Like football, LSU hoops is sleeping giant
April, 11, 2012
By David Helman | ESPN.com
BATON ROUGE -- On Tuesday, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported that Memphis coach Josh Pastner had not contacted LSU about its men's basketball coaching vacancy.
The story refuted an earlier report that Pastner had reached out to LSU to inquire about the opening. But what Pastner never said was that he wasn't interested.
It would be unwise to put words in the third-year coach's mouth, but it takes a certain level of employment to simply shrug off the thought of coaching in Baton Rouge.
Admittedly, LSU's basketball program has been dormant for much of the last 20 years, with a few exceptions in the form of a conference title and Sweet 16 appearance in 2000, a 2006 Final Four run and an unlooked-for 2009 SEC championship. But Pastner, and any other coach linked to the vacancy, has to be aware of the elements in place at a school like LSU.
For starters, there's money -- and not just money to pay a salary. LSU operates one of a mere handful of profitable athletic departments in the nation, posting a profit of nearly $10.5 million in 2010-11, according to a report by BusinessofCollegeSports.com, which uses Department of Education figures. The university is proud to point out that it boasts one of two public school athletic departments in the nation that doesn't take any state aid.
Simply put, LSU has the money to compensate its future coach handsomely, and to make sure the program goes where it needs to. The proof of that is located right behind the PMAC, where the school spent roughly $14 million on a new basketball practice facility, equipped with state-of-the-art locker rooms, training rooms and two practice gyms.
None of that even accounts for the exposure that comes coaching in the soon-t0-be 14-team SEC. Granted, the main reasoning for the SEC's monstrous television contract with ESPN is for football. It doesn't change the fact that the Tigers were on television 24 times during the recently completed season, with six of those games being national broadcasts.
Not that it would weigh heavily on the minds of most coaches, but there is also tradition to consider. LSU isn't what's known as a traditional basketball power. But its 10 SEC championships, 20 NCAA tournament appearances and four Final Four trips are nothing to scoff at. The Tigers' list of all-time greats -- such as Shaquille O'Neal, Pete Maravich, Chris Jackson and Bob Pettit -- stacks up favorably with almost any program in the nation.
Then of course there's the advantage of geography. Louisiana is usually considered more of a hotbed for football recruiting than basketball, and for good reason. But the state produces plenty of basketball talent in its own right, be it current NBA players like Glen Davis, Brandon Bass, Tyrus Thomas, DJ Augustin, Greg Monroe, or all-time greats like Karl Malone or Pettit. Even this season, current Baylor commit Ricardo Gathers from LaPlace, La., who Trent Johnson couldn't manage to bring on board at LSU, ranks No. 36 in the ESPN 100.
The state produces talent.
On top of that, the Tigers could enjoy the same benefits in basketball recruiting that they do in football -- perhaps moreso. To put it simply, there isn't another powerful basketball program within several hundred miles of LSU. The nearest SEC powerhouse to Baton Rouge is Florida, which is 600 miles away. Texas and Texas A&M sit relatively nearby at 350 and 450 miles away, respectively. But that raises another football-related point -- the state of Texas and all of its talent sit at LSU's doorstep.
If all of this is starting to sound familiar, it should. These are all factors that made LSU football an appealing destination, despite the fact that the football program had been mired in mediocrity and inconsistency for decades. All it took was the right hires, and in just more than a decade LSU has grown into one of a handful of programs that dominate the sport.
The same could happen for LSU basketball. All the tools are in place. And that's something that should command the interest most elite coaches.