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Barkley speaks his mind

AUBURN – Charles Barkley.

Charles Barkley says Tony Barbee is the right man at the right time for Auburn basketball/Phillip Marshall photo

Mention that name almost anywhere, and you’ll get an opinion. Some love him. Some don’t. But you can’t ignore him.

Barkley flashed onto the national sports scene at Auburn in 1981 as a basketball player who stood 6-foot-5 at and played like he was 7 feet tall. Even overweight, he could dominate a game like few before or since. He went on to become one of the NBA’s all-time greats.

Every step of the way, Barkley had fun. He smiled. He laughed. He spoke his mind. And he’s speaking his mind now as an NBA analyst for TNT.

Friday, Barkley was at the Auburn Arena as the featured speaker for second-year Tony Barbee’s camp, one that, by most expectations, included more top-level talent than any Auburn basketball camp ever has.

Before talking to the assembled campers, telling them that education was more important than basketball, that playing in the NBA was probably a pipe dream, Barkley talked with reporters about a wide range of topics.

Some Barkley morsels:

On being asked back by Auburn’s coaches

“I want to thank them for inviting me. I’m really excited about the direction of the program. To be honest, I haven’t felt good about the program in a long time. I’m really, really excited. You want to see your program to do better. I’m proud of the new facilities, but I think the main thing I’m excited about is the enthusiasm of the coaching staff. They really want to turn this thing around.”

On watching Auburn basketball as a former player

“To be honest, it hasn’t been a lot of fun. Losing sucks. I told them I’d anything they ask me to do. Chuck (Person) and I talk quite a bit. It’s just been frustrating and, honestly, embarrassing. The thing that makes it even worse is the SEC hasn’t been very good. It’s just been very frustrating.”

On the NBA lockout

“It’s going to get ugly. I’ve already been on the record saying I don’t think they are going to play at all next season. It’s going to be ugly.”

On his view of who is at fault the NBA labor strife

“I’ll be honest. I always pull for the players. But I do think the owners have some legitimate concerns. We have been in a recession. The only thing that hasn’t gone down is players’ salaries. That’s just legitimate.”

On whether he would take that stance if he was playing

“Probably not. I think when you are playing you have to tow the party line. When you are on television or in the media, you have to be fair and balanced. It’s interesting. People say ‘What is the hardest thing about your job?’ I say it’s admitting that some of my players are a--holes. Seriously.

“Depending on what job you have, you think that your way is right. When you are a player, you think all the media is full of s--t, all the coaches are full of s--t. You kind of think we always right. Then, when you have to be objective and sit back, you’re wow, man, some of these players are crazy. When you are a player, whatever the player does, you’re like somebody made him do that. The coach must have p---ed him off. The coach doesn’t know what he’s doing. When you have to sit back and be honest, that’s not easy.”

On his confidence in Barbee and his staff

“First of all, they have a great track record. That’s the bottom line. I think they have really reached out to some of the older players. We want to be part of the program. To be honest, this is the first time they’ve ever reached out to us. We want basketball to do well. We’re proud of what the football team accomplished, but we still want Auburn basketball to be better. I really thank them for reaching out to us. We want to be part of this.”

On his time at Auburn with Bo Jackson, Chuck Person, Frank Thomas, etc.

“I spent the week with Bo. We have this running dialogue. We were up in Canada playing golf all week. We both call each other No. 2. There is great debate on who is the greatest jock in Auburn history. He had everybody, when I checked in the hotel, saying ‘Hey, No. 2.’ I just died laughing the whole time. He’s always been a good friend. I’ve told people watching Bo Jackson play football was one of the highlights of my life.”

On what makes Auburn special

“Not to butter anybody up, Auburn is a very unique place. It’s a big school with a smalltown feel. You never think there are 20,000 students here when you are here. You always feel like it’s special when you are here.

“… I’ve been all over the world and people are screaming War Eagle at me all over the place.”

On whether he believes Barbee is happy at Auburn

“I do think he’s happy here. I think he’s excited about the new arena. There is a great vibe around Auburn right now with the football stuff. I think it’s impossible as an Auburn person not to be excited. There is just great energy around here right now. It’s going to be tough on the football team, losing so much. I don’t think you can replace players that great that easily. Cam Newtons don’t grow on trees, and Nick Fairley. But there is just some great energy around right now.”

On SEC basketball now compared to the 1980s

“It was much better. That was probably one of the things that has been more frustrating. The SEC hasn’t been good and Auburn hasn’t been good. Even when we went to Ole Miss, they had a good team. Mississippi State had Jeff Malone and those guys. Georgia had Dominique Wilkins. Alabama had Bobby Lee (Hurt) and Ennis (Whatley). LSU. I’ve always said the best college player I played against was Leonard Mitchell.

“The SEC used to be a very good basketball conference. Right now, Georgia is getting better. But, really, it’s just been Kentucky and Florida. The SEC used to be a very good basketball conference, and there is no reason it shouldn’t be now.”

On what Auburn needs to do to be successful

“We have to find a way to get the best players out of Alabama. Georgia is really a hotbed now, and because of Auburn’s location, there is no reason we shouldn’t do well in Alabama and Atlanta.”

On watching Auburn last season

“I don’t count the first year for any coach. There is a reason the last coach got fired. He didn’t have enough good players. Tony has had a chance to recruit and I expect them to be much better this year.

“I know that team got better. They had some good wins down the stretch and lost a lot of close games. That tells me the players didn’t pack it in. That’s what I was watching more than anything. They were very competitive down the stretch. That’s not easy when you are on a bad team. You could tell he had those kids engaged. That’s what I was watching. A lot of teams pack it in, and they didn’t.”

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