Freshman Catches Barbee's Eye

Auburn basketball coach Tony Barbee discusses his newcomers and how the team is developing in preseason practice with the exhibition opener scheduled for next week.

Auburn, Ala.--With Auburn's first basketball game of the Tony Barbee Era six days away with an exhibition contest scheduled on Thursday vs. West Alabama, the new Auburn head coach says the Tigers have plenty of work to do.

Commenting on how his team is developing, Barbee tells Inside the Auburn Tigers, "It is going slow, but there is so much to get in and not enough time to get it in so we are trying to prioritize what is important to have in for the first exhibition game. Then will do the same thing with what we want to have in for the second exhibition game.

"The most important things now are defense, rebounding and toughness and how we excecute what we have put in on offense," Barbee says. "I have always said that the little things make the difference. The little things always add up.

"If you do them they usually add up to a great win," Barbee adds. "If you don't do them they usually add up to a tough loss. We don't want to have any tough losses so we are working on the little things right now."

The Tigers will open the regular season on Friday, Nov. 15th vs. UNC-Asheville. That game is close to a sellout. Before that contest the Tigers will play a second exhibition game vs. Columbus State on Nov. 12.

With the Tigers graduating four starters and a top reserve and the only returning starter (guard Frankie Sullivan) sidelined with a knee injury, Barbee is counting on help from his freshmen Allen Payne, Josh Langford and Chris Denson plus junior college transfer Adrian Forbes.

"Allen is really coming along well as a freshman," Barbee says of the six-foot-six forward from Winton Woods High in Cincinnati, Ohio. "He is very well prepared physically and mentally for this level.

"Like any freshman he is going to make some mistakes, but for Allen it is not for a lack of effort or from a lack of understanding," Barbee points out. "He has been one of the guys who has really stood out and is beginning to understand my expectations."

Payne says he is encouraged about how his transition to college is going so far after arriving on campus this summer. "It is going great, actually," he says. "Coming in with the new coaches and being a freshman this is a new experience for me, but from what I have heard from the older guys this is the hardest they have ever worked."

The freshman says it is exciting to be in the hunt for playing time and a starting position. He also says the Tigers are making progress as a group even though expectations are for a rebuilding season. "As a team everything is going well and we are working to be at the top of the SEC," he says.

Payne came to Auburn with the reputation of being a player who could score outside and inside. "One of the main things I worked on before practice even started was my jump shot and being more consistent with it," he says. "With the guys being a little bit bigger than they were in high school, I don't have to rely totally on my jump shot, but I will need it more in college than I did in high school."

Payne says Auburn fans can expect to see a team that plays with intensity. "We are getting after it," he says. "We have been talking about our identity as a young, scrappy, tough defensive team. That is our base. If we can do that and get out in transition and create turnovers and easy layups, that is what we are going to try to do."

Another freshman, 6-2 Denson from Columbus, Ga., is making progress after getting off to a slow start after not being full speed physically. "He has progressed fairly well," Barbee says.

Langford, a 6-6 guard/forward, is the most highly recruited of the newcomers after leading Lee High of Huntsville to a state championship as a senior. "Josh Langford has come along," Barbee says. "He does what he has always done. He is a battler, a competitor, a warrior. He has to start to understand our defensive and offensive concepts a little better in order to help us."

Forbes, a 6-8 post player from Trinity Valley Junior College in Texas, is a native of Jamaica. Like Payne, he signed with Jeff Lebo's staff in November of 2009 before Lebo was fired following the 2009-2010 season.

"Adrian is doing good and he is going to have to be a presence for us," Barbee says "With him and Rob (6-10 sophomore Rob Chubb) being our two biggest guys down low they are going to have to be able to play well off of each other to be able to man the paint for us. Adrian gives us an athletic big who can do some things because of his size and athleticism that we don't have a whole lot of guys on this roster that can do those."

Tony Barbee

The Tigers could get help at guard from 6-2 Varez Ward, a redshirt sophomore transfer from the University of Texas. Rehabbing from a leg injury that required surgery, he is practicing with the team.

"Varez has been held out of contact drills because he hasn't been cleared for that, but he looks good in the drills he is doing," Barbee says. "We are anxiously waiting him being able to be cleared to participate."

Auburn is waiting to get the word from the NCAA on Ward's request for a hardship waiver to avoid sitting out a year under transfer rules. Barbee says he doesn't know when the Tigers will receive a decision on Ward's eligibility for the 2010-2011 season.

The tipoff time for Auburn's exhibition game vs. West Alabama is 7 p.m. The regular season opener will tip at 8 p.m. as the second half of a doubleheader feature Coach Nell Fortner's Auburn women's team at 5 p.m. vs. Mercer.

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