Tolbert Thinks Experience Will Be Key

Editor's Note: This is the eighth in a series of stories that will preview the Southeastern Conference's men's basketball teams. Wednesday: Kentucky

FAYETTEVILLE — Frank Tolbert has witnessed tough times at Auburn, and he's finally confident the Tigers are capable of putting those hardships behind them. His first three seasons have produced small but steady improvements in the Auburn basketball program.

As fourth-year coach Jeff Lebo built up the program, Tolbert has persisted. The athletic 6-foot-4 guard from River Falls, Ala., has plodded along with a team-first attitude that has endeared him to teammates for three years.

"He's been through all of it," Lebo said. "And he's worked hard through all of it. That's what's great about him."

Tolbert may actually see some payoff this season. The Tigers return all five starters from a team that produced Auburn's first winning record since pre-Lebo days. Tolbert forms an athletic, scrappy backcourt with Quantez Robertson and Rasheem Barrett, while the athleticism doesn't drop off much in the frontcourt with Josh Dollard and Korvotney Barber.

All the experience, all the games logged, should lead to victories, Tolbert said.

"There's nothing like being there," Tolbert said. "We've got guys who have been there. We've got guys who know how tough it is in the SEC. We know what we're in for when we go on the road."

It's a far cry from where the Auburn program was when Lebo took over. The Tigers had just seven scholarship players, Tolbert included, that first season. Now, the Tigers have depth. Now, they also have players who don't just expect to have starting spots handed to them.

There's competition at practice, which is healthy for a squad that looked to have postseason talent for most of last season's 17-15 campaign.

"Practices are brutal," Tolbert said. "They're intense."

Nothing new for Tolbert. He has set the pace at Auburn's practices for three years.

His unselfish approach has been his way of serving as a leader. Tolbert doesn't get up players' faces. He doesn't holler. He just puts his head down and goes full speed every second of the day.

And that translates to the court. He shot 38 percent from 3-point range last season, averaged 11.8 points per game and grabbed 4.8 rebounds per contest, showing off his versatility. His energy served perfectly off the bench his first two seasons, when he started 30 of 58 games and earned the team's Sixth Man Award in each season.

Last season, Tolbert started more often. But he'd return to his old role, if asked.

Anything for the sake of the team, anything for a shot at the NCAA Tournament.

"That's all I've thought about in the offseason," Tolbert said. "We can do it. If we just work hard, we can do it."



AUBURN TIGERS

Coach: Jeff Lebo, fourth season

2005-06 record: 17-15 overall, 7-9 SEC

Returning starters: Josh Dollard, F, Jr., 12.5 ppg; Frank Tolbert, G, Sr., 11.8 ppg; Korvotney Barber, F, Jr., 11.3 ppg; Rasheem Barrett, G, Jr., 11.0 ppg; Quantez Robertson, G, Jr., 8.2 pgg

Key newcomers: Boubacar Sylia, C, Fr.

Date Opponent Time

Nov. 9 at Tulane 8 p.m.

Nov. 13 Kennesaw State 7 p.m.

Nov. 16 at Alabama State 7 p.m.

Nov. 19 at Charleston Southern 6:30 p.m.

Dec. 2 vs. George Washington& 1:30 p.m.

Dec. 5 vs. West Virginia^ 8:30 p.m.

Dec. 15 vs. Southern% 5 p.m.

Dec. 19 Mercer 7 p.m.

Dec. 22 Alabama A&M 1 p.m.

Dec. 29 Towson 1 p.m.

Jan. 2 Texas A&M Corpus Christi 7 p.m.

Jan. 6 Xavier 2 p.m.

Jan. 10 Arkansas* 8 p.m.

Jan. 12 at Florida* 11 a.m.

Jan. 16 at LSU* 7 p.m.

Jan. 19 Ole Miss* 4 p.m.

Jan. 22 Presbyterian College 7 p.m.

Jan. 26 at Alabama* 2 p.m.

Jan. 30 LSU* 7 p.m.

Feb. 2 at Vanderbilt* 4 p.m.

Feb. 6 Kentucky* 7 p.m.

Feb. 9 Mississippi State* 6 p.m.

Feb. 16 at Ole Miss* 4 p.m.

Feb. 20 at Tennessee* 6:30 p.m.

Feb. 24 Alabama* 1 p.m.

Feb. 27 at Mississippi State* 7 p.m.

Mar. 1 South Carolina* 5 p.m.

Mar. 5 Georgia* 7 p.m.

Mar. 8 at Arkansas* 2 p.m.

* — SEC games

& — BB&T Classic, Washington, D.C.

^ — Big East/SEC Invitational, Birmingham, Ala.

% — Coors Classic, Mobile, Ala.

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