AUBURN - It's a night for celebrating Auburn basketball. There's a glittering new arena, a new coach with a big-time pedigree and new energy.
Phillip Marshall, Senior Editor, AuburnUndercover.com
Auburn Arena officially opened for business Friday night. It is so different from the cavernous Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum that it almost defies to describe how different. It is bright. It is clean. There is a scoreboard with state-of-the-art graphics and high definition video board.
Finally, after so many years, Auburn is trying to do basketball right.
Athletics director Jay Jacobs deserves much of the credit. He was the driving force behind the building of the new arena, a project that very few universities undertake without some kind of government help. He made the hard decision to fire Jeff Lebo, who he likes and respects, and shell out the money to go get Tony Barbee, whose name surfaced in virtually every coaching search.
From the day he arrived, Barbee has been reaching out to Auburn people, particularly Auburn students. That has rarely been done, and the result has been widespread apathy. Students have to make the atmosphere happen basketball, particularly at a place like Auburn that is not in a metropolitan area. Other than a coach going and talking to students now and then, Auburn has rarely to anything to encourage them in the past.
Barbee recognized quickly that needed to change. He announced Friday night that there will be a drawing at each game, with the winner getting his or her books free for a semester. And Barbee is paying for it out of his own pocket. He was ready to do the same for another promotion that will pay tuition for a student at each game, but Golden Flake jumped in and offered to sponsor it. The new arena caters to students, giving them prime seats and other amenities. When the season is over, Barbee will host students who attended for a party at his home.
A capacity crowd showed up Friday night to see the men's and women's teams run through some playful drills, heard from Barbee and women's coach Nell Fortner and from former great and Hall of Famer Charles Barkley. It was Barkley who brought the house down by declaring :"This has been a great week for me because those a—holes at Alabama lost last week." The Globetrotters were the final act, though I have to say these Globetrotters are a far cry from the Meadowlark Lemon days.
None of the good feeling in the air Friday night will give Barbee a legitimate center or a go-to scorer. With a team short on size and experience, Barbee is likely to have a trying first season. But in five months than Lebo recruited in six years. There's not much question that better days are coming in a hurry.
Friday night's celebration was a roaring start.