Ready to lead

On March 25, 2006, all seemed well once again for LSU basketball. The Tigers had just beaten Texas in overtime of the Atlanta Regional final, putting the Bayou Bengals back into the Final Four for the first time since 1986.

The memories of the run remain etched in the minds of fans across the country.


The group had a youthful exuberance to them, showing that teamwork and chemistry could carry a team to ultimate heights.


There was Glen "Big Baby" Davis, who dropped his only three pointer of the tournament from the top of the key as overtime ran on; giving the Tigers the spark they needed to hold off the Longhorns.


There was Tyrus Thomas, the youthful freshman who coming off a season plagued by injury would jump to the headlines of the collegiate scene in just a few months, even earning the honor of the Region's Most Outstanding Player.


As the party went on, with purple and gold boas around the necks of the players as they danced on the courts in Atlanta as if they were in the French Quarter, one man more than likely went unnoticed to the national public amidst the celebration.


LSU fans, of course, had an eye on Darrel Mitchell the entire time.


Mitchell, the only senior on the team, had been keeping the Tiger's focused and poised throughout the season.


When the draft laid claim to Davis and Thomas, LSU looked to rebuild with more talent in the paint.


With Mitchell's graduation, however, the Tiger's lost not just their steady point guard play, but the team's leader on the court.


The Tigers moved on, but the following season saw little growth as the team had no senior leaders to rely on during the long haul.


When the Tiger basketball program decided that a change in regime would help right the ship, Brady was replaced by Trent Johnson.


Most importantly for Johnson as he enters his first season as head coach is a pair of Tigers that are ready to step into the role of leader, the same role Mitchell filled during the Tigers' run in Atlanta.


"Coach has done a great job of reaching us," said senior guard Garrett Temple. "He didn't have much time, but he has done a great job of talking to us and knowing how to give support."


Temple, whose last name alone tells the tale of his ties to the Tiger program, admitted it was tough moving past Brady, someone that he knew as the LSU head coach for most of his life.


With Johnson coming to town, however, the transition has been easier than expected for the Baton Rouge-native.


"He has been fair," said Temple, who averaged 6.4 points and 3.6 assists a game last season. "He talks to us and asks us our opinions, but it's his way. We are seniors, and we have one year left, but this is a long term deal. As seniors we need to be able to lead. Knowing we have been here three years and changing is going to be difficult. But everyone is on the same page. I am just trying to do whatever it takes to win."


One addition to the team that should help Temple in that quest is junior forward Tasmin Mitchell, whose injury sidelined him all but three games last season.


"It means a lot to get back out there," Mitchell said. "I was out nine months, and it was heartbreaking. I took it as a chance to learn a lot through observing, though. I am always a student of the game. I am going to make mistakes, but not the mistakes that I have seen."


As for Mitchell making the transition to a new coaching staff, the redshirt junior forward said that his ability to become accustomed to his surroundings has helped expedite the process.


"The absence made it easier to adapt to a new coach," Mitchell said. "I was coached by Brady, but then Butch [Pierre] took over and I wasn't really coached by him. But I am the kind of guy that can adapt, so it was easy to adapt to coach Johnson.  He is all about business, and we needed that with the direction the program was going. "


As for the outlook on the season, Mitchell, who averages 12.8 points and 5.8 rebounds over his career, is remaining grounded.


"I would just like to see us come together as a team and win," Mitchell said. "Bring the tradition back to LSU basketball. We went to the Final Four, but we had team chemistry. We loved one another, and we went out there and fought for each other. I think we are getting that back slowly but surely. I think we have the potential, but I am a realist. You have to crawl before you walk. We are in a new environment with new coaches, and so far we are doing a good job adapting to it."


Temple's goals for the team, however, have a more concrete outlook as he prepares to move from point guard to an off-guard spot for his senior year.


"I think we can win the west," Temple said. "I realistically believe that because of the new coach and players. If we buy into his system, we can win the west and make a great run in the NCAA tournament.


"And it is great getting Tasmin back," Temple added. "He is the workhorse. Having him there brings the toughness to the team, like having a big brother back you up."


Temple also echoed Mitchell's sentiments on restoring the pride in LSU basketball.


"Coach Johnson is trying to change this program's perception, because it is a football school," Temple said. "But during the days of '81, '82, '83 and '84 people were lined up outside waiting for tickets to the next day's game. Coach Trent Johnson is the guy who will bring it back to that."

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