU’s 125-50 win over Bellarmine Monday.
Don’t forget about Alexis Morris, who Mulkey picked up from Texas A&M prior to last season. She averaged 15 points and four boards a game in 25 starts last season.
“Well the transfer portal is just like free agency in baseball,” Mulkey said. “Those guys have somebody assigned to that computer now, right? Every time somebody gets designated for assignment, boom, you pick them up. That’s kind of what the transfer portal is. We stay on top of it. It’s here to stay and we lost a tremendous class of seniors last year with a lot of points and production, so we had to fill a lot of needs.”
Mulkey lost six seniors from last year’s roster, including Khayla Pointer, who left LSU with a laundry list of accolades and records, and left behind big shoes to fill.
That prospect has Mulkey tempering expectations, at least in the early season.
“Last year I inherited a program that won seven ball games. Let me temper it down a little bit: we won 26 basketball games and finished second in the league to the national champions,” Mulkey said. “There is no way that you’re going to stand here today and think you’re going to do even better than that. Not with new faces. We aspire to do that, but I can’t look at a crystal ball and see how quickly we all get on the same page.”
After the 75-point victory margin Monday, the Tigers aim for another blowout tonight as Mississippi Valley visits the PMAC. LSU doesn’t appear to have too many, if any, severe challenges until Oregon State visits just before Christmas, and by then, Mulkey figures to have the pieces in place.
Contact Ryne at email@example.com