PRODUCTS: Stromile Swift (Shreveport, 1999-2000), Brandon Bass (Baton Rouge, 2003-04), Glen Davis (Baton Rouge, 2004-), Tasmin Mitchell (Denham Springs, 2005-)
Did it all start with Neon Bodeaux? In 1994, Western University coach Pete Bell made a recruiting trip to Algiers, La., and discovered Bodeaux, a 7-foot-1, 300-pounder, dominating a pick-up game in a strange, shack-like gymnasium. Bodeaux had supposedly spent time in the Army and, despite being freakishly athletic, had never played organized basketball. "He's totally raw," Bell's talent scout, Slick, said of Bodeaux. "He's never been coached."
Bodeaux also didn't really exist: He was a character in the "dark-side-of-college-hoops" film Blue Chips, played by a young Shaquille O'Neal. Shaq was New Jersey-born and Texas-raised, but two years before his silver-screen debut in Blue Chips, he was an All-America at LSU -- the school that has enjoyed recent success on the strength of the real-life prospects that the mythical Bodeaux represented: The big men of the Bayou.
Tigers associate head coach Butch Pierre, whose in-state recruiting efforts have been chiefly responsible for developing the "Homegrown LSU Big Man" prototype, did not have to scour shanty-courts in Algiers to uncover his team's current star, the 6-9, 310-pound Glen Davis, who was named the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2004-05 after averaging 13.5 points and 8.8 rebounds. "Big Baby," as Davis is called (he arrived as a 368-pound freshman) attended high school at the LSU Laboratory School -- which, as its name implies, is located on the LSU campus. "My kids go to school there," Pierre says, "and when I'd drop them off, I'd see Glen practically every day."
The lineage of local frontcourt players at LSU would likely not exist if a Shreveport phenom named Stromile Swift had not taken a chance on Pierre and first-year head coach John Brady in 1998, when the Tigers were struggling through their fifth consecutive losing season and facing NCAA sanctions from the Lester Earl scandal (in which Earl had received $5,000 in improper benefits under previous coach Dale Brown). Swift, a 6-9 McDonald's All-American who was being pursued by powers such as Arizona, Georgetown and Arkansas, "chose to stay at home when the program needed him in the worst way," Pierre says. Brady showcased Swift as the "quick forward" in his motion offense, and Swift helped lead the Tigers to a Sweet 16 in 2000, won the SEC Player of the Year award and became the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft.
Pierre says while other schools were recruiting Swift as a power forward, the Tigers' "quick forward" concept -- the opportunity to not be locked into the post, and touch the ball away from the basket -- was attractive to both Swift and future recruits, "who saw the way Stromile was playing, and knew, that at the next level, it was going to help their stock."
Three years after Swift left for the NBA, Pierre convinced a 6-7 Baton Rouge prospect named Brandon Bass, who attended the same high school (Capitol) as Lady Tigers star Seimone Augustus, to pick LSU over UConn and Kentucky, among others. Bass, another a McDonald's All-American, was named the SEC Freshman of the Year in his first season, and then in '04-05, the SEC Player of the Year, before bolting to the NBA this offseason. His absence paves the way for Davis (also a McDonald's All-American) to put up bigger numbers with his newly svelte frame, and for Pierre's latest recruiting gold-strike, Tasmin Mitchell (yet another McDonald's All-American) to step into the starting lineup. Mitchell, a long, 6-7 athlete who can play either the 3 or 4 positions, fits both the quick-forward mold as well as the homegrown prototype: He played his high school ball in Denham Springs, a 20-minute drive east of the LSU campus.
And while he didn't attend high school with Pierre's children, Mitchell may be more closely connected to the Tigers' recruiter extraordinaire: Via a family friendship; he is Pierre's godson. It is, actually, starting to become a big-man family in Baton Rouge.