Team preview: LSU

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

It was a sight to behold. LSU had just beaten Texas in the NCAA Tournament's Atlanta Regional for its first trip to the Final Four in 20 years, and there was Glen Davis -- all 6-foot-9 inches and 300-plus pounds of him and a yellow feather boa draped around his neck -- along with teammates Tyrus Thomas and Tasmin Mitchell, dancing for joy on the floor of the Georgia Dome.

The uninitiated among the press corps taking in the spectacle had to ask. What was that crazy move? Turns out it couldn't have been more appropriate. In New Orleans, when a brass band throws down a tasty groove in a parade or funeral, it's traditional for onlookers to break out dancing behind it in a so-called "second line." The stuff the Tigers strutted was celebratory, to be sure, but it was also a tribute to the Hurricane Katrina-battered city of New Orleans.

"We're not from New Orleans so we don't know to do it great, but we tried to do it the best we can to represent the people of New Orleans," Mitchell said of the Tigers' attempt at second-lining. "We've had some hard times. A lot of people lost their lives. A lot of people lost their homes. We just want to bring the area some excitement and bring some good back home to Louisiana."

Davis, Thomas and their teammates had come a long way in seven months. In August, the Tigers witnessed first-hand the fury of Katrina when their own gym became an impromptu triage center for hundreds of injured New Orleans residents. The LSU players, most of them Louisiana natives, pitched in as best they could. Davis unloaded trucks, helped carry patients on stretchers and even held an IV bag as doctors worked frantically to save a man's life.

"One of his lungs had collapsed," Davis said, recounting the story for the media at the Final Four. "He couldn't breathe. You could see him struggling for air. … It makes you appreciate life at a younger age. You think about the choices you make in life. You want to make sure you go out the right way."
Perhaps the Katrina ordeal had nothing to do with the Tigers' run to the Final Four. Or perhaps, as Mitchell and many of his teammates told the media, the tragedy of Katrina propelled them on a mission.

Whatever the reason, the Tigers ended a frustrating string of early-round postseason tournament ousters in dramatic fashion. The year before they had fallen victim to a pressing UAB team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. In 2004, they were bumped from the first round of the NIT by Oklahoma. In 2003, LSU was pounded by Purdue, 80-56, in the first round of the NCAAs.

LSU got past its first round game against a tough Iona team through the sheer force of senior guard Darrel Mitchell's will. The Tigers trailed at halftime, and Mitchell had a message for his teammates when they got to the locker room.

"I'm not going out like this again," Mitchell shouted.

Inspired, LSU went out in the second half and put the game away. Mitchell was also responsible for the Tigers' second-round victory with a dramatic three-pointer in the closing seconds to beat Texas A&M.
From there it was on to Atlanta, where first Duke, and then Texas were vanquished. A team that started three freshmen and a sophomore had done what few would have thought possible before the season began.
Or maybe Brady had an idea. Well before the start of practice last October, he knew he'd have to adjust his coaching style in order to get the most out a team that, despite its youth, was extraordinarily talented.

"I made a real commitment to be more positive," he said.

Brady's commitment was put to the test several times, but his Dr. Phil approach worked to perfection, all the way to the Final Four. And even though the Tigers lost to UCLA, ending their dramatic run, the season was one for the ages. That image of exultant young men dancing on the floor of the Georgia Dome has become as much a part of LSU basketball lore as Pete Maravich's floppy socks and behind-the-back passes and Shaquille O'Neal's dunks.