HOOPS PREVIEW: The 2006-07 LSU Tigers

Is that tapeworm still hungry? The image of Glen Davis giggling into the CBS cameras that LSU "has a tapeworm and it needs to be fed" still remains as vivid as the Tigers' magical run to the Final Four a year ago.

"I don't really know what that meant, but it sounded like it worked at the time," said LSU coach John Brady. "That was just young people having a good time."


There were plenty of good times for Brady and the Tigers last year.


LSU capped off an SEC Championship season with a march through the NCAA Tournament, landing in the national semifinals. The Tigers and fans alike will choose to remember the run itself instead of the way it ended – a 59-45 loss to UCLA.


But in all, the 2005-06 LSU Tiger basketball season is one that will be remembered for many years to come. An SEC title, 27 wins, a Final Four; this all from a program once mired down with NCAA sanctions and scholarship limitations. The Tigers rose to the top of the basketball world and will open the 2006-07 season ranked in the top 10.


But the success wasn't exactly a surprise to Brady.


"It has given us the credibility and the respect that comes from doing something significant like that," Brady said. "I don't think all of a sudden I was a better coach. I think we did change some things over the last couple of years. This wasn't something that just all of a sudden happened. It has been going on the last couple of years."


Brandon Bass kicked off the growth period in 2003, and Glen Davis' arrival in 2004 jump-started the youth movement at LSU. Many think Bass made a critical mistake in leaving early for the NBA. Davis didn't make the same mistake, deciding last summer to stick around another year.


"Glen's going to come back and do it one more time," Brady said. "He's gathered all his information and he feels that's the best thing for him. He's got my total support in that."


And on Davis' return hinges the success of this Tiger basketball team.


The reigning SEC Player of the Year, Davis averaged 18.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore. And as gaudy as those numbers were, nothing was bigger than Davis' personality as LSU marched to the Final Four last season.


"Glen expressed himself in a good way. It was great that people got to see the personality of our players and the quality of the group of guys that we actually did have," Brady said. "They had fun with it along the way, and I think that is what made it so special because of the good time we had along the way."


While Davis chose to return to LSU, another player from last year's championship team had no other choice than to toss his hat into the NBA ring. Tyrus Thomas, the SEC Freshman of the Year last season, was projected as a top-five draft pick. The redshirt freshman from McKinley High had no other choice than to declare.


Thomas was taken fourth overall in the 2006 NBA Draft.


"All that is positive to me," Brady said. "We can show it when we recruit that players can come here, develop, get better and go to the next level. And I promise you that is what every player at this level wants to do – play at the NBA level. We have produced several players that have gone to the league and a couple of lottery picks. Those are all good things."


The good thing about Thomas' leaving for the NBA is that the cupboard isn't bare, much the way it was in 2001 when Stromile Swift was taken as the second overall pick. Brady and lead assistant Butch Pierre have done a fantastic job recruiting, and the Tigers are as deep as ever in the frontcourt.


Playing alongside a much trimmer Davis will be 6-10, 215-pound Magnum Rolle.


A rangy player much like Thomas, Rolle played sparingly last season but has gained weight and is projected to fit nicely into the four spot for the Tigers.


Darnell Lazare has been a role player throughout his career and will serve in that capacity again this season. The only senior on the team, the 6-9 Lazare had the biggest game of his career last season coming off the bench to score 10 points in the first half in the Sweet 16 win over Duke.


"You have Glen, obviously," Brady said. "Then there is Darnell and then Magnum. It all just depends. It isn't as important as to who starts as long as they all get significant minutes and are comfortable with the position they have on the team and when they are in the game they make quality contributions."


Also expected to contribute is 6-11 sophomore center Chris Johnson.


In the backcourt, LSU loses the greatest three-point shooter in school history in Darrel Mitchell. But returning starters Garrett Temple and Tasmin Mitchell, a couple of transfers, and the return of Tack Minor should make up an equally talented and versatile backcourt.


"We have to make up for the loss of Darrel Mitchell," Brady said. "But with the improvement of the players coming back plus the addition of Dameon Mason and Terry Martin, we have a chance to be good again."


Brady said he likes the quality of players LSU has playing the one, two and three positions; however, the Tigers do not have the three-point threat they had with Mitchell.


"I don't know if anyone shoots it as well as Darrel Mitchell right now," Brady said. "If we have a weakness, that would probably be something that we are going to need to work on and pay attention to. We don't have that guy right now."


Minor, Mason and Martin can all play the point, as can Temple.


"They are kind of all over," Brady said about the LSU guards. "Garrett can play a couple of positions. Dameon can play two positions. Terry can play as many as three positions. We have some flexibility there."


Tasmin Mitchell is going to be called on to improve on his 11.4 points per game from a season ago, and Minor, who can be streaky as a shooter, will be looked on for offense as well.


"We are going to need about eight or nine guys to achieve success or equal the success we had a year ago," Brady said.


The schedule presents several challenges as Brady has upgraded the opposition from years past. The Tigers host Connecticut, Texas A&M and Wichita State, all of which were NCAA Tournament teams from last season. Also, LSU travels to face Texas, Oregon State and Washington. In SEC play, the Tigers will host defending national champion Florida.


"The schedule sounds like a guy who has a lifetime contract, which I don't have," Brady said. "But I told the media last year that we were going to upgrade the schedule and pursue it, but in the end if it didn't work out, we were going to go back to playing people you had never heard of."


Brady added that ESPN has contacted LSU about College Gameday visiting Baton Rouge for that Jan. 6 matchup with the Huskies.

"We have some landmines on that schedule that some people don't think that will be that tough," Brady said. "Then there are the obvious ones that are quite good."

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