The journey has been bumpier than Tony Barbee hoped it would be, but he's starting to see what he wants to see and hear what he wants to hear.
Auburn basketball coach Tony Barbee talks at SEC Media Days on Thursday in Hoover/Todd Van Emst photos
As Barbee heads into his third season as Auburn's basketball coach, he sees leadership emerging where there has been little before has been a vital component of preseason practice.
“This has been the strongest leadership I’ve had since I’ve been at Auburn," Barbee said Thursday at Southeastern Conference Media Days in Hoover. "The seniors have done a great job. That’s a part of building a program, which is the reason why I came to Auburn. I know we’re starting to get there when the players that have been with me for two years are finishing my sentences before I finish them. When I start to see those veteran players who are comfortable in their own skin now and are coaching the younger guys and helping them along is a great start."
Barbee points to senior guard Frankie Sullivan, who has overcome a serious knee injury suffered in the summer of 2010 and center Rob Chubb.
"Frankie is finally able to play at 100 percent," Barbee said. "I can’t remember the last time he missed a shot in practice. He’s been playing really well. It’s the same thing with Rob Chubb. He’s playing with a senior’s confidence now at 255 lbs. He looks different and he’s playing different.”
Sullivan, Chubb, senior point guard Josh Wallace, junior guard Chris Denson, senior forward Noel Johnson and junior forward Allen Payne return from last season's team. They have been joined by the most highly rated recruiting class of Barbee's tenure.
“For me, the expectations are going to be high," Barbee said. "Nobody can put a higher expectation on my program or myself than my players or myself. With that being said, we just want to step forward and keep the momentum going.
From Year 1 to Year 2 we got better and had more wins, more conference wins, a higher RPI, a higher strength of schedule and we want to keep that momentum going this year.
"When I talk about expectations, I don’t want to talk about the number of wins, because whenever I look at our schedule, I don’t see a game we are going to lose. That’s how I look at things. It’s going to be a fun year for us. Practice has been competitive and spirited. We have a lot of positive things going on and we are excited about the year.”
The time is coming, Barbee said, when the Tigers will be a serious factor in the SEC race.
“We’re getting close," Barbee said. "It’s a process, and each year we want to take positive steps forward. This year our roster is stronger than it was last year. Those positives are going to equal to a higher finish in the conference."