AUBURN - Tony Barbee will take the court with his first Auburn basketball team tonight for the first preseason and the Grand Opening of the Auburn Arena. He will have a team with little experience and little height.
First-year Auburn basketball coach Tony Barbee
But Barbee, who moved from Texas-El Paso when Jeff Lebo was fired after six seasons, isn't into complaining. He says he and his staff have to be creative and find ways to win. And he says he expects to do just that.
"Every day I'm with the staff, we are talking and brainstorming and doing what coaches do," Barbee said. "We are all X-ing and O-ing on napkins, and it all seems to work then. We are just trying to find a way to be successful with the one of the smallest teams around in the country. We have one player that is over 6-foot-9 in Rob Chubb and everyone else is smaller than that, so we are going to be a fun team to watch. We are going to have to play a style that I like to play anyway, but I like to do it with bigger guys - a fast-paced, pressure-based defense where we are causing turnovers and forcing bad shots and getting down in transition and playing a fast style.
"What that leads to in wins and losses, that is hard to say. Nobody is going to put expectations on my team higher than what mine can be. There is not a game on the schedule I look at saying we have no shot in that one. We are going to play hard, we are going to play fast, and we are going to play fun. It is going to be an exciting style for the players and for the fans to watch, so we'll see what that leads to."
Sophomore guard Earnest Ross said the Tigers have been through a grueling offseason program and are ready to compete.
"We are using it as motivation," Ross said. "Like Coach Barbee was saying, we are a very small team and a lot of the competition we are going to be playing is going to be bigger than we are. With the group of guys that we have and the type of character guys that we have are all very competitive. That makes us a very scrappy team. We look forward to playing the bigger and better competition. We are just going to compete every time we step on the court."
Barbee lost two projected starters and leaders before ever going to practice. Junior guard Frankie Sullivan and sophomore forward Ty Armstrong suffered knee injuries and underwent surgery.
"Both Frankie and Ty have been working extremely hard every day," Barbee said. "It is not a good thing they got hurt, but the fact that they both are going through the same injury and the same recovery, they are not on an island by themselves. They are really pushing each other, because they are going through the exact same deal every day.
"We all know how tough Frankie is mentally and physically, and that has really helped. He is a natural leader, the instinct he has, and he has really helped Ty through this. So in terms of expectations this year, there is really none. It all depends on how they progress though this rehab."
Point guard Varez Ward, a transfer from Texas, has not been cleared to go full-speed, Barbee said. Ward missed most of last season with a knee injury.
"He hasn't been going through the workouts with the ball or the coaches," Barbee said.. "We want to be cautious coming off that injury,"
GRAND OPENING DETAILS
* Auburn Arena doors will open at 6:15 p.m.
* FanFest, complete with inflatable games, face painting and live music, will open at 5 p.m. at the north entrance of the arena.
* The men's and women's basketball teams will sign autographs beginning at 5:30 p.m.
* The Grand Opening event will begin at 7 p.m. and will include the men's basketball team and coaches the women's basketball team and coaches, the Auburn cheerleaders, Tiger Paws, pep band, Aubie and the Harlem Globetrotters.
* Prohibited Items: Umbrellas, video cameras, cameras with detachable lenses, backpacks, recording devices, artificial noisemakers, food or beverage containers, bottles, weapons, pets, stadium seats with arms, alcoholic beverages and other items deemed inappropriate or hazardous by gate/security personnel.