Kim Mulkey won back-to-back national titles when she played her college basketball at Louisiana Tech and understands the unique circumstances at play to pull off the feat.
As Mulkey’s LSU Tigers returned to practice Tuesday ahead of the 2023-24 season, the expectations feel higher as the defending champion ready for a repeat will only happen if they stay steady.
“As a player I won it back-to-back, but as a coach, it’s hard. I don’t think I have, even when we were favored to do so,” said Mulkey, a four-time national champion as a head coach. “Why is it harder? I think that if you’re the underdog and you win a national championship, you didn’t probably get everybody’s best shot. And I think if you’re the favorite, you’re gonna get everybody’s best shot.
“I can’t hide any of that from these kids. They know the expectations. But it’s not going to devastate us or destroy us if we don’t win another national championship. It’s not gonna devastate us or destroy us if we lose games. You just want to get better and be playing your best basketball, like we did last year, at the right time.”
Mulkey left Baylor for LSU ahead of the 2021-22 season in a shocking move, and in just her second season in Baton Rouge she guided the Tigers to their first national title in women’s basketball. Mulkey won the championship with Baylor in 2005, 2012 and 2019.
The Tigers took down Iowa 102-85 in the national championship game in April, and the team returns star forward Angel Reese, who averaged 23.0 points and 15.4 rebounds per game for LSU last year.
Mulkey said she spoke with Reese about her objectives for the year and came away convinced that Reese isn’t lacking motivation after her first title.
A recent ESPN WNBA mock draft for 2024 projected Reese as only the eighth overall pick.
“That was an insult to her,” Mulkey said. “We talked about the thing she needs to work on. Whether she gets picked higher than that or not, it still motivates her. She gets motivated in practice with someone going head-to-head with her or talking trash back at her. She’s a competitor. I think she wants to be a good leader.”
The Tigers also added top transfer Hailey Van Lith from Louisville and return third-leading scorer Flau’jae Johnson.
LSU made a mark in the NCAA Tournament by leaning into the roster’s self-described “big personalities” like Reese, who was not afraid to taunt Iowa star Caitlin Clark at the end of the NCAA championship game by mimicking her “can’t see me” hand gesture.
“I don’t know that I’m gonna have a problem managing it,” Mulkey said of her squad. “You want those personalities to shine, make sure they shine in a positive light. And you want that spotlight. You want the spotlight, and I think everybody that’s gonna have that uniform on is gonna welcome that spotlight and with it will come a lot of criticism, but also a lot of rewards. I don’t anticipate them not being able to handle it.”
–Field Level Media