Oct. 13, 2009
Auburn enters the 42nd and final season of Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum with excitement after recording the second most wins in Auburn history with last year's 24-12 Tigers. The Tigers return three starters in leading scorer DeWayne Reed, leading 3-point shooter Tay Waller and Lucas Hargrove off a team that came within an eyelash of reaching the NIT Final Four.
Mix the senior starting trio in with sophomore guard Frankie Sullivan, 6-foot-10 senior center Brendon Knox, forward Johnnie Lett, Oklahoma transfer Tony Neysmith and a very impressive recruiting class, and the Tigers look to close out the Coliseum in style.
"I think we are moving in the right direction," said sixth-year Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo. "The biggest improvement that we made is defensively. I think the experience at the point guard is gigantic, and I think DeWayne Reed was a guy that really improved from his sophomore to his junior year. Tay Waller started for us, and so we have two seniors in the backcourt. Frankie Sullivan played a lot of minutes for us, is tough, can make shots and can do a lot of different things there for us.
"Tony Neysmith is a guy kind of like Quantez (Robertson), who is not a great shooter, but can defend a lot of different people on the perimeter. He can run, and he's athletic. We'll miss the leadership of our three guys last year in Quantez, Vot (Barber) and Rasheem (Barrett), and it will be interesting to see what transpires here as far as who kind of takes control."
Reed ranked third in the SEC with 1.9 steals, sixth with 3.7 assists and 17th in scoring at 13.2 points per game. He averaged 16.0 points and 3.7 rebounds in the NIT. Waller averaged 12.1 points last year and ranked second in the SEC making 100 three-point field goals, which also ranked second on Auburn's single-season chart. He ranked third in the SEC shooting 36.8 percent from 3-point range and finished the season strong as he averaged 13.8 points and shot 42.5 percent from 3-point range in the final 12 games.
Hargrove (8.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 25.1 min./gm), Sullivan (7.6 ppg in 19.2 min/gm), Knox (2.5 ppg, 8.2 min/gm) and Lett (2.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 12.7 min/gm) will continue to have big impacts after coming on strong while helping the Tigers finish the season by winning 11 of 13 games before losing a 74-72 heartbreaker to Baylor in the NIT quarterfinals. Only SEC Champion LSU was the only league team to have a better SEC record than Auburn's 10-6 mark.
Highly-rated newcomers will provide Auburn an immediate boost in 6-foot-8 Paris (Texas) Junior College transfer Kenny Gabriel, three-time first-team Class AAA All-State selection Andre Malone, two-time first-team Class 4A All-State pick Earnest Ross, 6-foot-10 freshman Rob Chubb and 6-foot-9 freshman Ty Armstrong.
"It's probably the most solid class we have seen," said Lebo. "I think we have guys that want to work. I think we have some guys, too, that are body wise, for high school kids, a little bit more ready in Malone, Ross and Ty Armstrong. Chubb is bigger. So, we have some bigger guys in there. Kenny Gabriel has played a year of junior college basketball for a good coach and a good team. So that is going to help him make the jump a little bit easier than from high school to this level."
Gabriel, who will have three years of eligibility remaining at Auburn, averaged 13.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game as a freshman last year while leading Paris J.C. to a 25-6 record. Malone, who was rated as the 19th best shooting guard in the country by Rivals.com and the 74th best player overall, averaged 20 points, 5 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 3 steals as a senior while leading South Atlanta High in to the Class AAA State Championship.
Ross averaged 21 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists as a senior at Panther Creek High School and was named Tri-Eight Conference Player of the Year. He was the leading scorer in the North Carolina vs. South Carolina All-Star Game with 16 points and had a team-high 10 rebounds. Chubb averaged 10.1 points and 7.2 rebounds as a senior at Montverde (Fla.) Academy, and Armstrong averaged 13 points as a senior at Florida Air Academy.
Auburn will play 11 games against 2009 postseason tournament teams, including home games against SEC Champion LSU, Kentucky, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Niagara and Alabama State. Other home games vs. Virginia, Alabama, Ole Miss, Georgia and Arkansas as well as a road game at 2009 NCAA Tournament participant Florida State, a neutral site game vs. North Carolina State in the Glenn Wilkes Classic in Daytona Beach, Fla., and a game at Missouri State also highlight the schedule.
The Tigers final season opener in Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum is Nov. 13 against Niagara, who advanced to last season's NIT.
"We have a very demanding schedule this year with three ACC teams on it and a couple of raod games," said Lebo. "We have a return game at Missouri State, and we will play in Huntsville. A couple of years ago, we wanted to play in different parts of the state so we have been to Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile and now we are going to be up in Huntsville. That will be great for our Auburn fans in that area and in northern Alabama.
"We play at Florida State, which went to the NCAA Tournament, North
Carolina State and Virginia in Auburn. We have a good mixture of some high level teams."