An Oral History of LSU’s 2006 Final Four Team

By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor

Editor’s note: This story appears in the first issue of Tiger Rag Extra, Tiger Rag’s new free publication across Baton Rouge. Click here to find a copy near you.  

Part One: The Beginning

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o journey to a Final Four is a short one. Without exception, years of grueling work, dedication to the craft, and painful sacrifice go into reaching college basketball’s premier stage. The 2005-06 LSU Tigers took that concept to new extremes. Theirs was a journey, not built in two or three seasons together at the college level, but more than a decade in the making. Head coach John Brady recruited and signed the best talent in the state of Louisiana, forming a roster that featured seven players raised less than 60 miles from the Pete Maravich Assembly Center and six from the Baton Rouge metro area itself. Led by a slimmed down Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis, senior sharpshooter Darrel Mitchell, and a cast of freshmen and sophomores brimming with potential but little-known to the national scene, LSU entered the season with high hopes, despite the loss of reigning SEC Player of the Year Brandon Bass, quite eager to avenge the previous’ year’s first-round exit from the NCAA Tournament.

POVBNDECEOXJMCS.20070710163838John Brady, head coach: “I’ve never with this team, or any other team, said, ‘This is a Final Four team.’ I thought that team could be good, but we were young. Tasmin Mitchell is a freshman. Garrett Temple is a redshirt freshman, Tyrus Thomas is a redshirt freshman, Glen Davis is a sophomore. Darrel Mitchell and Darnell Lazare are the only veterans. It was a young team, but the key to that team was how well those guys got along and the camaraderie they had and the trust they had in each other. They all grew up together playing against one another in one shape or form.”

Garrett Temple

Garrett Temple, redshirt freshman guard: “Me and Tyrus grew up with each other. We met each other at the Sports Academy gym when we were three or four years old. We met Glen a few years later.”

Glen Davis mugGlen Davis, sophomore forward[footnote] The Advocate, 2006 [/footnote]: “Being young you don’t realize the bond. I didn’t realize anything. I was just with my friends and we were playing basketball. We never dreamed we’d be playing together at the collegiate level.”

WUOFYWLUWNIOGWI.20060913173945Darnell Lazare, junior forward: “A lot of us knew each other prior to arriving at LSU. Some of us were on the same AAU teams. We competed against each other in high school. Everybody had a certain comfort level with each other.”

Tyrus Thomas
Tyrus Thomas, redshirt freshman forward
[footnote] The Times-Picayune, 2006 [/footnote]: “When you’re on the court it’s like second nature because you know what the other will do.”

 

John Brady: “It’s very rare that you get a team and the top six players are within 60 miles of Baton Rouge. Three or four are from right there in town, Darrel Mitchell from St. Martinville, Tasmin from Denham Springs. That just doesn’t happen very often.”

Darrel Mitchell


Darrel Mitchell, senior guard
: “We had a very, very good team, but [we were] young, and most importantly, we were all hungry.”

Glen Davis [footnote] 2005 SEC Basketball Media Days [/footnote]”When I sat down with the coaches (after 2004-05), they asked me what I wanted for myself and for the team, and my answer was that I want to be great. To do that, to go from being a good player to being a great one, I had to lose some weight and be in the best shape of my life…I had to trade Chips Ahoy for organic oatmeal…You ever watch Fear Factor? You know how you’re sitting there, you see this nasty food but you want to eat it ’cause you can get a lot of money? That’s how I took it. I was like, you know, if I eat this, I can make a lot of money one day. That was motivation. It was hard.”

David FleshmanDavid Fleshman, sophomore walk-on guard: “We left the 2004-2005 season disappointed with the turnout in the NCAA Tournament. We felt we got our butts kicked by UAB and we never should have.”

John Brady: “I’ve never seen a more depressed, sad, angry locker room than I did [that] year.”

Darrell Mitchell: “You don’t want to end the season with a loss like that.”

Darnell Lazare[footnote] The Advocate, 2006 [/footnote]: “It stayed with us for a long time. In high school, all of us were state champions more than once and we had a chance to win a championship on a national level. Not being able to do that and to play like we did left a bad taste in our mouths.”

John Brady[footnote]2005 LSU Basketball Media Day[/footnote]: “The most difficult thing to handle is unmet expectations – and there wasn’t much expected of that (2004-05) team. We wound up winning the west, won 14-of-17, seven in a row until Kentucky best us in the (SEC Tourney) semis in overtime. When you play like that, then expectations build on your team. Then when you go to the NCAA Tournament and don’t play as well, when you don’t meet an expectation level, it is more severe than when you overachieve.”

David Fleshman: “After that loss to UAB, there was a shakeup with the makeup of the team. We lost several players from the year before. Ross Neltner transferred to Vanderbilt. Josh Maravich and Paul Wolfert graduated. Brandon Bass left for the NBA. We lost Regis Koundjia. We lost Antonio Hudson and Xavier Whipple. But our expectations were that we weren’t going to let what happened last year happen this season.”

John Brady: “We had good talent. More important than that was the chemistry. We weren’t deep. We played maybe seven guys, mostly. But those seven were really good.”

David Fleshman: “Glen Davis could push guys out of the lane. Tyrus could give him help over the top. Tyrus was a freshman, too, but his explosiveness and reach covered up alot of minor mistakes that may have happened. Not only would he clean up those mistakes, but he’d ignite the crowd with a put back dunk or a monstrous block. Darrel Mitchell was one of the best guards the school ever had. And there was nothing that said freshman about Tasmin Mitchell. Tasmin came in extremely mature. The ultimate team guy. Attacked the rim well, good shooter, excellent rebounder. Anything the coaches asked him to do, he would do.”

Tasmin MitchellTasmin Mitchell, freshman forward: “Normally freshmen come in and coaches have to teach them this, teach them that. I had a feel for the game. I had a feel for the guys I was playing with. I played with those guys before. We grew up together. It takes other freshmen time to feel the team out. It took me maybe 24 hours. We already had the cohesiveness.”

Darnell Lazare: “That summer leading into the fall, the coaching staff knew we were going to have a talented team. Our summer strength and conditioning program was elevated a few notches.”

David Fleshman: “Jeff Dillman was our strength coach. He had us run things we’d never done before. His motto was, ‘Pay me now or pay me later. You’re going to be in the best shape of any team in the country.’”

Darnell Lazare: “We were playing pickup every day. It was real competitive.”

Tyrus Thomas[footnote]The Advocate, 2006[/footnote]: “At the beginning of the season we set some goals for ourselves, and we knew we could accomplish those goals…We knew what kind of talent we had. We knew what capabilities we had, and we knew what we could accomplish.”

David Fleshman: “Garrett had been around the program. He and Tyrus sat out the year prior and worked out a ton with (assistant) Coach (John) Treloar.”

Garrett Temple[footnote]Times-Picayune, 2006[/footnote]:”When I sat down with the coaches before [2004-05], they asked me what Iwanted to do and told me to be selfish. If I’d wanted to play [that] year, Icould have. But my brother and my dad both told me how much I could learn from being a redshirt.”

Tyrus Thomas[footnote]Times-Picayune, 2006[/footnote]:”When I got here, I thought I could play right away, so it was hard to accept the idea of redshirting. I struggled with it for a long time.”

Garrett Temple[footnote]Times-Picayune, 2006[/footnote]“He was worried he’d never get a chance. I kept telling him ‘You’re going to get an opportunity here and we have a chance to do something really special.’ Then when Brandon [Bass] left for the NBA, a window opened up for Tyrus and once hesaw that, he worked harder than he ever has to get ready.”

Tyrus Thomas[footnote]The Advocate, 2006[/footnote]: “Having Garrett around was wonderful for me. If it wasn’t for Garrett, I probably would’ve made some bad decisions. I’m glad we went through [that] year together because he kept on me the whole time and did a lot to help me understand things…That helped with my knowledge of the game and my maturity on and off the court.”

John Brady[footnote]The Advocate, 2006[/footnote]: “Those two guys gained experience every day in practice and used the redshirt year to get stronger and more mature.”

David Fleshman: “There was a big difference the year Tyrus and Garrett got redshirted. That made a big difference in their ability to perform at a high level.”

Part Two: The Storm

The Pete Maravich Assembly Center during Hurricane Katrina. Photo courtesy LSUSports.net
The Pete Maravich Assembly Center during Hurricane Katrina. Photo courtesy LSUSports.net

Just as LSU was gearing up for the 2005-06 season, disaster struck in the form of Hurricane Katrina. The Tigers were displaced from their practice gym below the Pete Maravich Assembly Center – affectionately called The Dungeon – and forced to move their workouts to University Laboratory School or the student rec center. Rather than let the storm serve as a distraction, however, LSU rallied around the state, and the state returned the favor.

Darnell Lazare: “Growing up in Louisiana, when hurricanes are about to hit, sometimes they’re hit or miss. We underestimated what Katrina was going to be.”

John Brady: “It was devastating.”

Garrett Temple: “I just got goosebumps thinking about it.  A few of us actually volunteered because the PMAC, when Katrina hit, was used as triage. We weren’t able to practice.”

Darnell Lazare: “The coaches and LSU did a good job of trying to make it as normal as they could.”

John Brady: “We had to practice over at the rec facility. We were displaced for a while, not being able to practice in the Assembly Center. It affected us.”

David Fleshman: “It got us out of the routine. We were thrown off our typical schedule, out of our comfort zone. Helicopters were flying into Bernie Moore Track Stadium. The Dungeon (the gym below the PMAC) where we would practice became a temporary morgue.”

Tasmin Mitchell[footnote]Tiger Rag, 2006[/footnote]: “Glen was holding an IV bag for a person and the person died while he was holding the bag, right in front of him. It shook him up. He came back in the room and he was crying. We all just embraced and decided to go back and help those people.”

Glen Davis[footnote]Tiger Rag, 2006[/footnote]: “It was a horrible experience, but it helped. It was a character builder for me and made me a better person.”

David Fleshman: “That shook us all up a little bit. It put things in perspective. Our whole facility was being used for purpose that was a lot bigger than basketball.”

Garrett Temple: “We understood. Basketball really isn’t that important right now.”

Tasmin Mitchell: “The whole state was coming together. We had to come together and help each other. We did the same thing as a team. Luckily no one on the team really had family affected by Katrina. We helped out. We volunteered freely. We wanted to be a part of that, not for recognition, but just to give a helping hand. “

Garrett Temple: “When we were able to get back into the thick of things, I remember Coach Brady telling us how we’re not just playing for yourselves or for the university. Now we’re really playing for the whole state of Louisiana.”

John Brady: “With the devastation of Katrina, we hoped we could take some people’s minds off the devastation that occurred.”

Darrel Mitchell: “I don’t think it was a distraction at all. It was more of an eye opening, life-changing event that motivated us as a team to do all we could to represent our school, but most importantly the state of Louisiana, which most of us were from.”

Tasmin Mitchell: “It made us play hard for the state. We’re the flagship school for the state. We’re LSU. We knew we had to play every game like it was our last, because some people lost their lives in New Orleans. We said, ‘We’re going to do this for our people.’”

Part Three: The Growth

Tyrus Thomas LSUSportsnet
Tyrus Thomas. Photo courtesy LSUSports.net

LSU’s young team would be tested early, and tested well. The pre-conference schedule included matchups with 10 teams that finished the 2004-05 season ranked in the RPI top 50. But without projected starting point guard Tack Minor – who ended up missing most of the season, first for academic reasons, and eventually with an injury – and junior college transfer Kentrell Gransberry, who was expected either to start next to Glen Davis or be the first big off the bench but quit the team after a single exhibition game, LSU endured its share of growing pains, going just 8-5 in the non-conference. Still, as early as the exhibition game that saw Gransberry leave, there were signs of something special.

John Brady[footnote]LSUSports.net, 2006[/footnote]: “Tyrus Thomas was so excited to play his first game in two years…that the first five times down the floor I thought he was going to pass out. But he caught his second wind and showed us some flashes of what he is going to be.”

Tyrus Thomas[footnote]The Jim Engster Show, 2014[/footnote]: “The beginning of the season, I wasn’t even starting. No one even knew who I was.”

Garrett Temple: “Even me being as close as I am with Tyrus I didn’t understand the type of impact he would have that year you know coming off the bench the first nine or 10 games… We didn’t know going in exactly what everybody’s role would be.”

David Fleshman: “One of the biggest games early was at West Virginia. They were a ranked team. They had Kevin Pittsnoggle. They’d had a lot of success around that time. They were retiring Jerry West’s jersey that night, so it was a packed crowd in West Virginia. It ran into overtime, and Darrel Mitchell hit two big threes, and we won the game.”

Darrel Mitchell[footnote]LSUSports.net, 2006[/footnote]: “I kind of knew when I let it go that it was going to hit. A guy got his hand up, but it didn’t affect me.”

Darnell Lazare: “Every shot [Darrel] shot that year, we thought it was going in.”

Garrett Temple: “The thing people really don’t remember is Darrel Mitchell being such a big part of that team, being the glue guy, the guy that whenever we needed a basket, he was able to score for us.”

David Fleshman: “That’s the forgotten game of the Final Four season. It was early on and a good win. The environment was great there. That helped us down the road, playing in those games, because that was just the start of playing away in different gyms we weren’t familiar with and playing very good teams, which I think helped us later in the tournament.”

John Brady: “We struggled a little bit after that. We lost a couple of close games. It was a tough schedule.”

David Fleshman: “We lost to Houston, at home, by one point. Then we played Northern Iowa, who I was extremely impressed with and made the NCAA Tournament that year, and lost by four. Cincinnati by three. Ohio State by two.”

Garrett Temple: “Against Ohio State, we lost a ten to twelve point lead with five minutes left in the game and lost by two. Houston came in here and beat us with a Baton Rouge guy on their team, Oliver Lafayette.”

Darnell Lazare: “If you look back at those games, the ones we lost, we were in all of those games. When you see the Cincinnatis, the Connecticuts, those universities are going to have high level basketball players. We knew what we were up against. When we competed against those teams, although we didn’t come out victorious, we knew we had a chance to be a successful team.”

John Brady: “The game Tyrus really stepped forward with was at UConn. We didn’t even start him the first seven games. We started Darnell Lazare. We put Tyrus in the lineup against Cincinnati in Vegas, and he just kept improving.”

Garrett Temple: “The UConn game was the game I thought, This team can really do something. That game really showed exactly everyone what his role was going to be. Darrell being a big shot maker. Glen Davis taking over in the paint, dominating. Tyrus dunking everything. I remember a guy like Josh Boone, who was top 10 player in the nation, looking at Tyrus with the look in his eye, like, Who is this guy?”

David Fleshman: “We had seen Tyrus do all this for a long time. This didn’t surprise us. It was his national coming out party, but I remember playing pickup before the season. I remember friends asking me who I thought was the next guy to go to the NBA. I said, ‘I think Tyrus is the one.’”

Garrett Temple: “Tasmin Mitchell was doing all the knick-knack things. Darnell Lazare was being a leader off the bench. That game was really the game, even though we lost, that I thought we had a chance to be something special.”

David Fleshman: “We could’ve won that game, too. Darrel Mitchell had a clean shot to win, just like he did weeks before at West Virginia. He pulled up for a 3 that hit the back of the rim.”

Darrel Mitchell[footnote]Times-Picyaune, 2006[/footnote]: “I saw heaven. When I let it go, it was on line. Then it started drifting off to the left a little bit.”

John Brady: “That was the only shot Darrel Mitchell had in the air that year at the end of a game that he missed. He had a good look from the top of the key. It just didn’t fall.”

Darrel Mitchell: “Missing that shot against UConn stuck with me for a long, long time, because out of all the games we played, I wanted that one more than any.”

Garrett Temple: “It was good for him to miss there because he made a bunch of big ones after that.”

John Brady[footnote]LSUSports.net, 2006[/footnote] “They beat us, but I think our young team went toe to toe.”

David Fleshman: “We were 8-5 after UConn, but we had played three ranked teams away from the PMAC, and all five losses were a total of 11 points.”

Garrett Temple: “You don’t want to say it was moral victory, but us going up there playing that well on national TV understanding that we can play with these guys, it was huge.”

Darrel Mitchell: “After the UConn game, that’s when we started to get on a roll and really finding who we were.”

John Brady: “We held our own with everyone during the course of that preseason. It was a team that just got better and more belief in itself.”

Garrett Temple: “Those games really built character for us. Those games really built us to be the team we were to run through the SEC.”

 

Part Four: The Championship

LSU 2006 SEC title
Photo courtesy LSUSports.net

The UConn game, which LSU lost narrowly, 67-66, put the Tigers on the national stage, despite the defeat. Even though they were 8-5, the Tigers were dangerous, and even if everyone knew it, they still carried a chip on their shoulders into SEC play. They opened with a win over Arkansas at Bud Walton before rolling to a 14-2 conference record, only dropping games at No. 7 Florida – a 71-62 decision in which Davis and Thomas both battled foul trouble – and at Alabama, a historically tricky place to play for the program. Eventually, the Tigers would clinch a share of the league title at South Carolina and earn it outright on Senior Day against Ole Miss.

Darnell Lazare: “Approaching the SEC, we had lost some games, so we were under the radar.”

David Fleshman: “The SEC was very good. We knew we’d have to win our home games and pluck off some away. But every team in the SEC seemed to be pretty good.”

John Brady: “Back in that day we had Kentucky ranked in the top 10. We were top 10. Florida was top 10. You had some really good teams.”

David Fleshman: “To start the season away, at Arkansas, to win, set the tone for the whole conference schedule.”

Tyrus Thomas[footnote]LSUSports.net, 2006[/footnote]: “It was time for us to finish it off and start the new season off on the right foot. We weren’t going to let another one get away. It was all about determination. We wanted to get off to a good start in the SEC, and we did that in the hardest place to play.”

David Fleshman: “We started to pick up momentum – we went from being 8-5 after UConn to 15-5 – and I think people around Baton Rouge enjoyed it. They didn’t know who Tyrus Thomas was before the season, and suddenly they’re watching a guy almost hit his head on the backboard when he’s dunking. Darrel Mitchell is breaking three point records. Glen’s such a likeable guy that people felt like they knew him and rallied behind the whole team. This is all local guys. There was definitely a buzz in the PMAC that wasn’t there before.”

Tasmin Mitchell: “It was great playing in the PMAC. The PMAC was packed out. There was 13,000 in there, every night. It was great playing in front of our loved ones. It was wonderful.”

Darrel Mitchell: “We had one of the craziest and wildest student sections in the country that year, and it was great for us to give them wins in return for that great support that they showed us throughout the entire season.”

John Brady: “To go undefeated in the league at home for the season was special.”

David Fleshman: “There was never a game we walked into that we weren’t prepared. People couldn’t stop the high low with Tyrus and Glen. Some of the offensive sets we would run, we saw the same play work over and over again. Every team we played, we knew those sets they’d run. We were calling it out from the sidelines.”

Darnell Lazare: “We only lost two games in the league. That game we lost to Alabama, we just didn’t have enough to get over the hump that game. We played from behind. That Florida game, we played at Florida, we had moments in that game where we were playing like a superior team. Down the stretch though, Florida made plays. It was very close. Glen and Tyrus got in some foul trouble, and that hurt us, but we were neck and neck with them. They had Al Horford, Joakim Noah, two perennial NBA All-Stars. Some other guys that played in the pros. We matched up with them well.”

John Brady: “Once we developed the confidence, we really played well all year in league play. One thing lead to another, and we won the league. That team, those guys just complemented each other so well. Each player had its role and knew its role and fit that role. There was no selfishness on that team at all.”

Darnell Lazare: “Those guys on the team were more than just teammates. Every night, you’re just playing for your teammate, and 16 SEC games later, you realize you’re the SEC Champions.”

Part Five: The Run

Photo courtesy LSUSports.net
Photo courtesy LSUSports.net

With Thomas limited after suffering a sprained ankle late in the conference slate, LSU would win two games before bowing out in the SEC Tournament semifinals at the hands of – who else? – Florida. “We were a player or two short,” Brady would say after the game. Regardless, the Tigers were assured of a good NCAA Tournament seed, and earned the No. 4. They were primed for a Cinderella run that was to begin in Jacksonville against a relatively anonymous foe.

Darnell Lazare: “We still didn’t get the type of respect we thought we deserved. They said we were an athletic team who could do some things, but…There was always a ‘but.’”

David Fleshman: “We knew we had a team we could play with anyone in the country. We had done that throughout the regular season. I don’t remember being as concerned with our seeds.”

Glen Davis[footnote]The Advocate, 2006[/footnote]: “I was hoping for a three seed in a perfect world but probably in the back of my mind knew it would be a four”

Darnell Lazare: “When we began preparing for Iona in our first round matchup, we said, ‘Okay, it’s time for another season to begin.’ We were a 4 seed. They were a 13 seed. They had Steve Burtt, who was a great player. That was a game where the experts thought the higher seed would win, and they picked against us.”

John Brady: “Iona was a good team. They had one really good scorer. In the first half they played us well. We may have been behind at the half or up slightly. We came out in the second half and made a determination to go to Big Baby, and he carried us.”

KMWRUCUSHDQPVRW.20070308174054Ricky Soliver, Forward, Iona[footnote]LSUSports.net, 2006[/footnote]: “I didn’t know he was that big. When we were warming up, I saw him and my eyes just opened up. He’s a load down there. I didn’t think he was that much of a problem. But a big guy like that shooting fadeaways? He killed us down low.”

Glen Davis[footnote]LSUSports.net, 2006[/footnote]: “I was analyzing the guys’ nonverbal communication. I learned that in sociology. When I see that, when I see fatigue, some negative things, you’ve got to go straight at them.”

Following LSU’s 80-64 win in round one, the Tigers got an unexpected round two matchup, when Texas A&M upset Syracuse, setting up an intriguing contest between the bordering schools in Jacksonville. In a game that could’ve gone either way, a certain senior with a knack for big shots came through in the clutch, with the Tigers trailing 57-55 and just seconds remaining.

Darnell Lazare: “In round two, we had A&M. They had Acie Law and Joseph Jones.”

John Brady: “A&M was really good that year. I don’t think we were even favored to win that game. It was two good teams playing one another.”

Garrett Temple: “Before we played A&M, they beat Syracuse. They were 12 seed, so we figured we were going to be okay. We didn’t have to play Gerry McNamara and Syracuse. I didn’t even know who Acie Law was. I had no idea how fast he was until we had to play against them.

David Fleshman: “A&M ran the same offense we did. They mirrored us in a lot of ways. It was a battle from the very get go. It was St. Patrick’s Day, so a lot of people didn’t even see the first half. We knew we could go out that game. It wasn’t looking good. But Darrel, once again, hits a shot.”

John Brady: “That play was screen the screener. We would let Darrell Mitchell screen, then flare screen for him and get the ball back to him. I think (LSU assistant coach) Butch Pierre suggested it to me. We worked don it a day or two before, we called it and drew it up in the huddle. They switched the post man out on Darrel.”

Darrel Mitchell: “All I remember was seeing that big guy switch on me, and then I knew from that point on I was going to take the shot because he was giving me so much room.

John Brady: “Darrel just froze him with a couple of dribbles. It was right in front of our bench. I had a perfect look at it.”

Glen Davis[footnote]LSUSports.net[/footnote]: “I knew if he got the ball he would nail it. He does it all the time. The play was for Darrel. I thought he was going to throw it to me for a second, but then he looked at the clock and I knew he was going to shoot it, and make it.”

Darrel Mitchell: “By far the biggest shot of my entire career of playing basketball at any level. The feeling I had once that buzzer went is unexplainable. I still watch the end of that game and say to myself, ‘Wow.’ I didn’t really realize how big of a shot that was until years later. Crazy.”

David Fleshman: “It was a big shot he made, but it was just another day at the office for him.”

Darrel Mitchell: “If that was my last game as a Tiger, I wanted to be sure that I was either going to help us advance and move on, or I would have taken full responsibility as the lone senior and let the team down. Coach drew up the play, and my brothers had full confidence in me to take that shot. I think that’s what made it so easy and much more comfortable taking the shot: knowing I had them all behind me.”

John Brady: “It’s one of the biggest shots in the history of LSU.”

Mitchell’s three sent LSU into the Sweet 16, hosted in Atlanta, where No. 1 overall seed Duke and National Player of the Year/ACC all-time scoring leader J.J. Redick awaited them. But LSU had a plan to slow him down, and executed it perfectly to pull off the upset. Despite foul trouble for Davis and Thomas, LSU got 10 big first half bench points from Darnell Lazare and held Redick to 11 points on 3-of-18 shooting to pull off the improbable 62-54 win.

Darnell Lazare: “Duke was the No. 1 overall seed. Nobody gave us a chance. It was Duke. We had some foul trouble. I wound up playing a longer stint than I would have. It was just my time. I was grateful I was able to do my part.”

Tyrus Thomas[footnote]The Advocate, 2006[/footnote]: “Duke’s a team that everyone either wants to play for or against.”

David Fleshman: “It’s the same theme throughout: we didn’t know how big of a game it was. To us, it felt like we were playing Ole Miss or Arkansas. It just felt like another game. We knew what we needed to do, and that was stop JJ Redick.”

John Brady: “Our defensive plan was to make somebody else beat us besides JJ Redick. Every screen he came off of, we wanted Garrett Temple to run him out, and we would hedge on every screen, whether he caught it or not. We weren’t going to let JJ beat us.”Courtesy Duke Athletics KGFBJCOVZIJLTUJ.20060324041146

Garrett Temple: “The practice before, they had David Fleshman just running around screens, literally the whole practice. I had to chase him the whole time.”

David Fleshman: “It’s nice when the coaches tell you that you have the green light. If you have an inch, shoot it, make or miss, and that’s a real good feeling. It was something I hadn’t felt since high school, to be expected to be the man and go out and create shots and shoot as much as possible. That was a fun feeling. And it also opened my eyes to how in-shape JJ Redick was.”

Tasmin Mitchell: “Fleshman was the best walk on I ever knew. Fleshman was the heart and soul of that team. Nobody recognized him because he was in the background, but Fleshman was the heart and soul of that team – as a walk on. He was always that guy that did everything. He was a hustler. He wasn’t scared. Normally walk ons come in nervous. Not Fleshman. And he was cool. He fit right in with us. We don’t beat Duke without Fleshman.”

Garrett Temple: “JJ was a helluva shooter, but what I always remember watching during that season about him was getting open shots. If you don’t let him get an open jump shot it’s going to make it a lot tougher. I remember telling my brother, ‘If I have chance to play him, I’m going to shut him down.’ I was able to do that with the help of my boys.”

JGSIXDPJGCLVHLA.20050922171618JJ Redick, guard, Duke[footnote]LSUSports.net, 2006[/footnote]: “He’s long and it was just a very physical game; he was physical with me as well. He did a good job of contesting my jump shots, and when I did drive, they had shot-blockers back there.”

David Fleshman: “Garrett shadowed JJ everywhere he went on the court. We had seen him do that to every team’s best player the month before. We’d seen Garrett harass the other team’s best players up and down the court all season.”

John Brady: “Garrett was incredible defending him that night. That was the lowest point total for Duke in 10 years. That’s one of the things I’m most proud of. For us to hold a Coach K team to their lowest point total in 10 years was a significant accomplishment.”

Garrett Temple: “It definitely wasn’t just me. Having a guy like Tyrus Thomas back there that you can funnel anybody to and they will not get a shot off within six feet, it makes my job a lot easier.”

Tasmin Mitchell[footnote]Associated Press, 2006[/footnote]: “Our heart was bigger than theirs. That was the difference. That’s what we had to have.”

John Brady: “I’ll never forget Tyrus’ emotion when (Duke guard Greg Paulus) drove and Tyrus blocked it and got the rebound. I remember Tyrus running down the court with just raw emotion. Those are the things you never forget.”

Tyrus Thomas [footnote]Associated Press, 2006[/footnote]: “I was making a statement to my mom more than anything out of excitement. She wanted to come to Jacksonville and we couldn’t afford it. With tickets and hotel expenses, she couldn’t come to Jacksonville. But she has a friend [in Atlanta], and I promised her that if she stopped crying that I’d get her a full weekend in Atlanta. I was just letting her know that I’d kept my promise.”

With Duke in the rearview mirror, the region’s No. 2 seed, Texas, led by versatile big man LaMarcus Aldridge and sweet shooting guard Daniel Gibson, was all that stood between the Tigers and their first Final Four in 20 years. It took an overtime and massive games from the Tigers’ twin towers – 26 points and 9 rebound from Davis, 21 points and 13 rebounds from Thomas – but LSU prevailed 70-60, and advanced to college basketball’s premier showcase.

Darrel Mitchell: “We knew we could play with both Texas and Duke, but others didn’t give us a chance, because, ‘Who was little LSU playing against those Blue Devils and Longhorns?’ That’s where all of our motivation and push came from.”

Tyrus Thomas[footnote]LSUSports.net, 2006[/footnote]: “Glen told me ‘It’s time to go to war.’ We both understood it was time to go to war and it was time to fight.”

David Fleshman: “It was one of the best defensive games I’ve seen.”

Garrett Temple: “I remember it being very low-scoring. I remember Glen playing really well, Tyrus catching a lot of alley oops. One play in particular toward end the game, I knocked the ball away from Kent Paulino. Me and Darrel Mitchell chased the ball down, saved it in bounds to Texas. Kent Paulino shot a 3. I blocked from behind….right into Daniel Gibson’s hands who shot a 3, and we ended up going overtime because of it.”

John Brady: “Starting the overtime, in the huddle, I said, ‘Guys, you’re going to win this game.’ There wasn’t a doubt in my mind about it.”

Garrett Temple: “I remember seeing Glen hit a 3 at the top of the key to put us up seven in overtime. And I could hear one of the commentators say, ‘Glen Davis for 3?’”

David Fleshman: “We’re all questioning, ‘What’s he doing?’ Then he makes it, and we’re just like, ‘Great shot!’”

Glen Davis[footnote]LSUSports.net, 2006[/footnote] “I was just in rhythm, I felt it was a great shot and I made it.”

Garrett Temple: “Everything was just working for us then.”

Darnell Lazare: “As a kid, you see March Madness on TV. You ask yourself, ‘I wonder what that experience is like.’ When that buzzer goes off against Texas, and you’re advancing to the Final Four, and you’re getting a taste of what it’s like, it’s surreal. Everybody’s celebrating.”

John Brady: “Even as a coach, you read about and see those type of situations and it passes quickly, but it’s surreal while you’re there. You try to cherish the moment. Glen was doing the second line dance with a boa around his neck, saying, ‘This is for Louisiana.’ Jim Nantz, who was on the call for CBS, told me he’d never seen a celebration like that. Our players were so close and so loose that it was different, but Louisiana is a little bit different. We’re going to celebrate in Louisiana a little different than they may celebrate in North Carolina. I was going to let the players be who they were.”

Photo courtesy LSUSports.net
Photo courtesy LSUSports.net

David Fleshman: “The Duke and Texas weekend was one of the best memories I’ve had in basketball. There was just some fantastic basketball being played. The stakes were high and we just really performed.”

Darrel Mitchell: “That was a crazy weekend. So much energy in Atlanta for those games. The fans were there like it was a home game back in the PMAC. We were just truly happy that we were able to give all the fans exactly what they came to see.

John Brady: “Those 48 hours in Atlanta, where you beat two top 10 teams in 48 hours was – and LSU’s had some great moments in basketball – those 48 hours rival any moment in the history of LSU basketball.”

Part Six: The End

Photo courtesy LSUSports.net
Photo courtesy LSUSports.net

All good things must come to an end. LSU’s stay in Indianapolis was a brief one. With a chance to redeem two losses against Florida hanging in the balance – the Gators would beat 11th-seeded George Mason in the other national semifinal matchup – the Tigers ran into a brick wall in the form of UCLA, led by a host of future pros like Darren Collison, Jordan Farmar, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and Arron Afflalo. LSU shot just 32 percent from the field, as the Bruin frontline held Davis and Thomas to just 19 combined points on 7-for-21 shooting, en route to a 59-45 LSU loss. It was the Tigers’ ninth and final defeat of the season, and while the pain of the loss still lingers 10 years later, it remains dwarfed by the memories of a team that captured the hearts of the state over the course of a magical, unforgettable season.

David Fleshman: “Our mindset was that we needed to go out and play a good game so we could get one back from Florida. They’d beaten us twice that year. Nothing in my mind projected we were going to get a lumping by UCLA.”

Garrett Temple: “I remember going into the tournament, people were saying we might be the upset. We might lose to Iona in the first round. Going against Duke, nobody expected us to win. Texas, nobody expected us to win. So I think when we beat those teams like we did, I remember Michael Wilbon saying LSU was gonna beat UCLA. I remember watching that, vividly. Some of that crept into our minds.”

Darnell Lazare: “When we played UCLA, that was the first time all tournament, it seemed, people picked us to win the game. We prepared the same way, but because we weren’t chasing – we were the ones being chased – it might have affected the way we came out. We might have let our emotions get too high, because we were experiencing some praise.”

Glen Davis[footnote] Philadelphia Inquirer, 2006[/footnote]: “You don’t get the opportunity to play on a stage like this – win one of the immortality trophies. That’s what I call it. You win the trophy, you live forever, basically.”

Darrel Mitchell: “I try not to have memories of that game. It stings.”

Glen Davis[footnote]LSUSports.net, 2006[/footnote]: “They came out and punched us and we didn’t recover from it.”

John Brady: “The first 10 or 12 minutes of the game we looked we were still in Atlanta enjoying the fruits of our victories there. I don’t know if we ever actually let Atlanta go.”

Tyrus Thomas[footnote]LSUSports.net, 2006[/footnote]: “They didn’t do anything to us that we didn’t expect. The shots just didn’t fall. You can’t explain that.”            

David Fleshman: “We struggled at guard, we struggled down low. We struggled across the board, and they were flying up and down the floor, trapping. ”

John Brady[footnote]The Advocate, 2006[/footnote]: “When we did get an opportunity to score, we weren’t able to score. I’ve never seen Glen Davis miss five or six gimmes around the goal. They got Glen rushing around the basket.”

David Fleshman: “I think it was our lowest scoring game of the entire season. It’s like a high school score.”

Tyrus Thomas[footnote]The Jim Engster Show, 2014[/footnote]: “Everybody in that locker room was disappointed the way that season ended.”

John Brady: “We didn’t meet the challenge, but it didn’t take away from what these guys accomplished. The special thing was where those guys were from and where they grew up. You can never take that away, that we did it with Louisiana players from Baton Rouge, Denham Springs, St. Martinville. It was something that adds a little lagniappe.”

David Fleshman: “This was the closest team I’ve ever been on. I can’t stress enough how close knit a group it was. Tyrus and I were roommates that year. Tyrus went to Brady at the beginning of the year and said, ‘Coach, I’m going to room with Fleshman on the road trips.’ That took Brady by surprise. A star player rooming with a walk on who’s not going to play any minutes all season? We didn’t care for each other too much in high school. I was the guy that would shot fake and make my free throws. He was the guy who would dunk and hang on the rim and get technical fouls. We had very different approaches. To me he seemed immature, and you fast forward to the beginning of our sophomore years, we’re rooming together and realized we had a lot more in common than we realized. That always captures the bond the team had, from the best player to the worst to the walk on. We were a close knit group. There weren’t any egos. Everyone knew their role.”

Garrett Temple: “That camaraderie, that chemistry, it was as if we were playing with our friends.”

Darrel Mitchell: “The glue of the team was built with a bunch of Louisiana guys who loved one another like brothers. No one probably believed for one second we would have accomplished the things we did that year, but it was no surprise to me.”

Tyrus Thomas[footnote]The Advocate, 2006[/footnote]: “We’re all gonna be old men chilling together at the Y and still playing hard and trying to kill each other. I have no doubt that these are guys I’m going to be friends with the rest of my life.”

Darnell Lazare: “That team as very responsible and disciplined. Everything flowed very smoothly. Everyone was taking care of class work. We had quite a few people with 3.0 GPAs or better. It was a great year all around.”

David Fleshman: “It’s a ride that was as much fun as you could possibly have. And I had a better seat than everyone.”

John Brady: “I don’t know if that will ever be done again, to play at that level achieve that they did with basically a Louisiana team. It was a special season.”

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”2″ gal_title=”LSU 2006 Final Four”]

author avatar
Cody Worsham

1 Comment

  1. Cody, I sent the fans to Indy. Turn key trip. 2 charters. 300 + fans in 72 hours. Worked w/ TAF. Started TAF football travel from that Final Four. Matured the TAF football product.34 years of LSU football fan travel.12 years (8 w/ Skip)of baseball travel. Maybe we should visit. Lots of stories! JIM DUMIGAN

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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