Nikki Caldwell ready to take on UT

Nikki Caldwell thinks of Pat Summitt as a mentor, a confidant and a second mother.

Now Summitt, the longtime women's basketball coach at Tennessee, also is the main competition for her former player and assistant coach. Caldwell made her first public appearance Monday as the new women's coach at LSU. After three seasons as the coach at UCLA, Caldwell takes over an SEC program with the resources and apparently the renewed commitment to joust with Tennessee, which has swept the conference regular season and tournament championships the past two seasons.

"Championships are won here,'' Caldwell said. "We want to make sure we're doing our part."

Caldwell is replacing former Lady Tigers coach Van Chancellor, who was reassigned after the season. She received a five-year contract and an annual salary of $700,000. In introducing Caldwell on Monday, LSU vice chancellor and director of athletics Joe Alleva described her as "a star" and "a role model" and said, "This is a bright new day for LSU basketball."

In a UT release, Summitt said that she was "absolutely thrilled" for Caldwell.

"Like any proud mom, she's excited for me,'' Caldwell said. "She's excited I'm back in the SEC."

Summitt said as much on Monday by calling competition "a great thing."

"It's not like we're not going to continue to be great friends,'' she said. "When the game's over, the game's over. Win or lose, we're going to have a great friendship. Whoever gets beat is not going to be happy. You have to move on, learn from it."

During her news conference, Caldwell spoke of going "toe to toe" with a program like Tennessee. Later, she compared her presence at LSU with then-assistant coach Mickie DeMoss leaving Tennessee in 2003 to become the coach at Kentucky for four seasons.

"It's going to be good,'' Caldwell said. "It's going to be an added element of competitiveness."

Caldwell led UCLA to 72 victories and two NCAA tournament appearances. The lure of LSU and being closer to her family in Oak Ridge was irresistible to her. Still, Caldwell, an Oak Ridge High School graduate, said the decision "wasn't easy by any means" and that saying goodbye to the UCLA players left her feeling "very, very torn."

She wasn't alone. Caldwell said that her three assistant coaches - Tony Perotti, Tasha Butts and Stacie Terry - and her director of operations, Pam Walker, will be moving to LSU as well. Butts also is a former Tennessee player while Perotti is a UT graduate and former practice player.

"In order to get a team to become a family,'' Caldwell said, "you better represent it yourself."

Dan Fleser covers Lady Vols basketball. He may be reached at 865-342-6288. Follow him at http://twitter.com/fleserKNS and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/fleser/

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Comments » 24

these_orange_colored_glasses writes:

FIRST!!!!!!.....good luck CNK... you'll need it if you think you're gonna challenge Pat.....

rocky_topper writes:

Maybe not this coming year, but Nikki WILL challenge Pat.

SummittsCourt writes:

I'm sure Nikki will do great things with LSU, but beating Pat Summitt's Lady Vols will be a challenge for her and though she may win a few times, she will not get in Pat's way too often.

VOLinATL writes:

I still think she will be the one to take over once Pat retires...

huntined#565710 writes:

She will be a great coach there and make LSU a hard team to beat again. If our BIGS were healthy we could have won the N.C. this year. Both Cain and Brewer have not been the players they should have been and the reason for that is conditioning that caused the injuries or the injuries caused the conditioning problems. I think the whole season next year rides on their health and play. We have some great help on the way but we will still need for these young ladies to step up.

ROCKYTOPBRAD writes:

she's hot

abnermc writes:

in response to huntined#565710:

She will be a great coach there and make LSU a hard team to beat again. If our BIGS were healthy we could have won the N.C. this year. Both Cain and Brewer have not been the players they should have been and the reason for that is conditioning that caused the injuries or the injuries caused the conditioning problems. I think the whole season next year rides on their health and play. We have some great help on the way but we will still need for these young ladies to step up.

The reason we failed in the NCAA this year is Angie Bjorklund. She disappeared for some reason which has hardly been mentioned.

BBhoops writes:

Since Norte Dame beat Tenn. and Uconn, this has made Skylar very popular. She told the media she had 20,000 more tweets on her twitter page. She was so excited the rap singers, Lil Wayne and Chris Brown, left her a message also.If they beat Texas A/M, I bet Kobe Bryant, Labron James, and Obama will post a comment on her twitter page.

charlyand#601962 writes:

in response to abnermc:

The reason we failed in the NCAA this year is Angie Bjorklund. She disappeared for some reason which has hardly been mentioned.

Maybe Angie would've shot more if she had gotten the ball. She is not the one bringing the ball down the floor and is always covered, but neither girl playing the point looked for her to get her the ball. She was often open on the wing and they just didn't know enough to look for their best shooter. I am so looking forward to seeing a real point guard on the floor at UT. Also, if you noticed, Shekinna only got the ball when she rebounded on the other end and then brought it down herself and shot.

PTC1 writes:

We had to listen about Maya Moore for a long time. So, who will be next? Sylar and her looks beating UCONN & TENN.
or 6'8 Brittany Griner and her dunks?

ladivolfan writes:

you can take the girl out of the SEC but you can't take the SEC out of the girl. Welcome almost home Nikki. Maybe one day you'll come all the way back home.

mnvol writes:

in response to VOLinATL:

I still think she will be the one to take over once Pat retires...

If she continues to be successful, I think you're right.

A lot of people think Holly is the heir apparent, but if she doesn't get some head coaching experience elsewhere she probably won't get serious consideration for an established program like UT's.

vol45 writes:

I think this is great. Many moons ago, I loved in the football programs when they had a page of coaches that had been former players for Neyland. That certainly demonstrates a good program. Not that the ladies program needed any more proof

SoddyVol writes:

Starting with Nikki Caldwell's hire at LSU, Pat will be in tougher recruiting wars next year. In just a couple years (maybe even next year) LSU basketball will provide some of Pats toughest competition. SEC womens basketball is on the rise after a couple mediocre years.

ole3putt writes:

Winning big games against tough opponents starts and ends with guard play. Weak guard play and you lose. Strong guard play and you advance. TN fans with blinders on, cannot see that TN does not have strong guard play. Bigs are okay, but without great guards forget it. Given time, Nikki will out recruit the rest of the SEC, including her majesty. Who do you think was responsible for getting Candace Parker to even consider TN? She almost lived with her for 2 years while recruiting her. Nikki leaves and the big time recruits dry up. She had the # 3 recruiting class coming to UCLA next year had she not left. It would only have been a matter of time before UCLA would have legimately challenged Stanford. She didn't have any scorers this year and you can't win the big ones without a big time scorer.

Jephry writes:

in response to ole3putt:

Winning big games against tough opponents starts and ends with guard play. Weak guard play and you lose. Strong guard play and you advance. TN fans with blinders on, cannot see that TN does not have strong guard play. Bigs are okay, but without great guards forget it. Given time, Nikki will out recruit the rest of the SEC, including her majesty. Who do you think was responsible for getting Candace Parker to even consider TN? She almost lived with her for 2 years while recruiting her. Nikki leaves and the big time recruits dry up. She had the # 3 recruiting class coming to UCLA next year had she not left. It would only have been a matter of time before UCLA would have legimately challenged Stanford. She didn't have any scorers this year and you can't win the big ones without a big time scorer.

Um, hello?!? Can you READ? Even us diehard fans have been complaining and/or fretting about weak guard play since Bobbitt left. Give me a break. I'm glad you're the ONLY one who saw it. Wow, I can't believe you didn't call Pat on the hotline and tell her! Sheesh... Armchair coaches are the best!

At any rate, it's nice to see Nikki back in the SEC, and I'm sure it'll add even more excitement to the LSU series. Still...Go Lady Vols!!!! =)

bamavolfanh writes:

JUST IN....KELLY CAIN WILL FORGO HER LAST YEAR OF ELIGIBILITY BECAUSE OF ONGOING INJURIES. WE WILL MISS YOU KELLY....IF PAT WANTS TOO SHE CAN STILL SIGN 2 MORE PLAYERS BY THE SUMMER (LATE SIGNING PERIOD)

rdberry#654521 writes:

in response to PTC1:

We had to listen about Maya Moore for a long time. So, who will be next? Sylar and her looks beating UCONN & TENN.
or 6'8 Brittany Griner and her dunks?

Griner & Diggins will get their props and deservedly so. However, basketball is a team sport and usually the BEST TEAM wins. Moore & Kemba Walker carried the UCONN men & women as far as they could. Kemba was able to go a little further. When Candace was at UT, she got plenty of help from Hornbuckle and Anosike. Anosike's contributions could never be over-valued since she had to get up in almost everybody's face at one time or another to achieve manimum results. Cain for her sheer size and ability to provide a paint presence will be missed, and it will take a TEAM effort, concerted from the remaining & incoming Bigs to take up the slack!

boogimn3 writes:

Caldwell looks a bit like Carol Peck, and I predict she will have the same luck (bad) against CPS as did Peck at Fla....No excuse, either, since both schools have great recruiting bases...The future? CPS has at least 10 years in her, I don't see Caldwell losing that many years and staying at LSU (again, like Peck)..Maybe she'll pull a DeMoss and return as an assistant in 4-5 years...Then she might get a shot at HC...

BigRMan writes:

I think Nikki has more going for her than Peck did or does. Peck's NC at Purdue in '99 was given to her. She won with Nell Fortner's players(Stephanie White, Katie Douglass & Ukari Figgs) since Fortner took a sybadical to coach USA Women's basketball for the 2000 Olympics. Nikki already had more success at UCLA that Peck ever did at Florida, or Orlando of the WNBA. Both are very easy on the eyes! Nikki will have LSU in the thick of the SEC standings before long!

kazoo writes:

Caldwell is going to start kicking our butt unless PS starts recruiting better and finds a coach who know how to teach good team offense.

PS has got a team loaded with HS stars--but not all high-school players project to being good in college, and it is there, in talent evaluation, where PS has not been strong lately. We are weak at guard--have been for 10 years and that's inexcusable for the premier program in women's basketball. No true starting point guard for three years!? That's crazy. And she has recruited too many big, unathletic players--which is why her last three teams were mediocre defensively.

Summitt also deserves some blame for Bjorklund's flameout in her last two games--which is very unfortunate. PS is clueless, to be candid, when it comes to developing players offensively--it's hard to think of ANYONE who has actually gotten better offensively while at UT, mostly because Summitt puts her "defense or else psychological beatdown on all the players. A coach's most basic job is to get the most out of her players, individually, and as a team--and in the case of Bjorklund, you just can't have one of your best scorers totally disappear in two regional games--unbelievable! Bjorklund is responsible but so is the coach, who HAS to get her players in their comfort zone so that they can play well.

In Pat's defense, Baugh's injury has been very bad luck as with good knees she has definite All America potential. She's got one year left and maybe she will be healthy next year--would make a huge difference.

BigRMan writes:

Bjorkland disappeared too often in the last 2 tournament games. She is not projected to be in the first round as a draft pick by any WNBA team. I don't think she will be as good a pro as Shauna Zollman. Bjorkland will have trouble making a WNBA team. She may be a late second or third round selection.

VolNExile writes:

in response to BicardiRum:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

* yawn *

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