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Coach comes off bench to lead Tigers in clutch

Bob Starkey knows he stands out.

By GREG AUMAN
Published April 1, 2007


CLEVELAND - Bob Starkey knows he stands out.

He is the lone man with the glasses, up against three legendary women. His counterparts in this weekend's Final Four combine for more than 2,400 wins in literally a century - 100 years - as head coaches. He has four as a head coach, all in the past three weeks.

"I was joking with my staff this morning," LSU's acting coach said Saturday morning, one day before his Tigers face Rutgers. "When you're in junior high and you have one of these aptitude tests, there's the four pictures: the apple, the orange, the banana and the rock. You have to check off the one that really doesn't fit. I'd be the rock."

Thing is, Starkey has been a rock the past three weeks, keeping LSU together during a difficult and delicate scandal. Three weeks ago, coach Pokey Chatman, who had led LSU to three straight Final Fours, abruptly resigned amid allegations of improper conduct with at least one former player.

Many an expert had the Tigers collapsing, but they've plugged along to another Final Four, knocking off top-seeded Connecticut along the way.

"He's been sensitive to the situation, and he's done a great job," guard Erica White said. "He's given the team the things we need, a lot of positive feedback. He's taken good care of us."

Starkey, 47, has been at LSU since 1990, spending his first seven seasons as a men's assistant, once working with Shaquille O'Neal. The busy nature of his three weeks since being promoted have made it easier for him; he simply hasn't had time to comprehend the challenge.

"The tournament has been exciting and hectic," he said. "You travel, you play, you come home. You travel, you play, you come home. It's been a good thing for me and a good thing for the team. We haven't done anything differently in terms of focusing ... and that's a compliment to our kids. ... It wasn't like we had to reinvent the wheel or do anything new, just to make sure the kids still understood what their goals were. Fortunately and obviously, they did."

He defers any credit for LSU's success to his players, saying the bulk of the coaching was done before "the events that unfolded" last month.

"A lot has been made of me being in this position, but these kids have been phenomenal," he said. "They've been focused from Day 1."

Starkey has little interest in becoming permanent head coach. He authored a book titled The Art of Being an Assistant Coach, and he doesn't aspire to more. The past month has only reinforced that.

"It's meant me staying up a lot later, getting up a lot earlier, being away from my wife a lot more, being a lot more tired because of all the other things going on," he said. "And I still haven't done anything with recruiting, I haven't had to go out and fund raise, haven't done any public speaking."

That said, his players are comfortable playing for him and would welcome that on a permanent basis.

"He knows we enjoy playing for him," White said. "I'd love to play for him, but at the same time, I respect his decision not to want that. I think he'd be great at it, and I think he knows that."