July 19, 2012
After two straight years of progress, how do you feel about Auburn heading into this year?
"We are excited about the upcoming season. We are starting to build the foundation, the symmetry within the program. I think this will be the best group in terms of senior leadership I have had since I have been here. Obviously the affect since these guys have been with me for two-plus years, they know the system. They know my expectations. They know now what I expect from them, in terms not just their own production within the program, but how I expect them to lead the young kids and groom them as they come into the door. That is when you start to build a program and not just a team, and that is where we are starting to get to in year three.
"I am excited about the veteran guys coming back coupled with obviously, the signing class and the increase in the level of talent that we have brought in. As we have improved in wins, total wins, conference wins and all those things, just like we did from year one to year two. We are doing it from year two to year three. We are increasing the toughness of the schedule as well as the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M in the conference. It is going to be a difficult challenge. The guys are working hard this summer to get ready for it."
How have summer workouts been going since the rules have changed to where the coaching staff can coach them more?
"Summer workouts have been great. It's been a fantastic change in the rules that has allowed us for the first time since I have been in the business which is over 20 years, it is the first time we have been allowed to work with our players in the summer. It has been nothing but a positive. The coaches have been beating the drum for this rule change forever, but it is the first time we have been allowed to do it, and it has been a great thing. We are so absent from our players' lives, not just on the basketball floor, in the summer because they were in summer school or were doing their own thing. You were not with them on the floor, and you hardly were able to see them. Now, you are pretty much with them on a day-to-day basis, and that is nothing but a positive. It is going to help strengthen relationships and all those things in a less pressure environment than the crucible of the season, but at the same time, it has allowed us to get the young guys caught up earlier and therefore, what you will see not just here at Auburn, but you will see it across the country. You will see better basketball teams earlier in the season because of being able to work with your players in the summer. That is nothing but a positive I think."
How is the health of Frankie Sullivan and Noel Johnson?
"It is typical. Starting with Frankie, it is typical that the year back from the kind of knee injury he had, you are only going to be 75-80 percent, and that is what you saw last year which is still an 85 percent Frankie is fairly effective. But, there is no question him now two years removed from that injury, he is back to 100 percent. You see the speed, the explosiveness back in his legs. He is able instead of just being purely a spot-up shooter, which is what he was last year. He struggled to create like he typically can. Now, that is back in his game because he is comfortable on the knee. The strength is back. The pop is back. So, it is good to see Frankie this summer back to the old Frankie.
"Along the same lines with Noel, the injury that he suffered to his shooting hand in the preseason practices really, really set him back. None of us including the fans were able to see the true Noel with what he can do on the basketball floor. Once he hurt his shooting hand, he struggled with his confidence, and he really never gained his confidence back. If you are a shooter and you don't have confidence in yourself, then you lose confidence in every other part of your game as well. That is where Noel was, but very similar to Frankie, he has that back, and he has had a fantastic summer in the weight room. He has had a fantastic summer on the floor, and I am looking forward to Noel being 100 percent with his game and with his confidence this season in his senior year."
With only your second recruiting class at Auburn, what is the excitement you have in having this caliber of players new to the team this year?
"We are excited about the class. When you are at this level of competition in this league which I think is the best in the country in the SEC, you have to have some horses to run in that race. When you are building a program, you try to put together recruiting classes and you project out what your needs are and all those things. We were able to identify some guys early and get them committed and signed up early. So, that turned into a top 25 class and ranked third in the SEC. The one thing that this game has become is it has become a young game because of the NBA rule. Young players are expected now to come in and produce right away. We have a variety of young, talented guys at different positions that we are expecting to come in and produce ... at what level? We don't know that yet. It is still early.
"We have been pleasantly surprised with some guys. Jordan Price, obviously the highest ranked of the class, has come in and established himself early on in what we can all expect from him. Obviously, Shaquille Johnson's athleticism will give us a different level of athlete that we have had on the floor since I've been here. Jordon Granger has been great in the practices this summer. He just has to continue to work hard in the weight room to develop his body to be able to compete at this level. I think probably the surprise of the newcomers who have been in practice this summer have been Brian Greene. He has really stood out as a guy who has an unbelievable work ethic. He stays in the gym. He loves it. He is a gym rat. He is every coach's kind of dream. He will give us great depth at that point guard position with great size and great athleticism at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds a guy who is as fast as Josh Wallace, jumps like Shaquille Johnson and has the ability to score and run the team from the point guard position. Those guys have been fantastic. Even though KT Harrell cannot play this year, he has had a great summer. He is going to help our team this year by elevating the level of practice every day. Because he can't play in games, the practices become his games. So, those guys have had fantastic summers, and I am excited about the newcomers. The leadership that we have had from the veteran group has been great for those new guys because they have a great example to follow on how you are expected to act and how you are expected to work."
On Auburn's backcourt
"We have lot of different pieces in the backcourt. We have a lot of depth in the backcourt. We have a lot of different parts, obviously, with the veteran presence in the backcourt with Josh Wallace, Frankie Sullivan and Chris Denson. Those guys give us a veteran presence and in college basketball, veteran experienced guards typically win games. I am excited about those guys having been under me for two years and understanding the system in how we play, and how we do things. They have been fantastic. Obviously, having Frankie back at 100 percent and being I think one of the best guards in the conference coupled with what we have added in Brian Greene and Jordan Price and all of a sudden, you have five guys in two positions that bring different things to the floor. That will give us more versatility and more depth."
On Auburn's frontcourt
"The frontcourt with Rob Chubb and with Jordon Granger, a freshman from St. Louis who has been fantastic this summer, and once we get Asauhn (Dixon-Tatum) and Shareif (Adamu) here, then all of a sudden you have four bigs in that four-five position who do a lot of different things. Obviously, Kenny Gabriel will be missed with what he was able to get done in his senior year on the floor, but I think we have some guys who can help fill in that gap for him. I think Shareif is one of those guys that is 6-foot-8, 230 pounds that does a lot of things similar to Kenny but also brings some things to the floor that Kenny couldn't do because of his physicality. I am looking forward to those guys meshing and gelling together.
"I am excited about Rob Chubb and the development he has had in two years has been fun to watch. I think you are even going to see a different level of play with Rob. He has really worked on expanding his game from more than just five feet and in. He has pushed his game out to 16 to 17 feet and in. So, we will do some different things with him, but I think you will see a different level of confidence from Rob Chubb. You have seen that increase from year to year since I have been here. Now as a senior, he should have the ultimate confidence in his ability because he has been through this league in a full-time manner now for two years. Now as a senior, it is time to go out there and have fun and do what you do."