Basketball Summer Prospectus With Coach Tony Barbee
July 20, 2011
On his expectations for the 2011-12 season:
"My personal expectations are always going to be higher than probably anybody could put on the program. But just in terms of the natural progression of taking over a program and building it from the ground up, you just want to continue to take steps in the positive direction. I think we have done that in every area of our program and our player development. Our players have all improved. They are better. They are bigger. They are stronger. We've done it in our recruiting through our first full-time recruiting class when you consider the transfers, Varez (Ward) and Noel (Johnson) and then our three incoming freshmen in Willy (Kouassi), Bernard (Morena) and Cedric (McAfee). I think we have upgraded our talent level through our first full-time recruiting class, and also with the schedule. I think we have upgraded the schedule. We have taken steps, I think, from year one to year two that we are going to continue to build in a positive direction."
On the differences between this summer and last summer, your first at Auburn. How much better do you feel a year into building the program?
"You are just more acclimated to the University, to the community, to the conference so it's not as hectic in terms of everything you have to deal with when you take over a new job and a new program, and you are trying to learn everything all at once. Now, things are more stable. Keeping our staff together, the continuity within the staff is always a positive when you don't have major turnover in the staff. So, I think the players feel that continuity and stability as well. It's kind of a much higher comfort level going into year two than it was going into year one with all the unknowns."
On Auburn's backcourt:
"I'm excited about the backcourt this year. Obviously, the improvements that I think all of the guys who played last year have made from last spring when we took over, the improvements they have made through this season and obviously the hard work that they have put in the weight room and the gym this summer to improve their games. You look at what Josh Wallace did. I think he was a big surprise to everybody in the spark he was able to provide last year. At times, we couldn't play unless he was on the floor, and I think in year two for him in terms of getting major minutes, you will see an even better Josh Wallace this year. He has worked dilligently on his ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter this year. I think you will see a much improved outside shooter which will improve his game with his ability, quickness and speed which have already changed the game. Now, he will be much more of an offensive threat this year with Chris Denson and Tony Neysmith making that transition from playing. I think you will see the improvement all of the returners have made and you couple that with the return of Frankie Sullivan back to full strength from his injury. I think everybody knows the type of leadership and toughness and those things that he provides the program. You saw that in the few games he played last year when we were able to beat an NCAA Tournament team in Florida State that just missed going to the Final Four with him on the floor. We are all excited about Frankie coming back to complete health and providing that spark. Then, the additions of Varez Ward and Noel Johnson and Cedric McAfee to the backcourt, it's a deep, balanced, offensively explosive group that we are going to have this year."
On Auburn's frontcourt:
"A lot like Josh Wallace, Rob Chubb was a pleasant surprise for everybody. You saw the progression that he's made physically where he has changed his body and developed. His skill level has improved through his hard work in the gym. We are so excited about seeing Chubb with really the first year of any playing experience of any significance, you will see a significantly better Rob Chubb this year.
"Adrian Forbes, like any junior college player, it is a hard transition from junior college to major Division I level. Like any junior college player, he was inconsistent last year. He had his moments and obviously, we expect a much more consistent and a much more productive Adrian Forbes as a senior.
"The same thing with Kenny Gabriel. A lot like Rob Chubb, he was a pleasant surprise but not as consistent as we would have liked him to be last year. As a senior, he has put in a lot of work this summer on his game. He has put in a lot of work physically on his body and making himself stronger so he can hold up for longer stretches of the season physically and doesn't get as worn down as he did last year. So, we are expecting a lot out of Kenny in his senior year.
"We are excited about the additions of Willy Kouassi and Bernard Morena, the two freshmen from Birmingham. They are going to be terrific additions. Willy gives us a different dimension along the frontline that we haven't had, and we didn't have last year. A defensive presence, he is a guy who challenges every shot at the rim as a shot blocker, rebounds it out of his area, which is always something you want from your big guys and is an evolving offensive player. We are excited about Willy joining the team.
"Bernard is going to be a fantastic player who can play either in the frontcourt or the backcourt because of his size and his skill and his ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter. He is a guy who can make an open three. He is long and athletic and can be a really good defender but like all freshmen, it is going to be an adjustment to this level, but physically, he is also going to have to adjust."
On Auburn's wings:
"We are deeper in our wing position this year. We are more athletic and have the ability to shoot the ball better from that position from the wing when you have a Josh Langford returning, who again had his moments as a freshman. He wasn't as consistent as I would have liked him to be, but that is what a freshman is. Now that he is a sophomore, we expect more consistency out of Josh.
"The same thing goes with Allen Payne, another freshman on the wing who had his moments, but was inconsistent and physically I thought kind of got worn down at the end of the year, physically and mentally. Allen has to come back with a higher level of conditioning where he has really worked this summer to improve his body to add muscle. He's improved his game in terms of the hours that he has spent in the gym working on his individiual skills so I think that will translate into a big sophomore season for Allen.
"Again, guys who can slide into that wing position, the other incoming freshman, Bernard Morena, will add to that wing position with his size and length and his ability to shoot the ball. Then, Noel Johnson, when he becomes eligible at the semester, will obviously add to us. He is a proven commodity at this level with what he has already done in the ACC at Clemson with his ability to score the ball and shoot the ball."
How much does Auburn's positive finish last season carry over into the summer and this upcoming season?
"I said last year was not so much as wins and losses but about laying the foundation and that is exactly what we did. We laid the foundation for how competitive we are going to be as a team and a program. If we lose a game, it's only because we ran out of time, not because we stopped fighting, gave up or quit. That's not going to happen. We laid that foundation, and that's evident by a lot of big comebacks this year. Obviously, we do not want to keep that trend going of having to make big comebacks. I was proud of the way the team competed all season long, down in some big deficits against some really talented teams that we kept fighting and had a chance in a lot of them and pulled out some ones that maybe we shouldn't have won. I think that in terms of laying the foundation will carry over, and I expect the returners to carry that over and then help teach the young guys. That's how you not just build a team but how you sustain a program."
"It's big because the veteran leadership that they provide. You are talking about Frankie. He has a winning aura about him. Some players have it, some players don't. He believes every time he steps on the floor whether it is a one-on-one game, a defensive drill in practice or a game on the biggest stage like a Florida State, he believes that he should win that game and that becomes contagious. We missed that last year on top of what he provides with his talent level and his ability to shoot the ball and make plays and those things. So that will be an immediate spark.
"The same thing with Varez Ward. Varez and Frankie have a lot of the same characteristics in terms of the leadership qualities, the winning attitude and belief that when he steps on the floor, his team should win. You put that in the backcourt, that becomes contagious. It is going to be a much-needed boost having those two guys, who are two of the more talented players to come out of Alabama in the last five to 10 years."
What are your feelings about the SEC doing away with divisions and going to one entire league?
"I think it is going to make a huge difference in the perception of our conference. We are the Southeastern Conference. We are not the Southeastern Conference divided by an Eastern and Western Division. That is not the name of our league. Our league is called the Southeastern Conference. With us being organized now as one league, one division top to bottom, I think it will go a long way in the perception, fairly or unfairly. It is just human nature. We are no longer going to be two separate leagues or perceived as that. We are going to be one league, and I think the strength of our league is as good as any in our country."
More Auburn Football Headlines
More Auburn Headlines