Head Coach Tony Barbee Preseason Press Conference
Oct. 11, 2011
"We had a great offseason with how the team has progressed and worked through the spring and into the summer. We had a great summer of recruiting. That is the worst thing about summer is not being able to work with your guys so every day you look forward to moments like this, where you can take the court full time and get with your guys and work with them. We're excited about the year. Last year, it wasn't about wins and losses. It was about establishing the culture around this program. When you saw my team play, we were very unselfish, and we worked hard on the defensive side of the ball. We got a lot better from the start of the year to the end of the year. We were a team that took pride in defense and how far that can actually take you. We were a team when you saw us play, we had that never-say-quit attitude. If we lost, it was because we ran out of time. It wasn't because we stopped fighting. So last year as we laid the foundation for the program, here we are in year two, and it's the second phase of rebuilding. The increase in the talent level that we have is significant. The talent of the returning players has gotten extremely better through the individual skills program and the weight-training program. Guys that needed to put on weight did and guys that needed to lose weight did. We're excited about the new players, namely the transfers, in Noel Johnson and Varez Ward. Both guys are ready to go both physically and academically. We're excited to have the three freshmen from the signing class with us. They're here and have worked their tails off in the preseason conditioning program. We're excited about the schedule and where we are in the rebuilding stage of our program. We're not where we want to be yet as it is a process, but we have significantly improved. Last season, our non-conference schedule of our 14 games we only had three national games. This year we've doubled that, three to six. You look at the fact that we will play Seton Hall in the Big East-SEC Challenge, the return game of USF coming here, our continuing series against FSU as they were a Sweet 16 team and a nationally-ranked team and then you look at what we are going to do. Every year, it's a program's determination to play in what I like to call an exempt tournament like the one we will play in Hawaii with an outstanding field. We drew the home team in the first round, which is Hawaii. They return 80 percent of their scoring and 80 percent of their rebounding, and we have to play them on their home court to open up that tournament. You look at all those opportunities to play on ESPN with the possibilities of playing the likes of Xavier, an NCAA Tournament team, and Long Beach State, an NIT team, in the second round. If you project down into the third round with the possibility of playing a Clemson, a Kansas State or other NCAA Tourney teams or a UTEP, which is an NIT team. We're excited about where we're at in being able to build a nationally recognized schedule. There's a lot to look forward to. We're excited about Friday's Tiger Hoops Madness as this will be the second year of it, and we definitely want to build that tradition. It will be something to look forward to as we begin every season with the Tiger Hoops Madness in October, and it will entail introducing the team as it will look, the staff as it will look and hopefully it will be something that is anticipated for years to come. As I stated before, the weather is starting to change and getting a little colder. The rain is in the sky, and it's basketball season. We're ready to go."
On a possible specific goal for the upcoming season ..."We just want to continue in our progression and again, I've always talked about that fact that no one is going to put higher expectations on my team than me. As a coach, when you look at our program, I look at our schedule, and I don't see a game on our schedule that we can't win. That's the kind of coach that I am. I'm coaching to win every single game. Now that being said, there are very few teams that can go undefeated anymore so our goals are the same as last year. Our mentality is, if you're going to play one of my teams, you better expect a fight for 40 minutes, and we're going to continue with that tough defense being our identity. The guys we have are all improved and have gotten better and stronger. There's no question that we have improved, and we have a team that can score significantly better than last season. At the end of the day, it's the team that put up the most points that is going to win. What made it hard last year was that we were offensively challenged. It was a fun team to coach because of how hard they worked, but this year we're not there entirely, but we have a team that can finish strong, and it will be easier to score this year."
On the return of Frankie Sullivan ..."It means a lot. There's no question that everyone understands the impact that he can have on this program. You look back to that FSU game. He wasn't at full speed, wasn't at full health, and he didn't have a huge impact on that game like we know he can have, but he is one of those guys that I talked about that I want all my players to be. Whatever he is, 6-1, 205, he sees himself as a guy who is 6-10, 305, and he thinks he's supposed to win everything that he does. Whether it is a game of ping-pong, a game of pool or an individual drill, or he's stepping on the floor against a nationally-ranked team like Florida State, he thinks he is, along with his team, supposed to win that game no matter the circumstances. That kind of attitude becomes contagious, just like, unfortunately, a losing attitude can become contagious. That is what Frankie brings to the table, other than his ability to shoot the ball. We have some other guys that have joined the program that are exactly the same way. Varez Ward brings the same-type of winning attitude. Some of the freshmen do as well. They might not necessarily have the experience as the other two guys, but the three freshmen all come from winning backgrounds. Cedrick McAfee comes from a state championship his junior year in the state of Tennessee. He was on the number one preseason ranked team in the country. Last year, both Willy Kouassi and Bernard Morena won the Mythical High School Championship and their prep school championship. So those guys come from winning backgrounds, and that is what we are going to recruit here. That becomes contagious, and that is how we recruit. When you start to put together those type of talented guys and that type of confidence in themselves and in their team, that is contagious. We're looking forward to that type of style and that type of basketball this season."
On what Auburn's style of play will be this year..."Defensively, it is going to be very similar. There will be more man-to-man because we are deeper and more athletic. I have always talked about being a fast paced, high scoring team that I envision, and we couldn't do that last year because we didn't score as easy so we had to do some things to control the tempo of the game to give ourselves a chance. This year we will be able to open things up a little bit more. Starting on the defensive end, I think we will be able to extend some things down the floor instead of packing it in and trying to protect. I think we can be more aggressive, which leads to more turnovers and bad shots for the opponent. When we do that, it allows us to get into transition. We have the type of guys that are fast, quick and athletic, which allows them to play in transition. But it all starts on the defensive end of the floor. Offensively, we will still be working on some of those things, but we are going to be more effective in transition than we were last year. We will look to take some quicker shots and at a higher tempo to try to increase the amount of possessions in the game. Last year was the complete opposite. We tried to shorten the amount of possessions in the game based of our lack of ability to score. It will be much more fun game, more fun for the fans and for the students. It will be more exciting, but at the end of the day, for me, winning is exciting. We will have a greater chance of doing that on a higher level than we did last year."
On Kenny Gabriel..."He comes back with a lot of confidence. Kenny was a player who was unsure last year. He was unsure if he could play at this level and unsure of his abilities. He had his moments last year, but I talk about junior college transfers and incoming freshman. There is no difference in their adjustment to this level of Division I basketball. Inconsistency is what you are going to get, and that is what we saw. He would have his big moments. He would have his big games, but then would disappear for one or two games. This year, I expect him to be a lot more consistent game in and game out. That is what you expect from your seniors. They have been through it. They understand it. He understands the kind of importance he has to this program. He is one of those guys who put in the work, which is where it all starts. It isn't me who tells him how great he is. It is him working by himself in the weight room and on the floor to improve his skills. We are expecting a big year out of him."
On the incoming freshman..."We expect them to have a huge impact. In the state of college basketball today, there is no more recruiting a freshman, watching him sit and learn behind a veteran player and then playing when he is a junior or senior. Those days are pretty much out the window, so we are going to need all three freshmen to contribute and contribute immediately. The learning curve for those guys is sped way up. Cedrick McAfee is a combo guard out of the city of Memphis from Melrose High School. He was coached by a great high school coach in Jermaine Johnson. He does a great job of coaching his guys and preparing them for the next level. Cedrick has been one of the most prepared freshmen I have ever coached. He understands defensive concepts and philosophies. He is going to be a guy who can score the ball very, very easily. Whether it is attacking the rim because he is so athletic and can finish above the rim, he also stretches the defense out from 23 or 24 feet. He has that kind of range. We are expecting a lot from Cedrick, and he will be competing a lot for minutes in the backcourt. Bernard Morena is a 6-foot-8 inside and outside forward. He has really surprised me this preseason with his ability to shoot the ball from long range. I knew he could shoot, but I didn't realize he had that kind of range because with his high school system, he wasn't allowed to do that. Now being able to work with him, I am surprised he is able to shoot the ball as well as he does. He has got the length to be a great defender. He can guard any position on the floor because of his height and length. He is very versatile, and that will help him get minutes at a variety of positions. Willy Kouassi, at 6-foot-10, has great instinct to block and rebound the ball. They are second to none, and I have been around some of the better college post guys in the country. Derrick Caracter, who I coached at UTEP and is with the Los Angeles Lakers. Joey Dorsey, who I coached and recruited at Memphis and is now with the Toronto Raptors, and Marcus Camby, who I coached at UMass. Willy is not in that category yet, but he has the potential to be in that category because he has the ability to block shots, which is instinct. His ability to rebound the ball, outside of his area, is uncanny. He has to improve his basketball IQ and offensive ability when he gets the ball around the basket. He will be a good fit when you talk about the three centers we have with Rob Chubb, Adrian Forbes and now him. We have a great three-headed monster in the five position."
On Rob Chubb's progression..."I talk a lot about confidence in the weight room. That is where you confidence comes from, knowing that you are physically and mentally tough enough. When I came here in the spring, Rob was 6-foot-10, 215 pounds. Last year, he put on 15 more pounds through the spring and summer and played at 230 and you saw his confidence grow because he felt strong enough to compete. As the season went on, you could see him get more confident. This summer, he probably did as much to improve himself basketball- wise than anybody else on this team. Physically, he has put on 20 pounds, and that will make his confidence go through the roof. He became a go to guy for us last year. That is a role that he was not comfortable with. He told me, "Hey Coach, I wasn't the go to guy in high school." It was a position that was uncomfortable for him, but when you are learning, you have to go through those things. Now, he will come back with an even higher level of confidence having gone through that last year and having the type of summer that he had."
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