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One long, hot summer in Baton Rouge -- that’s what it took for Teresa Plaisance to change everything. Some extra sweat and dedication took the LSU junior from the bench to her current status as one of the best players in the Southeastern Conference.
But first, let's rewind. About this time last year, the Tigers suffered a disappointing second-round loss in the NCAA tournament to Penn State. That’s when head coach Nikki Caldwell had a heart-to-heart with her 6-5 post player.
“Coach pulled me in the office right after we lost out of the tournament last year, and she told me that I was going to have a huge responsibility on my shoulders -- that I was going to be the go-to post player,” said Plaisance about the gut check she received from Caldwell.
Plaisance, a 2010 McDonalds All-American who guided Vanderbilt Catholic High School in New Orleans to its first state championship, arrived on the LSU campus as a highly-touted top-50 recruit. The two-time Louisiana Gatorade Player of the Year was signed to the Tigers by former head coach Van Chancellor.
That first year things didn’t go as Plaisance expected. She hardly saw the floor her freshman year, averaging fewer than five minutes of playing time. Her sophomore year wasn’t much better; Plaisance averaged just 4.5 points and two rebounds, as she adjusted to the coaching style of new head coach Nikki Caldwell, who took Chancellor's place at the helm.
On top of last season’s early tournament loss to Penn State, the Tigers would graduate five seniors, leaving a dearth of veteran leadership looking ahead to this year's squad. That’s when Caldwell rang Plaisance's bell.
“I really accepted that challenge and took it to heart,” said Plaisance.
What happened in that meeting changed everything. Plaisance worked out every day all summer. She hit the weight room, gained muscle, worked on ball handling, worked out with post coach Tony Perotti, spent hours on the “Gun” improving her shot and constantly played pick-up.
“I never worked this hard in my entire life,” said Plaisance with a sense of pride in her voice.
Over the summer, the rising junior also had another coach in her corner -- her mom -- DoBee Plaisance, the head women’s basketball coach at Nicholls State University. She’s a passionate no-nonsense kind of coach who built Loyola into an NAIA national power before taking her first D-I one job at Nicholls in 2009. Since then, the elder Plaisance has since guided the Colonels to their best record in 39 years. DoBee and Theresa Plaisance are part of a small sorority -- D-I players with moms who are D-I coaches (Baylor's Kim Mulkey and daughter Mackenzie Robertson round out the current active membership of the club). As a coach and as a mom, DoBee been giving Theresa gut checks for years.
“I knew she was working out really hard, but whatever the coaches at LSU had her doing, I told her to do more,” said DoBee about the encouragement she gave her daughter. “I told her, ‘Get up more shots. Run further. Work harder in the weight room.'”
“I don’t think I will ever be tough enough for her,” Theresa said, with a laugh, of her mother's high expectations. “But this year, my mom has really been that positive moral support.”
DoBee told her daughter the hard work would pay off when she saw herself announced on the JumboTron as a starter.
Sure enough, when the 2012-13 season opened, the impact of the summer of sweat was immediate. Plaisance earned a spot in the Tigers' starting rotation and from day one has led the team in scoring (17.4 ppg), rebounding (8.3 rbg) and blocked shots (2.7 bpg). Her time on the playing floor skyrocketed to 31.7 minutes per game. She finished the season atop the conference standings in blocks, was second only to Tennessee's Meighan Simmons (17.6 ppg) in scoring, and was hovering near the top of the conference leaderboard at the No. 4 position in rebounding.
With her size and athleticism, Theresa quickly established herself as one of the toughest players in the league to defend. She has guard-like ball-handling skills, can knock down the three, has a mid-range face-up game and can battle in the low block with her back to the basket.
“She’s had a break-out year; we couldn't be more thrilled,” said DoBee about her daughter. "As a parent, I'm thankful that Coach Caldwell gave her the confidence to become the player I always knew she could be."
“She really took the off-season seriously and really decided -- and made the choice -- to come back and be the player that we needed her to be,” said Caldwell of the improvement in Theresa's game. “She’s definitely put our program back on the map nationally.”
At the beginning of the season, the Tigers were picked to finish eighth in the conference and weren’t part of the national conversation. But as the season went along, the Tigers gained momentum, and from February through March launched a seven-game win streak that landed them in the Top 25 for the first time of the season, as they picked up wins over nationally-ranked Georgia (62-54), then-No. 7 Kentucky (77-72), and, in the regular-season closer, then-No. 14/16 Texas A&M. LSU carried that momentum into the SEC Tournament before the injury-addled Tigers, down to just a seven-player rotation, fell to now-No. 14 Georgia in a tournament quarterfinals rematch (53-71).
During that closing stretch Plaisance, who has registered double-digit scoring in 30 of her 31 appearances this season, posted three double-doubles and picked up First Team All-SEC and All-Defensive Team honors. She is now in the running as an AP and WBCA All-American candidate.
“I’ve not seen a 6-5 player at her position that can do what Plaisance can do, she’s our All-American, she’s a player that plays on both ends of the floor," said Caldwell. "But more importantly, she’s been such a great teammate.”
Now with the NCAA Tournament about to tip off, the No. 6-seeded Tigers are slated to host a tough No. 11-seeded Green Bay (29-2) on Sunday in the first round. If LSU wins that game, it will likely set up a rematch of last year's contest with No. 3-seed Penn State (25-5).
Plaisance hopes she won’t be back in Caldwell’s office after that game -- but either way, she now knows the difference one summer in Baton Rouge can make in a career. She is looking forward to another:
“I can’t even tell you how hungry I am going to be this summer. I can’t wait to get better and push myself to even higher limits.”
REWIND... watch our video feature on Theresa from high school