DEVILLE: Tigers paving their own Glory Road

It seems a bit cliché to say a sports movie can inspire an athlete to excel on the field or court.

But, I know the first time I ever saw Rudy, when they carried Sean Astin off the field, I wanted to call the registrar's office and see if I had any college eligibility left.

 

How many times have you been on the golf course and put yourself in the same situation as Roy McAvoy in Tin Cup on the 18th hole of the US Open?

 

Admit it. You protested vehemently in anger when young Pete Maravich's game-winning shot was waved off by the referee at the big game in The Pistol.

 

Sports fans everywhere have anxiously awaited the release of Glory Road, the true story of coach Don Haskins and Texas Western's improbable run to the 1966 national title against basketball giant Kentucky.

 

(By the way, Glory Road was filed on the LSU campus).

 

Maybe coach John Brady was looking for a little inspirations for his LSU Tigers team.

 

"We went and watched the movie Glory Road as a team and they loved it," Brady said. "I don't know if that had anything to do with our team playing well tonight, but they had a good time and enjoyed it. It was one of those team-building things that can carry over."

 

Whether or not the movie inspired the team or not, the Tigers played inspirational basketball beating a good Tennessee team 88-74 Saturday night at the Maravich Center.

 

A week removed from a one-point loss at No. 2 Connecticut, LSU seems to have put its five losses (by a combined 11 points) in the past. The Tigers went on the road and beat Arkansas then down the Vols to open SEC play with a 2-0 record for only the second time in Brady's nine years in Baton Rouge.

 

Speaking of clichés, one often used adage is that a team gets better when playing a tougher schedule. Brady definitely beefed up the Tigers opposition this season, slating games at West Virginia, Ohio State and UConn, but the veteran LSU coach isn't ready to buy into the hype just yet.

 

"Ask me the first week of March," Brady said. "I don't know about those things. Everybody says the schedule pays dividends, I don't know about that, but it may. We are 2-0 (in the SEC) right now and it seems to be that way. But it is a long season. We have 14 more of these (SEC games) left. I have seen it change quickly for the better and for the worse. Let's just ride this thing out and then we'll see what this schedule did for us later on."

 

While Brady is remaining cautiously optimistic, one thing is for sure, the Tigers might only be 10-5 on the year, but it has been an exciting 15 games so far.

 

"Darrel Mitchell told me our pre-conference schedule was the most excited he has been playing against the teams we have played," Brady said. "Even though we lost three of the close one to ranked teams and won one, he said it was the most excited he has been about playing here. Hopefully, it will show up and help us and make us tougher and closer."

 

Losses are losses anyway you figure it, and while a portion of a fanbase already wanting to give Brady the boot has been agitated with several near-misses by the Tigers this year, the narrow defeats have been much more than moral victories.

 

"It gave us a lot of confidence, particularly with young players," Brady said. "If we would have lost five games by 11 points with four seniors on the floor and a junior, I would be a little concerned with our team and its decision making. But when you are playing three and four freshmen at a time and you are able to play teams like we have and how we played them, it gives our team confidence and that is what it did."

 

Speaking of freshmen, the Tigers are getting the bulk of their productivity from the frosh.

 

At one point in the second half of the Connecticut game, all five players on the floor were freshmen – against the No. 2 team in the nation! Against Tennessee, there was a span in the second half where LSU sported four freshmen on the floor.

 

"We were able to play four freshmen on the floor at the same time without Darrel Mitchell, which is a very positive thing for our team to be able to do," Brady said.

 

One of the biggest (and most pleasant) surprises of the season has been redshirt freshman Tyrus Thomas. After sitting out his first season out of McKinley High School, Thomas has emerged as arguably one of the nation's top freshmen. He was a rebound and a blocked shot away from LSU's first triple-double since the days of Shaquille O'Neal.

 

Some experts say Thomas could be a lottery pick in the first round. While he does possess the traits the NBA looks for with good height and the ability to jump out of the gym, Thomas, while unworldly athletic, is still raw and needs polish.

 

Like the NBA cares though.

 

At any rate, Thomas, alongside sophomore big man Glen Davis, bought back memories of LSU's SEC title team of 2000 with Stromile Swift and Jabari Smith.

 

"Tyrus Thomas and Glen Davis are very good together," Brady said. "They seem to remind me at times of Stromile (Swift) and Jabari (Smith) and how well they played together and how well they got along. That is a very good thing for our team."

 

So, pardon the cliché, are the Tigers headed down their own Glory Road?

 

Only time will tell, but with a weak SEC slate ahead and a team brimming with confidence (and talent), LSU could be on the way to their own glory.

 

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Matt Deville is the editor of Tiger Rag. Reach him at matt@tigerrag.com.


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