It's not a picnic (despite having one) for Nikki Caldwell

SEC commissioner Mike Slive on Pat Summitt

Before the games begin, there's been some fun and games for LSU's players under first-year women's basketball coach Nikki Caldwell.

The Tigers have played whiffle ball and gone on a bike ride to the state capitol, finishing with a picnic.

"We've done a lot before we got on the basketball court to insure our relationship with our players,'' said Caldwell at SEC Media Day on Thursday in Birmingham, Ala. " ... Those are the things that will make the adjustment a little easier for them."

Caldwell, who replaced Van Chancellor at LSU this spring, appreciates the importance of this process. She introduced herself three years ago as the new coach at UCLA.

"You're always going to face the challenge of making sure that they understand who you are,'' said Caldwell, a former player and assistant coach at Tennessee. "They're having to learn a whole new staff, the personalities. They're having to learn philosophy, something as simple as terminology."

LSU forward Courtney Jones described Caldwell as "a fireball" and knows her new coach well enough by now to realize that practice won't be any picnic.

"A couple of times, we tried to persuade her to get out of running, conditioning,'' Jones said. "She won't budge."

Junior Achievement: Georgia coach Andy Landers thinks that his team is headed in the right direction, and he gives the credit to a junior class that's swelled to eight players strong with the addition of three junior college transfers.

"We're starting to reap the rewards of changing a culture that had slipped a little bit,'' Landers said. "Practices are off the charts again — really hard, real intense, a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of energy. No complaining. The dressing room is good. It's a fun place to be."

Georgia, which has averaged 24 victories the last two seasons, was picked by to finish second in the SEC and is No. 13 in the preseason AP poll.

Players In: Alabama has added three junior college All-Americans: guard Meghan Perkins, guard Jessica Merritt and center Kyra Crosby. ... Mississippi State freshman guard Kendra Grant already has been tabbed as a replacement for departed senior Mary Kathryn Govero, State's second-leading scorer last season. ... Caldwell is optimistic about the potential of 6-foot-4 freshman forward Krystal Forthan, who has high school All-American credentials. "The game doesn't know her age," Caldwell said. "That's all I can say about her." ... Arkansas guard Lyndsay Harris, who suffered a knee injury during the SEC tournament last March, is expected to be back for the season's start.

Players Out: Alabama forward Keneisha Horn is out for the season with a torn ACL. Morgan Toles, Auburn's starting point guard last season, has left the program. ... South Carolina freshman guard Shelbretta Ball has been medically disqualified by the school

Notebook: Kentucky guard A'dia Mathies said that the aggressive, pressing Wildcats want to be "the most dreaded team in the nation.'' ... Vanderbilt has developed a modified practice regimen for center Stephanie Holzer, who has been hampered by injuries throughout her career. ... Ole Miss point guard Valencia McFarland, who stands 5-foot-4, set a Mississippi state high school record by high jumping 5-7. ... Alabama has moved its home games back to Foster Auditorium, where the team played 20 years ago. The facility has undergone a $16.56 million renovation.

Dan Fleser covers Tennessee Lady Vols basketball. Follow him at

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Comments » 1

BruisedOrange writes:

In this politically correct world, probably nothing illustrates what a genuinely good guy Andy Landers is than that he could say, without creating controversy: "The dressing room is good. It's a fun place to be."

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