Auburn Looking For Answers

FAYETTEVILLE -- New Auburn coach Jeff Lebo doesn't coach football, and he's certainly no Steve Spurrier, but he did draw a parallel between rebuilding the Tigers and Spurrier's first seasons at Duke

"They couldn't line it up and hand off the ball against teams," Lebo said. "They had to put it in the air 62 times a game and hope they made some plays.

"We're going to have to do the same thing, only we're going to utilize the 3-point line."

Of course, there are some inherent problems when trying to install a Fun and Gun offense, as Spurrier would attest to after his failed two-year stint with the Washington Redskins.

Lebo is finding that hard fact out for himself in Auburn's practices.

"We want to run and shoot," Lebo said. "But we want to run and make a few. Right now, at the pace we're playing in practice, we haven't made a lot of shots. We scrimmaged the other day and got a lot of shots.

"We have a lot of shooters, not a lot of makers yet."

Auburn doesn't have a whole lot of anything coming back this year after the firing of Cliff Ellis following a 14-14 season and the mass defection of key contributors Lewis Monroe, Dwayne Curtis, Brandon Robinson and Marco Killingsworth, who all transferred after Lebo was hired.

Monroe was the team's leading assist man last year, averaging 3.6 per game, while forwards Curtis, Killingsworth and Robinson would have formed a formidable frontcourt had they returned.

Instead, Auburn has one player standing 6-foot-11, incoming freshman Ruan Daniel, and nobody else taller than 6-6.

Killingsworth was perhaps the most bizarre move of all. He put his name in the NBA draft, withdrew it and then put his pro career on hold for at least two years since he must sit out a season for transferring.

Ian Young was one of three junior college players who transferred in last year and elected to stay at Auburn rather than change schools again.

Young, who will man the point guard position this year, said the transfers never meshed with the established nucleus of a team that went to the Sweet 16 and lost to eventual national champion Syracuse just a year earlier.

"It was lack of chemistry," Young said. "We had me, Quinnel Brown, Ronnie LeMelle coming in trying to establish ourselves as new guys and you had the same guys from the Sweet 16 team. It was just a lack of chemistry, especially when other guys were coming back from injuries and academic problems. We all did the same things, but we weren't on the same page.

"Losing will do that to a team."

Losing will also cost a coach his job and even though Ellis had enjoyed a kind of success Auburn wasn't used to, he also brought an NCAA investigation.

For his part, Lebo avoided answering any questions about why so many players decided against returning.

"You never know," Lebo said. "Kids have their own ideas and their own thoughts where they fit in and where they're going to play. You'd have to ask Marco.

"I would really like to focus on the guys coming back who want to be on this team."

Young said he thought about leaving, too, as he saw every big man heading out.

But he gave Lebo a chance and pronounced him a "player's coach."

"I think if they did talk to him and understand where he's trying to take Auburn, they would have stayed," Young said. "I don't know if they gave him a chance, but I gave him a chance."

Young said the Tigers' uptempo style will hopefully cause as many problems for opponents as Auburn's lack of size restricts its options.

The undersized Tigers will be underdogs often this year, Lebo said, even against teams like Furman from the Southern Conference he coached in at Tennessee-Chattanooga.

Auburn has only 10 scholarship players, which will make it even harder to press fullcourt for a full game.

Even one injury or foul trouble could have a dramatic effect on the Tigers' already slim chances.

"They're not allowed to get tired or hurt," Lebo said. "That's our identity."

Lebo said the team has bought into the "us against the world" mentality and Young said the chemistry is vastly improved from a year ago.

"I tell my players that we have nothing to lose," Young said. "Nobody thinks we're going to do anything. We can go out and fight every day, scrap and shock a lot of people. It's hard staying at the top.

"We were predicted to do real well last year and look what happened."

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